By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
If you gave a sheep a video camera, what would it film? Grass, farmers, collies, other sheep, would be my guess. And if you hand over a video camera to a young L.A. documentary filmmaker working for an Internet company, what will be the subject of his movie? Why, celebrity and media, of course. And now I was a part of it myself. While I sat talking to Siega and Dr. P, members of the film crew scurried around us, the red "on" lights of their digital cameras glowing like electronic bindis. In the darkness they looked like half-human insects with metal heads, and it was all you could do to keep yourself from swatting them.
Both Siega and Dr. P were very big on the interconnectivity aspect of the Net and the kind of platform sites like iCAST offered to unknown artists who want to promote their work. In Siega's view, the whole "misunderstood artist" pose was a thing of the past. Four years ago, he told me, he was just a guy with a lot of ideas who felt as if there was nowhere to take them. But for young artists now, this was no longer the case: It was put up or shut up. "There's just no excuse anymore," he declared sternly. "Anyone with a video camera can put together something that can be seen by 100,000 people. You can be out there making short films, you don't have to be a feature director."
The problem with talking to people like Siega is that the conversation takes place in two different time zones. You're still in the present, while he's in the future; he's downloaded the iCASTER ("the free downloadable application that brings the thrill of entertainment . . . to your desktop") and you haven't. Or rather, his present is about to become your future, because of course you will download the iCASTER (or something like it), but by then he'll have downloaded iCASTER2 and moved on to an even better future, and it will go on like that forever.
And what is the future like? Well, it seems to be a great place, which is why Netheads are all so annoyingly optimistic. In the real world, there's such a thing as character, predisposition, fate, but in cyberspace everything is possible. If it's raining, you change it, or instant-message your friends and all fly to Bermuda and go scuba diving at scubadiving.com. If your girlfriend's bugging you, you go to newgirlfriends.com and download another one. Sometimes you get bored, but then an "alert" appears on your screen "inviting you to a sneak preview of your favorite actor's upcoming movie. You launch the iCASTER to view the trailer and join a fan chat room. You then instant-message your friends, inviting them to the Webcast, and meanwhile the iCASTER is sending you the latest headlines about the movie and its star cast."
And, presto, you're no longer bored.
The party was still going when I left a little before midnight. I was told there'd be a 45-minute wait for my car, but in the end I got it back in 15. As the wind whipped around the driveway, one of the doormen told me about a woman he'd seen running naked up and down the hotel corridors and about a Web site called pitchfactory.com, where some of his own movie ideas could be found. For a moment I felt as if I'd caught a brief glimpse of the spirit of the times. He was just a low-level hotel employee, but he was young and good-looking and full of optimism. People were yelling at him for their cars, but he had money in the stock market and a movie pitch on the Internet, and his suit was made by Armani, even if he was freezing in it. The present wasn't much, but the future -- the future was just amazing.
AT THE TIME I ATTENDED THE ICAST PARTY IN March, I was getting pretty sick of the Internet. Or rather, I was sick of reading and talking about it, sick of listening to terminally bored public-radio announcers say DOUBLE-YOU DOUBLE-YOU DOUBLE-YOU every five ä seconds, sick of billboards that urged me to get off the streets and go online. In particular, I was sick of the billboard (for cnbc.com) that asked, "SERIOUSLY, CAN ANYONE BE TOO RICH?" It hung over my neighborhood like a taunt, and in my blacker moods I would have been happy to blow it up.
Of course there were lots of good things about the Internet, but its power was starting to feel oppressive. You wondered: Just how big was this thing going to get? And how much of the real world would it need to eat in order to grow? Today the music industry, tomorrow . . .? Furthermore, the ethos behind much of it seemed either brutally utopian (Napster, FreeNet, etc.) or crassly commercial -- a suspicion that talking to people like Siega did little to dispel. Everything was done as a response to the market. And everyone involved seemed to have a focus group sitting right behind his eyes.