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Illustration by Jeremy Russell

It's Our Party

By Annalee Newitz

SEVERAL POST-DOTCOM buildings stand unrented near my work, their tall windows still covered in factory stickers, their early 21st-century interiors of pale pine and matte steel just barely visible from the street. When I pass by, I think absurdly of laundry lines: the lofts are all empty sleeves and billowing, disembodied skirts.

I was hanging out with a group of geeks, eating cheap sushi and talking about what had happened to all the dotcom office spaces in San Francisco. Philip, who has seen his fair share of Internet shutdowns, laughed and said incredulously, "People are living there!" The rest of us laughed too--it was bizarre to imagine people eating dinner where the servers had once been stored.

"Those buildings are totally wired and have zillions of outlets! Who would live there?" Jesse snorted.

"What the hell are you talking about?" I retorted artfully. "Dude, that would kick ass to have all that wiring."

Several people at the table nodded. All of us lived in places where our computer setups were surrounded by swamps of power strips and extension cords--the thought of getting a nice loft all tricked out with a T1 (or, hell, a T3) and hundreds of outlets wasn't exactly repulsive. Ann, a bioinformatician whose esoteric body of knowledge has led her down the primrose startup path without any major crashes or burns, was thinking wistfully about those empty dot-spaces. "Couldn't you have a party in your old office?" she asked a couple of recently laid-off engineers whose company was still in the please-come-take-our-dead-Swedish-furniture phase.

Philip looked dubious. Ed shrugged and I was suddenly reminded that the very first rave I ever attended--way back in the early 1990s--was at Organic, Ed's former employer. The party was called Expansion, and it was to celebrate the fact that Organic was expanding into a whole new floor of the giant old warehouse building where the company was housed. They broke in their new office space with a free rave, complete with webcast. Those were the days, I thought. Back then, you had parties in newly birthed dotcom offices, not mortally wounded ones.

Then, when the crash hit, many of us went through a phase of partying for the dead. In 2000, when my beloved GettingIt.com died, our parent company held on to GettingIt's dead downtown S.F. office space, hoping to sublease it. In the meantime, they kept a skeleton crew to answer mail and do some light website work--in other words, there were still friends with keys on the inside. Of course, we had to have a party. The thing got so raucous that a band of inebriated partiers rampaged throughout the building, vandalizing the signs of other dead dotcoms, exploding into a veritable frenzy of violent dotcom melancholia. Surveillance cameras recorded it all. The skeleton crew was canned and we all felt like shit.

But I've noticed that these days, the old parties--the precom ones--are starting to happen again. Maybe it's because people are living in the places that used to be dedicated to machines and labor. Ann and her friends are reviving a monthly full-moon party. Artists and spoken-word freaks are finding it easier to rent places where they can play with robots or fill tubs with jello.

Some of the more recent transplants to the Silicon Bay, however, seem dismayed by this turn of events. They're still longing for the dotcom days, when office parties were stocked with old whiskey and the marketing girls got trashed and offered their aerobicized bodies to the boys with the fattest stock portfolios. Back then, there was no shame in having been CEO of Pets.com. Back then, people were excited about technology because they wanted money, not interesting engineering projects.

And those people feel out of place at our parties now. Case in point: a recent article in a little San Francisco zine called Flyer, by a com-era boy who went to an event called Sandwiches. Expecting to find sculpted yuppie bunnies and bland techno beats, the lad was shocked to see lesbians and other noncom types dancing and even having sex right out in the open. Although he tried to fit in, he just, erm, couldn't quite get it up. As if to explain his limp experience, he wrote that the "party was filled with a mix of ravers, computer geeks, and Dungeons and Dragons types." Ah, I thought to myself, the humans are living here again.


Annalee Newitz (party@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who can't wait to read more issues of Cthulhu Sex magazine, especially if Jeremy Russell's fiction is in it.

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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