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
The restaurant was called the Victorian, and that seemed apt: Just as young men in Queen Victoria's day bought products that would make their beards grow faster and wore glasses when they didn't need them, a lot of VIC males worked hard to appear, if not older, then considerably wiser than their years. Small, self-important beards sprouted on chins, and scholarly half-glasses sat snugly on the noses of robust 20-somethings who looked as if they could read a business card at 20 paces. Close your eyes and you could almost imagine them wearing top hats, brandishing canes and squinting at each other's name tags through gold-rimmed pince-nez. Most of them had jobs that, in the offline world, would be about as glamorous as knee surgery: sales manager, accountant, headhunter, ä pharmacist, service-supplier. But online, it was a different story.
"Everyone's very intense here, because they feel like they're on the cusp of this big Internet wave," said Psalm, whose own name tag (minus company ID) was affixed, with just a hint of defiance, to the front of her hip. "There's an almost religious sense of conviction. They really think they're the shit." Perhaps it was due to the comparative profundity of the Milan Kundera novels she'd been reading recently, but Psalm seemed unimpressed by the biz chat around her. She described the typical conversation at a VIC networking event as "very friendly, but moving quickly into a territory where people can be mutually beneficial to each other."
Steven Klein, a manager of product marketing in his mid-20s, put it more succinctly. "It comes down to sex vs. networking, and networking always wins," he said, grinning a slightly manic, almost Beavis & Butt-head grin. He had braces on his teeth and spoke in the hyper, staccato rhythms of someone who's been staring into a computer screen and sucking up Diet Cokes for 12 hours straight. "Steven Klein" was not his real name. It was a name he decided to use after confessing that, "in all seriousness," he did not find the Web "interesting at all" -- a statement he said could get him fired should the wrong person read it. "The Internet's great for work, there's nothing remotely as powerful as a communications tool except TV, but at the end of the day I want to be outside swimming or standing around with a beer in my hand." Steven claimed to have "close to no social life at all" save the two or three dot-com events he attended weekly, which ended up being mostly about work anyway. "I went sailing recently," he said, "and everyone on the boat was a dot-com person. I wanted to watch the sun set, but I ended up making deals instead."
Steven's friend "Chet," a thoughtful, circumspect type who wore glasses and was as deliberate in his speech as a 19th-century bank clerk, said that dot-commers were always complaining about dot-com parties but actually liked them. "We like the fact that we're elitist and that we're doing something only a fraction of the population understands. It's our club," he said.
"It's an exact extension of the college fraternity system," agreed Steven. "There are cool fraternities to work for and uncool ones. We look at each other's tags and size each other up by domain." Steven then demonstrated what he called the "VIC look" -- the moment when your eyes stray from the person you're talking to toward the tag affixed to the chest of whoever's walking by. "No one at these parties can keep eye contact for more than five seconds," he laughed.
I asked Steven if he read e-economy magazines like Industry Standard and Red Herring, but he said no, no one read them, they were just for window-dressing, things to put on your desk. The three magazines he liked to read, he said, were Teen, Wallpaperand Time. Teen, he explained, was for 13-year-olds, and that was exactly why he read it: to find out what 13-year-olds were thinking so he could market their thoughts back to them. Thirteen-year-olds might be too young to drive the economy, but they were definitely old enough to be its engine. And in any case, he liked their attitude: "Kids have a really short tolerance for bullshit. Britney Spears has got another three months and then it's over."
The day after the VIC party I interviewed Brad Nye, VIC's ponytailed founder, over the phone. I was sitting at my desk, but Brad was all over the place: in his car, on the street, in an elevator, in an office, back in the elevator, back in the car . . . Brad, to use his own terminology, is one of the "digitally empowered" who have cell phones, PalmPilots, laptops and two-way pagers that make them reachable at all times. "It's a new way of living your life," he told me from inside an elevator somewhere in Los Angeles. "I'm hardly ever at home anymore, and I'm hardly ever at my office."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Why not? Because there's always some event going on every night, or I'm out with friends, or I'm at business meetings . . . I have balances, but my lifestyle is so caught up in my job, my life is revolving around my business, it's almost 24/7. I like that, and if it wasn't healthy I wouldn't do it. I don't have family. I have a girlfriend this weekend, but . . ." And then, temporarily, we lost the connection.