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All the Alien Babies

By Annalee Newitz

RECENTLY, Marc saw the end of the Internet. It came to him suddenly, as he sat in a small cafe drinking chai and contemplating his next career move--upward in engineering, possibly toward project management. And then, as he reflected with anxiety on the recent downturn in the Internet economy, he realized that the Internet might become irrelevant in his lifetime.

With paranoid clarity he recollected articles he'd read about the new, post-Internet wireless era in Business 2.0, and then thought--absurdly--about something he'd seen in a Whitley Strieber Presents paperback about how aliens often abduct humans to take care of human-alien hybrid babies. Apparently, these alien-humans require contact with other humans to stay healthy, so the aliens abduct humans, forcing them to hold the hybrid spawn and coo at them. Maybe it also had something to do with telepathy. He couldn't remember exactly.

Marc's company was about to have its second layoff aneurysm in as many months. This time, he was sure it was his turn to go. It wasn't that he was a poor engineer, it was just that he had only been hired about eight months ago, scooped up on a wave of VC that had definitely broken, crashed, whatever. Probably they'd be laying off at least 50 percent of the staff, and that meant nobody who'd been there less than a year would get to stay. Unless they were celebrity geeks, and Marc wasn't one of those.

Absentmindedly, Marc opened his ultralight and fooled around with the wireless Ethernet card, looking for a local Intranet where he could piggyback and log on. He found two right away. Everyone was unwired these days--you could sneak into a wireless LAN from anywhere.

He had gotten email from Saki, his best friend back home in the Midwest. Saki was, in fact, a geek celebrity of sorts and had cashed out a big hunk of stocks back in 1999. That's how she paid for a sex reassignment operation from some of the best surgeons in the country. Saki even got a fully operational clitoris and facial feminization surgery, extras she referred to as turbo features.

Saki was rambling about several startups where she might work next, and sensing Marc's probable economic doom from dire predictions posted on fuckedcompany.com, she was encouraging him to go with her. The startups were all in "low rent" Midwest locations like Montana, Saskatchewan and Kansas. She'd included a URL for an article in The Industry Standard about the best places to grow your Internet business outside of Silicon Valley.

"Everything's changing," wrote Saki. "Only the truly hard-core and twisted geeks are going to stay in the valley. Plus some really stupid marketers." Now that Saki had gotten married, she was doing the suburban stay-at-home thing with her husband and his kid. She liked the sticks.

But Marc wanted to stay in the Bay Area, even if the money was drying up.

Unlike the people called "dotcom yuppies" by some leftist weekly rag he'd scanned that day, Marc wasn't really doing engineering for the cash. Sure, he liked getting paid six figures, but that wasn't why he wore T-shirts with open source logos on them. He guessed that he was one of the "twisted geeks" who was going to keep on coding out here in the land where engineers roamed free.

But his vision of the end of the Internet made him realize that even if he stayed in the valley now, his knowledge set might become useless anyway. By the time he was 50, he figured, the Internet would be like radio: it would have a place, but wouldn't exactly be a growth industry. Where were today's great radio engineers? Marconi was the name of a startup somewhere--he'd seen the name Marconi.com around.

And there he'd be, a human stranded in a future packed with alien hybrid babies, weird humans whose technology he would barely recognize and certainly wasn't equipped to program. Imagining row upon row of gray-skinned, big-eyed geeks illuminated by a greenish, X-Files glow, Marc tapped in the URL for Slashdot and thought once again about getting some sort of senior software engineer job, something that would aim his career at project management.

He hoped he wouldn't have to wear a tie.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who often thinks about the metaphorical meaning of alien hybrid babies. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper. She's at [email protected].

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From the February 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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