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Sili Screed

Ohio zine pokes Silicon Valley from the outside

By Annalee Newitz

You already know what Silicon Valley looks like from "the inside"--the valley gives us its high opinion of itself in SiliconValley.com, Red Herring, Business 2.0, Wired and dozens of other locally based hip biztech rags. In their slick, glowing pages, you've read about the lush intricacies of VC strategy, you've viewed the hottest and coolest new e-commerce sites, and you've pored over endless, stultifying lists of dizzyingly expensive chunks of hardware that send packets faster, render graphics faster, crunch spreadsheets faster and do whatever else faster, faster, always faster.

So chill out. Get a clue. Look at Silicon Valley from another angle. That's exactly what David Orth, publisher of the charmingly bitter weekly webzine Silicon Valley Outsider (www.yiffy.com/siliconvalley), has set out to do. Living far from the Geeky Coast in Ohio, working tech support at Lexis/Nexis while he earns his college degree, Orth writes wrathfully humorous screeds about the absurdity of Silicon Valley's insular, money-obsessed culture. Propagating satirical, fake news like its sister Midwest weekly The Onion, Silicon Valley Outsider has been dispensing incendiary nonsense and sarcastic potshots for two anarchic months.

"Suspicious Non-White Found Lurking at CEO Gala," blares a typical headline. Taking a swipe at the cash-stuffed complacency of SV life, Orth includes a weekly feature called "Relax ... You're Really Rich and Smart." A special report declares "This Booming Economy Will Never End," sounding remarkably like hundreds of serious stories predicting a future of boundless technocapital.

Orth started the Outsider as a kind of weekly letter to his friends. Depressed that so many of them had left Ohio to seek their fortunes in Silicon Valley, Orth admits, "I was always kind of bitter about how my friends changed, although I can't blame them. All I heard about was their money, or how they got a new DVD player. I'm killing myself working full time and getting through college and it's not getting me what they have."

But bitterness wasn't the only inspiration for the Outsider. It was also just pragmatic. Said Orth, "I threw up a domain because I wanted to get used to the UNIX environment. I did some backend, and then I realized I had no content. Content doesn't fall out of your butt, you know--so I did something amusing and fun. I didn't intend for it to be a weekly, but that's what it's becoming."

An avid reader of Silicon Valley business news, Orth grew disgusted with what he saw as the valley party line. All the articles he read seemed like self-congratulatory homages to wealth and smarts. It was California über alles--and, added Orth, "once in a while [the Silicon Valley media] would completely slam the Midwest and East Coast for being backwards." The Outsider reminds us that technoculture does spread beyond the Bay Area's borders.

One of Orth's pet peeves is the current exodus of young, technically minded people from all over the country to Silicon Valley. Several Outsider articles poke fun at the indiscriminate way undertrained and undereducated people are hired for lucrative jobs in an industry that's expanding beyond reason. In the most recent issue of the Outsider, Orth wrote about the fictional "newest arrival to Silicon Valley," a web developer whose knowledge of Microsoft applications has led to his being wooed by several companies. Orth quoted a fake CEO saying, "I saw some of the pages he's made for his college. Spinning logos, audio clips, mailto's set up, the whole 9 yards. The Bay Area is really, really lucky to get someone as talented as James, and I'm sure whatever company gets him is going to treat him really, really well."

From an outside perspective, the carnivalesque job market in the valley is nothing but sheer insanity. The only thing crazier is the bizarre habits of valley capitalists. In a feature about valley fundraising, Orth covered a Menlo Park event "to help some sort of charity thing." One of Orth's recurring characters in the Outsider, the spaced-out and greedy exec, reportedly said, "Whatever [the charity] was, it'll keep the money locally, in our pockets, where it belongs."

Although Orth has created perhaps the first Silicon Valley satire news source, he's not averse to walking in the shadow of the valley of tech. Orth admitted that after he receives his college degree, he'll be looking for a job as a UNIX administrator or web developer in Silicon Valley. But to his online fans, he'll always be an outsider.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd. It won't cost you anything to send her little nuggets of wisdom at [email protected]

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From the November 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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