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
Tired of watching new arrivals spill out of the shuttle bus and walk through the VIP entrance, a ritual that was supposed to keep reporters enthralled for hours, I went and sat on a nearby wall. There I got into a conversation with a guy called Andy Rosen, CEO of ugwap.com, a wireless entertainment portal, and uground.com, a Web site on which I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, the winning entry in the StreamSearch film competition, was already showing. Andy was from England, and looked elegantly raffish in a techie sort of way: receding curly brown hair, artful scrawl of stubble, black jacket and blue silk shirt worn outside his trousers. His eyes gleamed enthusiastically through small black-framed glasses.
Immediately we got into one of those conversations that only those who grew up in the Old World and now find themselves standing outside the Playboy Mansion on the West Coast of America get into: what we're doing in L.A., when we came over, what we think about it now. It was fun talking. I liked him a lot. Furthermore, he and his wife, Peggy, were going to make sure I got some dinner. Still, there was a divide between us: Andy was a cyber-optimist, and I wasn't. There were plenty of things wrong with the present, but, in my mind, being unable to shop on a cell phone wasn't one of them. (Thanks to something called Wireless Access Protocol, Andy could already shop on his. It was the next big thing, he told me.) Perhaps it was simply a matter of temperament. There have always been people excited about the future, but they were called scientists and lived in laboratories, where they belonged. Now, like a virus, the future has left the laboratory and entered the population at large, where it can be heard talking loudly in restaurants about bandwidth and DSL lines, usually to someone who isn't there.
Eddie, my Rogers & Cowan handler, turned out to be a good sport. After he saw me going in with Andy and Peggy, he left me alone. Perhaps it was just the ghostly vibes emanating from those fun-filled '70s, but it felt terrific to be inside a giant, circus-size tent on the Playboy grounds, even if the actual awards ceremony turned out to be a snooze. (The best moment came when one of the statuettes broke in two and Garry Marshall, who emceed, yelled, "You people are going to go out of business!") The enormous stone bar to the right as I walked in; the impressively large grotto pool straight ahead of me . . . Not even the bank of computer monitors at which guests nervously checked their portfolios could spoil the effect. Here, one thought, looking around and breathing the rich, photosynthesized air, it was still possible to Have a Good Time.
For a lot of people, of course -- the people who worked for companies like StreamSearch -- this was the Good Time, the time when youth and economic opportunity fell into a long, seemingly endless embrace. Unfortunately, the opportunities for some real embracing were limited: As the evening wore on, the number of women at the party diminished rapidly. That, it has to be said, was the one nagging little problem. Just as all the men in the room were reaching that ideal point of inebriation when feelings turn into words and to like a woman is to say so, the few women to be found could barely be seen for the guys standing around them like trees. To suffer such a fate at the Playboy Mansion seemed especially cruel.
A group of people who had been at a party for Red Herring arrived, and they were all men in suits, some of them looking remarkably sinister, some of them, if I'm not mistaken, wearing sunglasses though it was close to midnight, and as a gesture of good will they brought with them a smart, attractive woman who claimed to have been divorced that morning. A couple of Playmates appeared to talk to CEO types, Hef was spotted wandering around in his dressing gown, and a few people even got into the pool. When I took the shuttle back, half the people around me were on their cell phones, organizing the next place to meet. Well, these weren't my Good Times, but it was nice to see people having them.
"I CAME ALONE, AND I DECIDED NOT TO DRINK tonight, so what I'm trying to do here is some totally unlubricated networking," said Psalm Isadora, a striking, smoky-eyed 25-year-old Web mistress for the band Ozomatli. It was Thursday, the 18th of May, and the Venice Interactive Community's (VIC) monthly networking bash at a restaurant in Santa Monica was in full swing with about 850 online professionals in attendance. Out in the back yard, where drinks and California rolls were being served, the people making the new Internet economy happen stood around in groups -- or "pods," as one person referred to them -- swapping business cards and knocking back martinis. It was a very white, very clean-cut crowd. Almost everyone wore tags on their chests bearing their names and those of the companies for which they worked: Liquid Advertising, Euphoria, the Human Capital Group, PeopleLink, SmartSearch, SmartShop, SoftAware . . .