Well, OK, I did bicycle from work in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill up to the Mission District last week to find my friend Marta at the preview of her show at San Francisco Open Studios at Art Explosion (organized by ArtSpan). I know nothing about painting, but I enjoy Marta’s work, and I especially enjoy her relaxed but committed attitude to her work.
But other than that, I haven’t taken much time lately for art. I admit it, I’ve been distracted by a far more crass phenomenon: Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been living 24/7 in the surreal echo chamber that we in the Bay Area call “Web 2.0,” or “web twenny,” when we’re trying to be cute.
Only six years ago, the dot-bomb deflated the first internet bubble, with its pet-food sock puppets and $100K-a-day gains and losses (yes, even my IRA had a few of those days). We all swore we’d learned a lesson, but now it seems we’re back at it, more self-aware, to be sure, but still getting caught up in the hype. We claim to be “enabling the masses” to “create a participatory culture,” but when your peers are getting bought for 1.65 billion dollars (it’s fun to say it like Dr. Evil!), it’s hard to remember how shiny and pure Blogger seemed back in ’99. We all work 80-100 hours a week building stuff that has, yes, some slim chance of actually being disruptive and revolutionary, but it’s as much the roller-coaster-whupsie kind of excitement as real commitment to social change.
Despite my unease at the meta-ness of it all, I must say that since January I’ve worked at my dream job. I’ve been a working programmer for 30 years, never having wanted any more than to build an elegant boolean clockwork, wind it up, and watch it tick away at some interesting or useful task. Now I get to work on a little machine that must respond instantly and personally to a million people without breaking down. That’s fun for someone like me.
So I’ve been coding (and, yes, doing some fun volunteer stuff) every waking minute, and enjoying it. For months, I was commuting by car up the peninsula every day, and finally couldn’t stand those 90 minutes away from the computer, so I switched to the train. Now I can put the laptop to sleep, jump on the bike, and be back to work in ten minutes with the bike racked right next to my seat on the train. I’ve even got high-speed wireless internet access. Sweet.
Commuting by train only adds to the perception that life in the Bay Area web biz is a blur of young geeks furiously writing code, stealing ideas, mashing up each other’s web sites through APIs and RSS feeds, and self-organizing into flash mobs of indecipherable purpose. The express train whizzes by start-ups and venture capitalists in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, San Mateo, Redwood City. The train stops, a bunch of geeks (and a few young marketing and finance sharks) get off, and others get on, and we blast off for “the city.” Sometimes I ride BART over to Berkeley, where they have more whole-grain geeks, but still working on stuff that’s meaningless to anyone outside of the Bay Area who isn’t in college. Last week, when Caltrain shut down after an accident, I led a mob of geeks that descended on Samtrans, the only alternate available. The bus growled slowly down dark El Camino, festooned with bicycles, lit from within by the flourescent glow of a dozen laptops.
After only a few days on the train, the experience changed from surreal to alarming for me, as I somehow crashed my bike on the way from work to the 4th & King station. I have no memory of that day, except for flashes of the CT machine and my sister arriving at the hospital to drive me home. Over the next few days, I had to reverse-engineer the code I had no memory of writing that day. (At least I found and fixed a few bugs.) I feel a little bad that I can’t remember what I did to precipitate the accident. I feel a lot bad that my computer, strapped to my back when I fell, now has a crack in the corner of its titanium shell. I like to think I’m careful enough to commute on the bike. I’d hate to think that it’s not safe enough, because I don’t want to go back to the car and lose those 90 minutes of uninterrupted work each day.
I’m trying to let the Web 2.0 craziness flow past me, enjoying the most fun job I’ve ever had, and not count any chickens. But 1.65 billion dollars, wow.