By Don Willmott

The Cyberstars Shine at Night

So just how often can the cyberspace digerati cram itself into an overcrowded party space to give itself a self-congratulatory pat on the back? Pretty darned often, it turns out.  
Wall Street, where New York City has set up a tax-incentivized high-tech center that's often the site of cyberspace shindigs.
 
Monday evening found me in New York's financial district celebrating the presentation of Virtual City's first Cyberstars awards. The magazine's editors pondered lists of hundreds of movers and shakers from the online services and from the Web and picked 66 to honor. The awards were given for content, not for business acumen or technological leaps, so the winners were an interesting and diverse bunch. They'd be a lot of fun to talk to at a party, unless no one had nametags and it was so crowded that one couldn't lift one's arms from one's side, which is exactly the position in which I found myself. (You'd think New Yorkers would be immune to claustrophobia, but I'm getting worse as time goes by.)  
Virtual City decorated an otherwise unfinished space with things that lit up.
 
Eschewing the free-flowing multicolored cocktails provided by the friendly folks at Absolut vodka, I milled about as best as I could to see who was who and what was what.

The first thing I noticed was that among all the demonstration computers scattered about, only the one linked to Prodigy went unused. Hmmm.

The second thing I noticed was that comedian David Brenner was in the room. How bizarre! Soon, though, I found out that each of the seven special honorees who were going to be presented with awards and bottles of champagne were to be introduced by a celebrity--or quasi-celebrity--who could relate to their online achievements.

 
David Brenner? You never know who'll show up to celebrate the fabulousness of the Web.
 
The third thing I noticed was that I was starting to overheat because I refuse to check my coat at such affairs (my claustrophobia demands that I'm always prepared for a quick emergency exit).

The fourth thing I noticed was that I recognized many of the same people I had seen just two months ago at a similar party hosted by New York magazine. I'm starting to wonder if it's just the same 100 people traveling around town in a pack scarfing up the same sesame chicken on a stick from the same black-clad waiters.

While pondering this mystery, I had the good fortune to bump into a real life fortune teller. Susan Miller is the official astrologer at Pathfinder, so naturally I told her I was a Gemini. Her eyes lit up. "Wow! I have good news for you!" she exclaimed, and when I checked my horoscope, I saw she wasn't kidding. I feel great today.

Soon all the idle chatter stopped as the presentations began. David Brenner's job was to salute Michael Bolanos, the 31-year-old dervish who created the phenomenally successful Edrive entertainment forum on CompuServe (GO EDRIVE). After coughing up a few excruciating jokes such as "I hear they're going to dub the 'Rocky' movies into English," Brenner yielded the mike to Bolanos, who told the crowd that Edrive will be on the Web soon. Watch for it, and watch for Bolanos's reportage from the Oscars next Monday.

 
In true Hollywood fashion, Bolanos and his Edrive crew came and went in a stretch limo.
 
Deep-techno music celebrity Moby, who freely admitted to a fear of public speaking as well as to ignorance of cyberspace, was on hand to present an award to Nicholas Butterworth of SonicNet, a music site that's earned my praises before.

Adam Smith, of "Adam Smith's Money World," lauded the virtues of David and Tom Gardner, known collectively as the Motley Fool, America Online's superstars of investment advice.

Stacey Horn of Echo gave an award to Aliza Sherman, a shy young woman who has made a big mark on the Web world as Cybergrrl, one of the Web's premier sites for women. Sherman said that her job was to dispel five myths about the online world that women buy into: that it's too hard, too expensive and too dangerous, and that it offers no personal satisfaction or professional gain.

Also picking up awards were e-zine master Brett Leveridge of BRETT news, an arch and extremely witty look at life from a humble Oklahoman's perspective; Tom Reilly, for his work on Planet Out, a Microsoft Network gathering place for gays and lesbians (it's coming to America Online soon); and The Hecklers, an Alabama-based foursome whose wicked take-no-prisoners humor has a home on America Online.

 
More than willing to be photographed were a posse from the Squat, the hilarious trailer-trash cybersoap spoof of the Spot.
 
As soon as the last award was handed over, I bolted from the packed room without even picking up a goody bag and scurried up Broad St. gasping for air. I paused in the darkness in front of the brooding edifice of the New York Stock Exchange to regulate my breathing, and soon I was homeward bound. I was kind of hoping Michael Bolanos would give me a ride in his limo, but he was nowhere to be found. For me, the Brooklyn-bound subway would have to suffice.

Action photography courtesy of the Dycam Model 10-C digital camera.

 

March 20, 1996