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Silicon Alley 10003


If there's hubris here, it comes from the fact that Griscom and his friends have been surfing the crest of the Zeitgeist for so long they've forgotten what it feels like to walk on land. "I'm arrogant, but I'm not arrogant enough to draw a parallel between what Einstein did and what I'm doing," says Kanarick, sipping a tall amber beer at the Soho Grand, the black cord of the earpiece for his cell phone clipped neatly at the collar of his rust-colored sweater. "But, you know, Jewish guy with a lot of guilt, trying to change an industry, slightly misunderstood, somewhat brilliant . . ."

"Somewhat brilliant" and also sort of handsome in an Elvis Costello kind of way, Kanarick is worth more than $80 million. Along with and Organic, Razorfish is one of the top interactive agencies; it has a market valuation of $3 billion and its stock is currently cruising at $36 a share. Kanarick vacations in Mustique, wears Paul Smith, and dyes his hair different colors each month -- white, red, pink, blue, green, and now purple. He's renovating the SoHo duplex -- padded floor in one room, heated floor in another -- that he purchased over the summer. He's articulate on hipster subjects ranging from the history of Amsterdam to the cult Japanese TV show Iron Chef. "You're making me sound like one big singles ad!" he complains, taking another sip of beer. "Though I'm certainly not getting any -- how about: 'Very single, very smart, very successful, very nice, very stable, a little wacky, looking for someone good with hair dye, because I always miss that bottom part in back.'

"I'm arrogant, but not so arrogant that I'm going to take credit for revitalizing the city," says Kanarick, raising a silver-ringed finger and wagging it madly. "But, you know, first there was Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring, and that was a Moment in Time, and then there was Wall Street and Bret Easton Ellis, and that was a Moment in Time, and then for a while there was nothing -- not because of David Dinkins but because of the economy. Now there's the Internet -- me, us, this -- and it is a Moment in Time."

Kanarick means to enjoy his Moment to the fullest. He gets around New York on Rollerblades, a battery-operated Zappi scooter, or in his new car, a sky-blue '65 Corvette Stingray. Silicon Valley has its teak mountain bikes and 200-foot yachts, but in the Alley, where flashy wealth just isn't cool, Craig's car is the most visible totem of success. "I bought the car because I thought it was beautiful, and I love beautiful things," he says. "The world is a beautiful place."

Well before the ETBS had the epiphany that they were living in a Moment in Time, several of the core members spent the late eighties studying at Brown's 'Modern Culture and Media' department. On cold nights when he didn't want to make the trek back to his off-campus house, Butterworth would crash on the couch of Johnson, who played with him in a band called the Lenny Kravitz ("Someone came up to us after one show and said, 'Dude! You know, there's a singer named Lenny Kravitz, too!" laughs Johnson). Some of their other college pals included Griscom, Johnsons's childhood pal from D.C. prep school St. Albans; Tribe, son of Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe; Funny Garbage co-owner J. J. Gifford; Feed contributor and novelist Sam Lipsyte; and co-founder Esther Drill. "Continental philosophy, semiotics, whatever you want to call it, prepared us well for the digital economy," says Griscom. "We were comfortable with new lexicons -- used both to intimidate and explain -- and we were naturally suspicious of systems of power commonly assumed to be irreplaceable."

After diving into cultural studies when everyone else was pre-law, they became slackers -- not in a lazy way but in a do-it-yourself kind of way -- back when ambition was still the way of the world. "Anyone with half a brain who graduated when we did wouldn't have wanted to be part of that Bright Lights, Big City asshole-bankers-in-power-ties scene," says Tribe. "And when we graduated, it was that or nothing." So they chose nothing: Butterworth stayed in Providence to play bass for an arty punk band fronted by Lipsyte, Tribe tried art school in San Diego, and Johnson enrolled and then dropped out of Columbia's English literature Ph.D. program. Griscom followed a girlfriend down to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he worked in data entry and designed T-shirts he sold through an ad in The New Republic. "They had philosophical quotes, like Cicero's 'He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing.' " Tall and convivial, Griscom snorts at his folly. "I mean, who's going to buy that shirt? That's a triple negative." He was even featured in a local paper's Gen-X story: "I rattled off my little slacker screed," he says, shaking his head. "I believe one of my quotes found its way into the lead -- 'Ambition is a form of vanity.' "

After a respectable period of early-twenties indirection, the Brown clan all found their way to New York, where they began to mix with the pierced programmers and HTML installation artists starting to set up shop around Broadway in Greenwich Village and the Flatiron district. Butterworth met Odes through his girlfriend, who studied with her at the Art Institute of Chicago. Odes met Kanarick when she took a course he taught at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Kanarick met Levy at an event Echo founder Stacy Horn threw at P.S. 122. Levy met Bowe on Echo, Horn's influential electronic bulletin board, before they even saw each other in person. "We bonded over being punk-rock techie girls," says Bowe, "the only girls out there who loved nothing more than to be alone and online all night -- especially when drunk."

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