Forgotten Web Celebrities: Cybergrrl's Aliza Sherman
If you buttonhole a young person on a Manhattan street corner today and ask her "hey - what do you think of Aliza Sherman," you'll be greeted with a blank stare. But ten years ago, Aliza Sherman's name danced about the lips of everyone who mattered in the superheated temples of New York's New Media industry, and if she ever deigned to grace you with her presence on a panel, you knew you were blessed, for Aliza was the "it" girl of Cyberspace.
It all began in 1995, back when compelling Web content was as thin as the hairs on a baby's ass, when Aliza launched three sites, Cybergrrl.com, Webgrrls.com, and Femina.com, all of which presaged the much larger, more cynically calculated, bigger-budgeted gender-specific properties such as iVillage, Women.com, and Oxygen Media that would roll out in the next few years.
In 1998, Aliza wrote an influential book, much derided but also much beloved, called "Cybergrrl! A Woman's guide to the World Wide Web," a topic which was perfect fodder for the mainstream media, which was desperate to print Web-oriented stories that steered clear of the obvious, painful truth about the technology business: in the main, it consisted of surly, burly, blue-shirted male geeks with Paleolithic social skills.
Aliza Sherman's story -- the fact that women were important and didn't have to be intimidated by all that male-oriented, hierarchically-architected directory tree nonsense underlying the Web -- was like a breath of fresh air in a stale locker room, and quite naturally, the media went wild: "It's a man's world out there in cyberspace," wrote the Wall Street Journal, "but not if Aliza Sherman has anything to say about it." Newsweek went even further, anointing her as "one of the "Top 50 People Who Matter Most on the Internet."
For the next five years, Aliza Sherman had a wild ride. She acquired a talent agent, a literary agent, a publicist, and her name and visage soon appeared in People, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, US News And World Report, CBS This Morning and CNN. She ran a large gender-specific network called "Cybergrrls" with 100 local affiliates. Books, articles, and quips flowed out of her like elixer from an endlessly bubbling fountain. She dabbled in performance art, appearing with newly minted Web celebrities Kyle Shannon, Steven Johnson, Jason McCabe Calacanis, Austin Bunn, Stacy Horn, and Omar Wasow at The First Annual Silicon Alley Talent Show. She began wearing a hot pink cape around Manhattan; on one memorable occasion, on Wall Street, she stripped off her Armani business suit and revealed the cape to a stunned crowd, running her hands over it as if she were stroking the future itself.
Then, on a dark morning in March, 2000, when the NASDAQ took its first precipitous dip towards the stygian depths, her once-glittering career hit the very same wall that pulverized the dreams of so many first-generation cyber-visionaries. Suddenly, and it seemed to happen in mere moments, Aliza Sherman no longer mattered, nor did the Web, nor Silicon Alley, nor anything at all save for the nauseating, sucking sound of trillions of dollars of paper wealth being pulled down the great interactive sinkhole.
Standing amidst the rubble of her cyber-career, aware that in New York, those whose identities are defined by yesterday's hottest crazes might as well be dead and buried, Aliza made what in retrospect was her smartest career move: she left town and moved to a place about as far from cyber-hype as you can get: Alaska.
Unlike other forgotten Web celebrities, Aliza has proven she's not a one-trick pony. In the years since her self-imposed exile from New York, she's branched out considerably, writing books on non-Internet topics such as adoption, violence against women, miscarriage, and other topics, and producing radio segments for her local NPR affiliate and documentary films on how global warming is affecting Alaska.
"I always wanted to get away," Aliza told a USA Reporter in late 2000, and while it's hard to believe that she wouldn't have stayed in Gotham had not the fortunes of the entire I-generation turned so irredeemably sour, one can hardly argue with her choice. Frankly, if more Silicon Alley people had followed her example, far fewer of them would have been driven insane or into the depths of drink or antidepressant drugs.
Labels: Forgotten Web Celebrities