Wednesday, February 08, 2006
I've been watching the launch of Nick Denton's latest rag, Valleywag, with a mixture of envy, fascination, horror, and disgust.
The cult of celebrity is almost as repulsive as it is fascinating. Hot babes. Salacious gossip. And the thrill of seeing Valley folks treated with the same awe and contempt as "normal" Hollywood or DC celebrities.
What makes celebrity such a double-edged sword is its arbitrariness. In Hollywood, you become famous when you're part of a hit...and you're only as good as your last movie. Just ask one-time high-rollers who can't get arrested these days, like Heather Graham. Was it just 5 years ago that she was an A-list actress? Now she can't even keep a show on television. Hey at least she got to do voiceovers for EverQuest II...but I digress.
The problem is that everyone, Heather Graham included, probably had a sneaking suspicion that she didn't really deserve all the attention and Lenny Kravitz videos. That's where the envy and contempt come in.
We long for the spotlight and adulation, and part of what gives that longing its razor sharp edge is the sense that yes, it can happen to me, even if I don't deserve it. Yet that same longing fills us with hatred and contempt for the lucky sods who don't really deserve the spotlight.
You can see these feelings at work in America's reaction to reality television stars--they illustrate this principal to the utmost: Because they are so unworthy, their stars burn out even more quickly than Warhol could have imagined.
Yet we Valley folk shouldn't feel superior to our shallow El Lay cousins. After all, don't we do exactly the same thing? For every Heather Graham, there is a Marc Andreesen whom we simultaneously delight in building up and tearing down.
One minute, Jonathan Abrams is a genius for launching the social networking revolution, the next minute, TechCrunch is reporting that Friendster got its last round of financing at a $3 million pre-money. Jonathan is a very smart and savvy guy. But the hype machine chewed him up and spit him out.
Ah, but you're still wondering how I'm going to work in enormous genitalia. Be patient.
Ultimately, I think the healthiest attitude towards celebrity comes from the world of adult entertainment. I was watching a reality show, "The Surreal Life," when I realized that the sanest member of the "cast" was famed ugly hairy porn star Ron Jeremy.
Now Ron is a pretty grounded dude. He realizes that the reason he is famous is that he has a grotesquely large male member. He also realizes that regardless of anything else, all that means is that he needs an extra-large athletic supporter.
You see, fame and wealth are like having an overgrown trouser snake. Ron Jeremy's mammoth manhood may help him get various things...invitations to various awards shows...appearances in over 2,000 films...sex with over 4,000 women...but Ron doesn't suddenly start thinking that possessing a whale-like willie means he's a super-genius, or that anyone cares about his thoughts on global warming or debt forgiveness.
The fact that a person started a company and made a lot of money, or appeared on a lot of magazine covers simply means that he or she has a lot of money, or is well known. A famous person is still a person, and still has to deal with most of the things you or I have to deal with, like showering, putting on clothes, brushing teeth, and so on.
Money and press clippings don't make you omniscient or omnipotent.
So enjoy the latest gossip if you want, but be aware of what's behind your feelings. And the next time you read about Larry or Sergey, just imagine them with preposterously priapic penises. It may help you keep your perspective.
Plus they paid me $1 million to write that last paragraph.
For something that began with so much promise, I'm pretty much sick of social networking at this point.
Or to be more precise, I'm sick of new social networking startups.
Take this one, for example:
Park City, Utah-based Uspot opened its
doors today, claiming to be the social-networking sweet spot for college
students using a .edu e-mail address. Todd Cohen, president of Uspot, believes
his site will be the one place where students can satisfy and share all of their
online social needs. The reason, he said, is media.
"It's all media," Cohen told internetnews.com. "All this media is going
to be related to you, because it's a group of your peers. And people don't want
to have to log into five different sites. So we're really giving students a way
to share their video, music and photos."
Of course, other social-networking sites offer music- and photo-sharing
capabilities. But Uspot, Cohen said, extends users' capabilities with podcasts,
documents and blogs, as well as providing features within each media section
that give users ultimate control over their content.
Cripes! Who the f*ck cares if a site has X, Y, and Z? Sooner or later, your favorite site is going to be acquired by Microsoft or Yahoo!, who will simply add those same features.
And isn't there already social networking for colleges? Hello, The Facebook?
I love the fact that Web 2.0 is enabling so many new startups, but please, make them *new* for goodness sakes.
Virtual World Entrepreneurship
Wired has just come out with another article profiling some of the folks who are making a living purely by playing within Linden Labs' "Second Life."
What's interesting about this article is the fact that money is being made by selling services to traditional organizations:
In a recent contract with the UC Davis Medical Center, Rufer-Bach created
virtual clinics in Second Life to train emergency workers who might be called
upon to rapidly set up medical facilities in a national crisis. The work is
funded by the Centers for Disease Control. "In the event of a biological attack
… the CDC have to set up emergency 12-hour push sites, to distribute
antibiotics," said Rufer-Bach.
To create the most realistic simulation possible, Rufer-Bach crafted about 80
distinct objects, "from chairs (to) a forklift, plumbing, wiring," she said. The
end result is a training environment that's not only lifelike, but relatively
inexpensive. "There are substantial advantages to doing this training in the
virtual world," said UC Davis professor Peter Yellowlees. For one thing, it's
As more and more gets invested in making virtual worlds faster, cheaper, and better, expect more and more "real-world" applications. Just like the B2B market dwarfs the B2C market in software, expect the B2B market for virtual worlds to be enormous.