A Vice magazine writer newly arrived from London recently put out a top 10 list of reasons to hate Los Angeles, and one had the ring of truth: Nobody here will tell you what they do for a living.
The writer, Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, said that's because everyone pretends to be mega-successful or to work in Hollywood, but I have a different take: Jobs you can easily make sense of are going the way of the floppy disc. Butcher, baker, candlestick-maker? All vanishing. In their place are buzzy-sounding, multi-syllabic titles involving social media, the cloud and other nebulae.
Case in point, I attended a social hour for a group of engineers and entrepreneurs last week at a bar on La Cienega. The group was called "106 Miles" — after the scene in "The Blues Brothers" movie where Carrie Fisher shows up with a Tommy gun (don't ask). Among the organizers were a "geek whisperer," an "experience curator" and a "relationship curator."
I sat down in a dimly lighted red leather tuck-and-roll booth with the geek whisperer, Dave Gullo, 38. Gullo lives in Orange County but works as an engineer for a San Francisco company, Krux Digital, flying up to the Bay Area several times a month. "I have a saying: I'd rather fly to San Francisco than drive to Santa Monica," Gullo said.
The whispering part is because he really likes talking to other engineers (viz. geeks). A sturdily built guy, Gullo was wearing a T-shirt from another geek gathering. He also ran a now-closed snowboard gear sales business for 12 years.
Gullo's job these days is to track the trackers: those online advertisers that record every website you visit so they can club you over the head with ever more personally tailored ads.
"I shine a flashlight on the ground to see the cockroaches running around," said Gullo.
Why Gullo does what he does is where it gets complicated. Apparently rogue advertisement "entities" piggyback on the ones that pay and get their ads to pop up on your browser for free. "It's like you invite someone to a party and they bring six other friends with nothing who drink off your keg," Gullo explained.
Even more sneaky, he said, these uninvited stealth "entities" trade your demographic information and interests — not just the ads you click on, but the articles you read — on commercial data exchanges. High-value personal information can be worth far more to media companies than any one ad, and they want to keep it to themselves.
Gullo went on to talk about the white hats and black hats in his biz, but it went over my head. All I can say is privacy is also over.
About this time, another event organizer, C.K. Lin, stopped by our booth. Lin, who wore a turtleneck and geek chic horn-rimmed glasses, is an "entrepreneur in residence," which apparently is a real title at Internet startup labs. He helps CEOs "get to the next level" by vetting deals and introducing them to technical talent, partners and distribution channels.
Jobs today are all about platforms, he told me — deploying your product or message through multiple outlets, blogs, speeches, seminars, etc. If you do it right, you can even make money as a writer, he said.
Whoa, whoa, I said. Nobody's mentioned writing, at least the journalistic type, in the same breath as money for at least a decade. I challenged him to name one writer making real money off a blog.
"John Chow," he said. Chow blogs about making money off blogging. Sounds like a pyramid scheme! I responded.
"Seth Godin," he said. Another marketing blogger! I protested.
Then Lin brought up Tim Ferriss, author of "The 4-Hour Workweek," "4-Hour Body" and "4-Hour Chef." He's a diet guru! I protested. But Lin pointed out Ferriss has two New York Times bestsellers and a third on its way up.
I was out of arguments. So I went to find Beatriz Garcia, 28, of West Hollywood, the experience curator.
Garcia was sitting alone at a table dealing with her paid job for a nonprofit, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. What she does both for the society and as a volunteer for "106 Miles" sounded an awful lot like event-planning. But she explained that because she creates the whole experience, the venues, signs, lighting — everything you see and hear — the experience label is more accurate.
"I think people are more creative with their titles now because everyone's trying to be different," she said. "They're also trying to be wittier with their titles. We're in a time that's the way business is being done."
But why "curator"? Everything from tacos to lighting fixtures are curated now. Why?
Lin said calling yourself a curator is a way to provoke conversation. "The word has more panache now," he said.
I also heard about a "community curator," who apparently also puts on affairs, and a corporate "evangelist," who gives speeches about his or her company. Another guy signs people up for LegalShield, a prepaid legal company, but said he's a consultant, not a salesman, because he's not pushing a product, just "sharing a membership" or "giving access."
Clint Byrum, 34, just got a new job helping people at HP with their "cloud solutions." He said he hasn't bothered to learn what his job title might be because it doesn't matter.
"I looked at the people I'm going to be working with," he said. "I know what I'm going to do."