Being a Dot.Org Kind of Guy in a Dot.Com World
My sister, who heads the accounting department of a high-tech firm in San Francisco, recently threw a cocktail party at her posh South of Market loft.As it turned out, I was a fish out of water. The bulk of her guests were dot.com people -- in the high-tech industry, that is -- and when she introduced me as her little brother, "a dot.org kind of guy," they would titter and giggle.My sweet sister was only teasing, but she was pointing out something that I've grown acutely aware of lately. To live in the San Francisco Bay Area at the turn of the millennium is to live under the rumor of fabulous wealth, a modern-day gold rush -- entirely based on Internet commerce.Those who are dot.com professionals are jubilant as they join in the frenzied search for gold in cyberspace. Those who are out of the loop like me -- a "dot.org kind of guy," more specifically a writer for a non-profit wire news service that depends mostly on the kindness of foundations, there is inevitably dot.com envy.The difference between my sister and me, is not a digital divide. If anything, I am more computer savvy than she is -- I even have my own website. No, the difference is simply that her guests have stock options and I do not.Don't get me wrong. I am proud of being a writer for a tiny news service that, in the age of corporate media mergers, offers perspectives not found in the mainstream. These stories are a true reflection of the diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and age in America. The voices of the jailed teenager, of the lonely migrant, the aged athlete, all these and more find their way into the welcoming arms of our little institution.Yet I would be lying through my teeth if I say I did not feel a certain pang of envy when a friend of mine sold his start-up company and retired at 36. And when my cousin bought his second home on the hill overlooking the bay, I felt a little bit of self pity, having resigned myself to the fact that I'll always be a renter.What keeps me then from cashing in? It is very hard to explain. In the simplest terms, it is a kind of aversion to bad poetry. As much as I covet the wealth, I cannot imagine the lifestyle. I cannot imagine myself saying with a straight face what that man in a Giorgio Armani suit said at my sister's party: "We got two VCs for that start up. It's going to be a golden trough."VC here does not mean what you might think if you remember the Vietnam war but quite the opposite: Venture Capitalists. Nor can I see myself saying, like the Teflon blond in Donna Karan dress, who exclaimed with a glazed look in her eyes that her website is a " great market model. Essentially you don't have to get out of bed to go shopping."Frankly, I cannot imagine that shopping in bed is a good thing. As much as I want stock options, my impulse is quite the reverse -- to urge people to get out of bed, walk in the park with a friend, browse for real books in bookstores, appreciate the weather, and have tea.These, after all, are small pleasures that I've grown to treasure more and more as the high-tech superreality overwhelms.Until there is a way to put the true human connections into Cyberspace, I suppose I, with a bit of dot.com envy, will have to stay a dot.org kind of guy. Andrew Lam is a commentator for National Public Radio, and writes short stories and reports for New California Media.