Looking back on Silicon Alley

by Simon St. Laurent

Related link: http://www.routledge-ny.com/books.cfm?isbn=0415935709

While flying back from the Emerging Technologies conference, I stopped in a Philadelphia airport bookstore and found Silicon Alley: The Rise and Fall of a New Media District.

I lived in New York from 1993-6, working on a master's at the New School for Social Research's Media Studies program, which I never finished, working in HyperCard, writing strange hyperlinked rants, building a railroad under my bed, and creating a small TCP/IP network in the living room for good measure.

For better or worse, I missed the Silicon Alley scene when I fled the city in 1996, jumping to a job at a small web design company in Connecticut to escape an insane job building multimedia CDs for accountants. Then I worked at a systems integrator in North Carolina, even further from the excitement of Silicon Alley. When I came back to New York, I stayed away from the excitement, moving to Ithaca, far upstate.

All this time, though, I really felt I was missing something. Up until 2000, I felt I'd missed something good; after that, I felt I'd missed something, well, worth missing. I saw bits of it, as I participated in the WWWAC mailing list for a few years, and visited New York periodically. I apparently missed all the good dot-com parties; the only free drinks I had were at a party launching the web site for Newsday.

Michael Indergaard's Silicon Alley: The Rise and Fall of a New Media District is a real shift from the WWWAC list perspective and the business perspective that dominated Crain's and the Silicon Alley Reporter. It's effectively a post-mortem, detailing how punk rock aesthetics combined with tech to form a money machine that just wasn't sustainable. It has lots of stories, lots of tables, and enough cynicism to explore the mechanisms powering some of the more outlandish dreams.

New York continues, but Silicon Alley, as it was, has largely disappeared. I'm happy to have missed it, but also glad for the chance to look back.

Where were you during the boom?