In the Cybersweatshop

Christian Lorentzen

  • BuyBleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
    Cape, 477 pp, £20.00, September 2013, ISBN 978 0 224 09902 8

Silicon Alley was a name given around 1996 to the cluster of internet companies in Manhattan. The phrase is mostly in disuse now: it connotes boosterism, puffery, and a lot of money lost on ventures that had little chance of turning a profit. It was a silly name in an era of silly names. I worked in Silicon Alley for a few months in the spring of 2000, first at an unnamed travel website where I was paid in cash. After a few weeks, the site had a silly name: peterplan.com. I almost quit out of embarrassment, but after another few weeks the Nasdaq started falling and I no longer had a job. Then I found a job at a website about jobs. I wrote daily newsletters advising professionals in the human resources industry about the latest in recruiting tactics, benefits packages, compensation and retention. I was told that if I stuck around I would accumulate stock options. The website was run out of a loft in Chelsea full of coders, designers and content producers. I made a lot of friends. I attended a focus group, and from behind a one-way mirror I watched several HR professionals discuss how useful, informative and entertaining my newsletters were. I was praised for my ‘out-of-the-box HR thinking’. The newsletters would become a channel, I was told. Then the Nasdaq definitively crashed. I quit for a job at a magazine. I was invited many times over the next two years to drinks marking my old colleagues’ layoffs. The company never quite folded, and was sold to a venture capital firm in 2007. The man who hired me, one of the ‘founders’ – what is it about starting a website that makes people think they have a lot in common with George Washington? – is now a not very funny comic wine columnist.

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