Riding the Web


When the consumer Web exploded in the mid-1990s, part of the promise was that it would transform careers and the concept of work. Remember the signs on telephone poles and banners all over the Internet? “Work at home and turn your computer into a cash register! Ask me how.” The next generation of Americans would be able to work on their own terms.

It didn’t turn out that way. If anything, digital technology has overwhelmed those who sought to master it. The Web may be a technological marvel, but to most people who use it for work, it functions like an old-fashioned hamster wheel, except at Internet speed.

Brian Lam was both a prince and a casualty of that realm. After interning at Wired, he became the editor of Gizmodo, Gawker Media’s gadget blog. A trained Thai boxer, he focused his aggression on cranking out enough copy to increase the site’s traffic, to a peak of 180 million page views from 13 million in the six years he was there.

He and his writers broke news, sent shrapnel into many subject areas with provocative, opinionated copy and was part of the notorious pilfered iPhone 4 story that had law enforcement officials breaking down doors on Apple’s behalf. I saw Mr. Lam on occasional trips to San Francisco, and he crackled with jumpy digital energy.

And then, he burned out at age 34. He loved the ocean, but his frantic digital existence meant his surfboard was gathering cobwebs. “I came to hate the Web, hated chasing the next post or rewriting other people’s posts just for the traffic,” he told me. “People shouldn’t live like robots.”

So he quit Gizmodo, and though he had several lucrative offers, he decided to do exactly nothing. He sold his car, rented out his house, took time to mull things over and eventually moved to Hawaii because he loves surfing.  [read more]