Last week's mail was an outpouring of admiration, affection, even awe--and I would have been deeply gratified if any of it had been directed at me. It wasn't. It was all for Netscape's engineer and part-time Web scribe, Jamie Zawinski.
"This gentleman is in a position with his employer, indeed with the industry, where he has the ability to express his opinion freely," read one representative missive. "That's a position many of us would love to be in, and criticizing it is betraying humanity."
Betraying humanity? All in a day's work in the rumor biz. As for the rest of it, the writer has a point. Imagine a world in which employees of Netscape's competitors could express themselves freely. What kind of rants might we see coming out of Redmond?
As it stands, Microserfs apparently have taken to airing their complaints in more anonymous forums, such as the nationally syndicated sex advice column by Seattle-based Dan Savage. In this week's installment, Savage suggests that the world's most potent software company may be having an adverse affect on the, er, extracurricular activities of its staff.
In honor of the Net posting of the Starr report, I have decided to reproduce the letter in question, with only minor expurgations:
"I'm probably clinically depressed," writes the advice seeker. "I probably need counseling and a s#!+load of pills, but I wanna be pure and in my right mind for work. (I work at the world's largest a$$h*!@ software company.) I don't want any mental side effects. Too much is depending on my work. My other problem: My sex drive is gone. It disappeared when I started working at this place. I've been with the same woman for a couple of years, and we've had sex 3 or 4 times in the last 12 months. She says she's ready to hump me in my sleep, or the dog, the furniture, anything."
The writer goes on to describe a gruesome medical problem and signs his letter "Microsofty."
"There's something I'm curious about," Savage says in his reply. "Does working at Microsoft destroy people's sex drives? I get two or three letters like yours every week: Microsoft guys who can't get it up, Microsoft girls who've lost all interest. What is up? I'd love to hear from Microsoft employees: What is it about working there that ruins your sex lives? And I'd love to hear from people dating Microsoft employees: Do you ever get laid?"
At this point, there's little to do but wait (with bated breath) to hear results of the Savage sex probe of the software giant. But in the meantime, I gave the advice columnist a call and asked if it were really true: Does he really get that much mail from Microsofties?
"Not everyone I get mail from identifies where they work," Savage said. "But I've noticed a pattern of people sending me notes from Microsoft, and the top problems seem to be lack of interest in sex or inability to get it on, and complaining that depression is the cause.
"I've gotten a few hundred of these," the sex sage added, "and always it's a similar complaint."
A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter, but she did say "I'm so glad you're not calling me about a bug."
Savage attributed the high concentration of Microsofty letters to the firm's famous culture of achievement. "It's that workaholic geek life, that all-for-the-company, cultish thing where they continually put more and more on your plate until they've shoved everything else out of your life.
"It starts out OK," he elaborated, "but then more and more creeps in until you're working those 16-hour days. That's not good for your life--your emotional life, your relationship life, your sex life. It's good for your moneymaking life."
What advice does Savage have for these overachieving but underperforming employees?
"For Christ's sake, quit if you think it's your job!" he yelped. "It's not like those kinds of jobs are hard to come by, and there are places less psychotic than Microsoft to work. But some of my friends who work there are millionaires now, so what do I know? They have great apartments and you never see them in the daylight."
Savage said he's never gotten a letter from someone at Netscape.
Something about this whole business gives me a feeling of deja vu, and now I remember why. It wasn't so long ago that we reported a curious feature of the thesaurus in Microsoft Word. Type "unable to follow directions," highlight the entire sentence (minus punctuation), and hit Shift-F7. Is the word processor the confessional of the '90s?
I've confessed to one or two Viagra headaches, but you can keep me from underperforming by sending me a rumor.