By Joseph Tsidulko
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PERHAPS IT WAS THE ROUND OF video-game parties I went on that did me in -- "Say Freedom!" Macy Gray exhorted the audience near the end of a corporate concert on the Sony lot in Culver City. "Say Love! Say Sex! Say Peace! Say PlayStation!" -- but eventually I lost my appetite for Internet bashes. Or perhaps it was just the feeling of not belonging: I felt so depressed after the SightSound party I could barely speak. Technology rules, advertising rules, money rules -- and everything else can be flushed down the toilet.
At the VIC party, I had been advised by Steven and Chet that only faux Netheads bothered to talk about how "interesting" the Web was anymore, let alone blather on about how your television and computer and refrigerator and anything else you might have lying around the house would soon become part of a single network, busily communicating with itself. Real Netheads took all that for granted, so there was no point in discussing it. As for the extent to which the Internet might change the world, that all depended on how you looked at the world. To Chet, the world was full of what he called "replaceable behaviors." The Internet, he explained ä simply, would grow only to the extent that we were willing to replace them.
The last party I attended was for the entertainment-news site Inside.com.It was held at Spago. Inside, the brainchild of Kurt Andersen, former editor of New York and Spy,purports to give interested parties the lowdown on the latest in media and industry power plays and gossip. Because part of the Web site is subscription-only, its progress is being closely followed. While it's reasonably easy to get people to spend money on the Web, it has so far proved very difficult to get them to pay for the privilege of using your particular Web site.
The choice of Spago reflected the bravado of Andersen and his partners, who apparently figured they'd found a way to do it. And because it was Spago rather than the MiauHaus or SkyBar or the SoHo Club, everything was done with discreet efficiency. At the door, you gave someone your name, he checked it off a list, and -- miracle of miracles -- he let you in. Just like that! He didn't even have to consult with someone on his cell phone to do it. The food, of course, was delicious: oysters, lobster tail, shrimp, mussels, beef carpaccio . . . and you could have any drink you wanted from the bar. Befitting its classy, old-media origins, Inside didn't go for the hard sell. The coasters and napkins bore the company logo, but otherwise you could have spent three hours at the party without knowing who was throwing it. And if you came alone, you could have spent three hours there without meeting anyone. As at most dot-com parties, people came in groups and stuck to them as if their lives depended on it.
For a media star, Kurt Andersen seemed like a very approachable guy. As a result, it was impossible to get near him. Dressed in a sober suit and tie, occasionally blowing cigarette smoke over the head of whoever had managed to squeeze in front of him, he seemed happy to talk to anyone who wanted to talk to him. When I spotted him moving toward the bar, I slipped in beside him. I can't say our conversation was momentous, but it was pleasant to talk to someone at an Internet party for whom books, not Web sites, were still the preferred point of reference. His first novel, Turn of the Century, was published last year, and he was eager to write another one. Nonetheless, he said, the Web site contained enough elements that were of genuine interest to him to make it feel worthwhile. And then, almost imperceptibly, someone else took my place in Andersen's orbit: Stars are hard to come by at Internet parties.
There was supposed to be dancing later on, but no one danced. The party went from being over- to undercrowded in a dismayingly short time. But then, what were parties, if not "replaceable behaviors," I thought to myself, looking around the room. There were hardly any celebrities, but then, they weren't really needed. The Internet was now the ultimate celebrity. The people were there simply to supply the buzz.