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
It was in this frame of mind that I pinned a notice, copied from an opinion piece by Nicholas von Hoffman in the New York Observer, to my front door. It read as follows:
Globaloney is a belief in a global new economy in which we Americans get to do all the buzzy-jazzy stuff, and everybody else does the work. We make our living selling the drone-peoples information, creativity, financial services, ideas, insurance policies, movies, mental products, music, concepts, intellectual property and a diffuse but enthusiastic entrepreneurial oomph. In return they sell us food, clothing and shelter.
The proof of Hoffman's thesis could be found in my own circle. Some associates of mine held the rights to a simple device that could do the impossible: It could mix oil and water. This little invention was so rich in potential applications -- toxic-waste cleanup, burn-victim treatments, etc. -- it was dizzying. But no venture capitalists in America were interested: They were too busy pumping money into Web sites like iCAST, not to mention the parties held to launch them. The only people willing to give my friends the time of day were fantastically shady Israelis and Armenians, or Mexican businessmen so secretive they insisted on meeting only in remote towns without phones south of the border.
Nonetheless, something about the iCAST party piqued my interest. I think it was the self-confidence of these dot-commers, their sheer brazenness. They compared intellectual-property rights to witch burning, and brashly predicted the death of old business models while absent-mindedly failing to come up with new ones of their own. Almost all of their companies were in debt, half of them would probably collapse, they produced little of real value, they couldn't figure out how to make a profit, their idea of art was animation, their idea of news was Britney Spears has a new CD, and yet here they were blowing obscene amounts of money in the hope that someone, somewhere, would mention their name. And now here I am doing it for them.
On Tuesday, April 4, the day the NASDAQ slipped 13.6 percent, I boarded a shuttle bus to attend Stream Search.com's Internet Film & Music Festival Awards Ceremony at the Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills. It was the week of the Internet World trade show in Los Angeles, and StreamSearch, a St. Louisbased Web search engine with "over a million links to entertainment, music, news, information, special events and sports multimedia," was spending more than $100,000 on a party that would include a sit-down dinner, Playmate-hosted tours of Hef's mansion, a concert by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and booze flowing freely from two large bars. Swimming in the famed grotto pool was optional. Unfortunately, it didn't look like I would be doing any swimming, or eating either. I had been advised by Rogers & Cowan, the Century City public-relations firm that was organizing the event, that the dinner was for invited guests only, that I would be accompanied by an employee of Rogers & Cowan at all times, and that I would be required to leave Hef's hallowed grounds at precisely 9 p.m., when the awards ceremony was over. ä
Outside a bungalow near the VIP entrance, a group of StreamSearch executives stood around in open-necked shirts and perfect suits, backs to the sun, talking and blowing cigarette smoke into the blue late-afternoon air. Against type, they weren't geeky in the slightest. They were tall, good-looking young Americans whose narrow, close-cropped beards gave them a slightly anachronistic look. It was as if they had migrated to cyberspace straight from the backwoods and were subliminally harking back to an earlier, equally revolutionary time, when it had also been good to be a young, white American male with a gun in one hand and the New World in the palm of the other. In the year 2000, America was too regulated, too politicized, and above all too crowded to offer that kind of freedom. But in cyberspace you could make your own rules, set out for the frontier and sail down your very own virtual Mississippi, one, moreover, that you had created yourself. It was amazing when you thought about it: At a time when businesses all over the country were unisex, when girls were beginning to outnumber boys in college and beat them on many test scores in high school, along came another generation of American men who constructed an entirely new business universe all on their own anyway. Now, for purely monetary reasons, they were figuring out how to get more women interested in it.
Looking at them, I felt for the first time a stab of envy for these princes of the new Internet economy as they stood with hands in pockets under the trees. I envied them their money, their clothes and expensive haircuts, and most of all I envied them their timing. They were surfers who had caught the perfect wave and were riding it all the way to the beach, where gold and the love of beautiful women awaited them. Or at the very least, the smiles of a few Playmates, some of whom could be seen filing out of the VIP bungalow along with a handful of more StreamSearchers.