Crossover hits

Stomping snow off my boots and removing a mountain of coats, scarves and hats, I discover the Lizard of Fun huddled close to its favorite halogen reading lamp.

"I’m stuck," it whines despondently. "It’s too cold out to have fun. Sometimes being cold-blooded really bites – I can’t even shiver to keep myself warm."

I nod sympathetically, shaking snow out of my ears. "So besides griping, whatcha been doing for amusement?"

The Lizard points at the laptop. On the screen is a blurry image of a guy sitting in front of a computer, tapping away on a keyboard. It’s a live feed of dotcomguy, a dude who made some kind of media splash when he retreated to an empty house on the first of January, intending to survive for an entire year using only the Internet for sustenance.

"I’ve heard about him," I say. "He’s trying to get people to pay more attention to the glories of e-commerce by getting all his stuff delivered by UPS. Apparently he’s getting paid to do this – almost a hundred grand for the year. Only he can’t leave his house."

On the screen, dotcomguy continues typing. The chat room area of his site has been temporarily shut down, so we can only assume he’s writing something for his daily journal, which we’ll be able to read online later. He types. We watch. It’s not exactly thrill-a-minute surfing.

"Dotcomguy sucks!" says the Lizard, sorely disappointed. "I thought I was going to get to watch a guy do something interesting, like, oh, floss his teeth with a mouse cable or something."

And yet, it’s hard to stop watching dotcomguy as he lounges in his inflatable chair, now carrying on a cell phone conversation that we – maddeningly – can’t hear.

"So, what’s the deal?" asks the Lizard, clicking in irritation at the FAQs button.

"You mean, beyond the questionable appeal of watching someone shop online?" I say. "The attraction here is legitimized voyeurism. It’s all about getting into other people’s minds, lives, even their existences."

"But not, of course, about getting into their pants?" asks the Lizard.

"Maybe on your favorite Web sites," I say. "But think of it: If we go and peer into our neighbor’s windows, we’re gonna get arrested. But if we visit voyeur Web sites, we’re participating in an entertainment experience."

"Yeah," says the Lizard. "Like when we spend $18 per half hour to get our own copies of the Watergate tapes?"

"Um, sorta," I say. "What’s satisfying about those is Nixon didn’t know they were going to be listened to."

But when we log on to dotcomguy’s Web site, he knows we’re going to watch, even if he’s not doing anything more interesting than typing. More importantly, he also knows we’re a target demographic, ripe for being marketed to by his e-commerce sponsors.

"Yeah, the bored Web-surfing Gen Xers with unfortunately cold blood that prevents them from snowboarding," says the Lizard, grumpily.

"Doesn’t matter. Dotcomguy has commodified his entire life. He’s got corporate sponsors. He’s got an audience. He’s an example of how we’re all getting so swept up in the brave new media world that we’re losing track of what belongs where."

The Lizard grins. "He’s become a product! Just like the Nixon tapes! Hell, I love this crossover. First, we had novels that became movies. That was nothing! Now we get television shows that become video games, wrestlers who become politicians, political celebrities who become diet company spokesmodels, and now even people who become Web sites and products. Where do I sign up?"

"Doesn’t it bother you that there’s all these boundaries blurring?"

"Hell no. I’m gonna go find that guy who writes about the Web for your paper," says the Lizard, and hops over to this week's Netropolis Web page. There, MT Web editor Adam Druckman looks visibly perturbed by having the Lizard land on his computer monitor. Perhaps it’s all a little too much like the time the lawyers from "The Practice" showed up on "Ally McBeal," or like the "Twilight Zone" episode of "Felicity." Not that the Lizard seems to care.

"So, surfer dude, tell me," says the Lizard, "How can I get rich on the Web, without having to work?"

"It’s all about sponsorship," says Druckman. "Look at" is the new year-long name of Halfway, Ore. (pop. 360), which was rewarded for the change by the online auction site with $75,000 and 22 computers for its school library.

"No way!" says the Lizard, a gleam it its eye. "If I changed my name to say, dotcomlizard, or maybe, someone might pay me to sit around the house?"

"Not likely, unless you can find the right sponsors," I say.

"That’s right," says Druckman. "And then, you just need to sell yourself to the highest bidder. By the way, this conversation was sponsored by ..."

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