4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Sam Sifton's Field Guide to the Yettie

A product of comic sociology

Sifton: "We had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing.  And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”
Sifton: "We had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing. And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”

A Field Guide to the Yettie

Talk Miramax Books, 2000; 150 pages; $10.95

FROM THE INTRODUCTION: “Yettie” is an acronym. Yetties are young. They are entrepreneurial. They are in their behavior and spirit technocrats. Those involved in the New Economy are fond of acronyms. The culture of the New Economy is rife with acronymic handiwork....

Within the yettie world, there are close to 20 distinct yettie types. These range from the mammothbrained geek CEOs who built the New Economy out of strings of numbers and rods of hope to the nerdy young ectomorphs who keep it standing through winds of change. A yettie can be a programmer, or a cheerful public-relations executive; he can also be a business-development guy, or a content-providing workhorse with a small one-bedroom apartment out in the sticks. He can be a lawyer, or a refugee from the world of brick-and-mortar retail sales, or a journalist, or a marketing rep.

There are, however, three archetype yettie strains, from which the rest of the yettie world descends. These are the Nerd Made Good, the Neo-Yuppie Prepster, and the Mouse Jockey. I’ll address those last two in a moment. But as the schoolyard bullies used to put it: first, the nerd. Upon the nerd — smart and bespectacled, standing alone on the playground in fourth grade, taunted by classmates — was the dot.com geek built. And upon that geek was raised the yettie in all his puzzling forms.

Sam Sifton was born in 1966 in New York. “I’m a Brooklyn boy,” he said on the afternoon that we talked. “I went to St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn and then I went to Collegiate School, where I was taught to cut my hair and tie a tie...clean my fingernails, write papers, and the like.”

Did they teach you to dance at Collegiate?

“I did not learn to dance. It was the late era of punk rock, so I learned to pogo.”

Sifton graduated from Harvard College in 1988, he said, “with a degree in history and literature, magna cum laude. I was cooking in a restaurant at the time, and parlayed my senior thesis for the history and literature department on Victor Gollancz, founder of the New Left Book Club. I parlayed a thesis into a review of a then-new biography of Gollancz, which I wrote for the New Republic. And then, from that, I got a job at American Heritage in New York. I stayed there for a year...left American Heritage to be a public school teacher. For three and a half years, three years. Started freelancing for the New York Press. All the time I was teaching, I was writing for the paper. And then I went to the New York Press full-time, and I stayed there for another five years.”

Sifton started at the New York Press as a staff writer and ended as managing editor. He was the paper’s restaurant critic and wrote a column called “Skillet,” which covered, he said, “food culture and business in New York. And I wrote a media column for the paper for a while and edited a lot of people.”

Two years ago Sifton went to work as an editor and writer for Talk, the magazine founded by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown. A Field Guide to the Yettie is Sifton’s first book.

A Field Guide to the Yettie had its beginnings in a piece Sifton did for Talk. But Sifton’s observations of the Yettie, the “field work,” began several years ago. Sifton explained, “The last two years I was at New York Press, we had offices on Seventh Avenue, in the mid-20s, but for the majority of the time that I was at the paper, our offices were in the Puck Building, which is in Soho, at Broadway and Lafayette, which is now the epicenter of Silicon Alley. And indeed, we had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing, it seemed to me, at an alarming rate, and eating up office space. These rapidly growing firms had rapidly growing staffs. And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”

Sifton’s work on “Skillet” required that he visit bars. “The bar scene in Soho,” he said, “is a good one. I’d go with my colleagues and jawbone with the bartenders, and the bars would fill up with these relentlessly casual, hipster kids, young people, people my age. I couldn’t at first identify them. ‘What do they do?’

“In the late 1980s, let’s say you ran a good Irish bar in New York City, and you did a good business, and then all of a sudden, a new group of monied customers started coming in, to drink martinis and smoke cigars. Well, a bartender could pick up the cash and be happy about it. But also, he might think, ‘God, these fucking yuppies.’ And I thought, ‘What do you call these people who work in dot-com firms?’ They aren’t yuppies. Yuppies are gone. They disappeared in 1987. The term lives on. But there are no more yuppies. Because they disappeared as a type, and we all — all of us, left-wing to right — accepted a lot of yuppie values. And I thought, ‘Christ, we’re all yuppies, if you have a job.’ If you had some wine in a glass in the past month, you’re a yuppie. Color you yuppie. But what do you call the elite? They aren’t all an elite. I was against this notion of calling them ‘dot-commies.’ It just didn’t work. The whole dot-thing seemed too ridiculous, because the new economy is booming so quickly that I would guess that even with recent market slowdowns and the volatility that we’re facing, I would guess that within three or four years, we’re not going to refer to these companies as dot-coms anymore. Amazon is a perfect example. No one talks about ‘Amazon-dot-com’ anymore. They talk about ‘Amazon.’ So the dot-com thing I saw going away.”

But, said Sifton, he felt he needed an acronym by which to call these people whom he didn’t want to call dot-commies. “Young entrepreneurial technocrats seemed to capture everyone, from the most naive young mouse jockey, a year out of Berkeley, to the most predatory VC” — the venture capitalist, whom Sifton characterizes as “the most rapacious pigkiller in all of yettiedom, save a Cyberlord at his most extortionate.”

Sifton concocted “yettie.” I asked if he thought he should patent it.

“No,” he said. “One of the lessons that the new economy is teaching us is that intellectual property is a thing of the past. So it would be silly to try to trademark the word and sell hats that say ‘Yettie’ on them. I’m happy enough that the new Penguin English dictionary, which came out several months ago in England, includes yettie.” Sifton explained that the dictionary’s editors happened upon yettie from reading his Talk magazine piece.

When the talk first began about turning the article into a book, said Sifton, “We sat around and talked about how to do that, and what it should be. Originally, we had talked a lot about charts. We talked a lot about illustrations. We talked a lot about The Preppy Handbook and all of that. I went home and I thought, ‘Damn, my first book is a cat calendar. I’m doing a Garfield book.’ I was so depressed and pissed off about that. I didn’t want to do that. So I started writing, and the more I started writing, I decided in my head, okay, I'll keep telling everybody it’s a cat calendar. Maybe it will end up having to be a cat calendar. But I started thinking about those Tom Wolfe books, and I thought, if he can do it, I can do it too. So I decided to do it that way. And at the end of the experience, at the end of the manuscript, I thought, there’s some writing in there I’m proud of, that’s cool. It’s not a cat calendar after all.”

Sifton is a close observer of clothing. I asked what he wore to work at Talk.

“Going from New York Press to Talk was a bit like going from the St. Ann’s School to the Collegiate School. At New York Press you could pretty much wear whatever you want. I thought ‘going uptown,’ so to speak, or metaphorically ‘uptown,’ it would all be black suits and magazine-boy outfits and the like. I flirted with that. But I found a happy medium where you can wear skateboard shoes and jeans and dark shirts.”

Sifton writes in his description of the VC about the VC’s choice in khakis. “The dictates of west-coast business-casual style demand the pleats, for which the VC takes heat when he’s in New York.” I asked Sifton about the pleats and no-pleats in khakis.

“It’s just a product of my observational reporting, my comic sociology. I noticed when I went out to the West Coast to report, that the barristers — and the CEOs, for that matter — did not seem to be so much slaves to fashion as they are in the Silicon Alley. The Silicon Alley Cats are very, very wired into these flat-front khakis. And I didn’t notice that so much on the West Coast.

In fact, quite the opposite. Deep pleats. I even noticed some cuffs on the khakis.”

The Designer Girl, the E-Artiste, the Analyst, the PR Bunny are among the girl yetties Sifton describes. I said that I was surprised to find so many women in his book, because I’d assumed that this yettie world was almost entirely male.

“I think that only 30 percent of the yetties, or 30 percent of the New Economy, is female. I think it probably has a lot to do with how we teach math. I imagine it will change. But, that said, there are, in fact, a lot of women who are yetties. They work mostly as content providers and in marketing and public relations, not too much in programming positions. The PR bunnies are entrusted with the image of a firm with a market cap that could be very close to a billion dollars. And they’re labeled as PR bunnies by these dorky programming guys. Well, you know what, those women are awfully smart and in a very kind of post-post ironic, triple-postfeminist way revel in this label because it allows them to get their job done. It is easier to get your job done in public relations if you’re really smart because people think you’re stupid and just a pretty girl.”

Most yetties, Sifton writes, are smart, he said. “That’s one of the things that marks the yettie as different from the yuppie and different from the hippie. You could be a hippie just by dressing like one and smelling like one. It’s pretty easy to be a dirty hippie, you just need long hair and dirt. The yuppie you just needed to go to the right school and then get the right kind of job and the right clothes. And the most important part were the clothes and the job. If you had anything to do with the financial industry and wore a yellow power tie, you were a yuppie. There were smart ones and dumb ones. This is,not to say that every yettie is smart. But many, many, many of them are. That’s one of the cool things about them, is that brains will out.”

— Judith Moore

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The Yoda Code

“Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they.”
Next Article

Wahoo send anglers to the ER

Their Hawaiian name, ‘ono’, means ‘delicious’
Sifton: "We had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing.  And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”
Sifton: "We had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing. And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”

A Field Guide to the Yettie

Talk Miramax Books, 2000; 150 pages; $10.95

FROM THE INTRODUCTION: “Yettie” is an acronym. Yetties are young. They are entrepreneurial. They are in their behavior and spirit technocrats. Those involved in the New Economy are fond of acronyms. The culture of the New Economy is rife with acronymic handiwork....

Within the yettie world, there are close to 20 distinct yettie types. These range from the mammothbrained geek CEOs who built the New Economy out of strings of numbers and rods of hope to the nerdy young ectomorphs who keep it standing through winds of change. A yettie can be a programmer, or a cheerful public-relations executive; he can also be a business-development guy, or a content-providing workhorse with a small one-bedroom apartment out in the sticks. He can be a lawyer, or a refugee from the world of brick-and-mortar retail sales, or a journalist, or a marketing rep.

There are, however, three archetype yettie strains, from which the rest of the yettie world descends. These are the Nerd Made Good, the Neo-Yuppie Prepster, and the Mouse Jockey. I’ll address those last two in a moment. But as the schoolyard bullies used to put it: first, the nerd. Upon the nerd — smart and bespectacled, standing alone on the playground in fourth grade, taunted by classmates — was the dot.com geek built. And upon that geek was raised the yettie in all his puzzling forms.

Sam Sifton was born in 1966 in New York. “I’m a Brooklyn boy,” he said on the afternoon that we talked. “I went to St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn and then I went to Collegiate School, where I was taught to cut my hair and tie a tie...clean my fingernails, write papers, and the like.”

Did they teach you to dance at Collegiate?

“I did not learn to dance. It was the late era of punk rock, so I learned to pogo.”

Sifton graduated from Harvard College in 1988, he said, “with a degree in history and literature, magna cum laude. I was cooking in a restaurant at the time, and parlayed my senior thesis for the history and literature department on Victor Gollancz, founder of the New Left Book Club. I parlayed a thesis into a review of a then-new biography of Gollancz, which I wrote for the New Republic. And then, from that, I got a job at American Heritage in New York. I stayed there for a year...left American Heritage to be a public school teacher. For three and a half years, three years. Started freelancing for the New York Press. All the time I was teaching, I was writing for the paper. And then I went to the New York Press full-time, and I stayed there for another five years.”

Sifton started at the New York Press as a staff writer and ended as managing editor. He was the paper’s restaurant critic and wrote a column called “Skillet,” which covered, he said, “food culture and business in New York. And I wrote a media column for the paper for a while and edited a lot of people.”

Two years ago Sifton went to work as an editor and writer for Talk, the magazine founded by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown. A Field Guide to the Yettie is Sifton’s first book.

A Field Guide to the Yettie had its beginnings in a piece Sifton did for Talk. But Sifton’s observations of the Yettie, the “field work,” began several years ago. Sifton explained, “The last two years I was at New York Press, we had offices on Seventh Avenue, in the mid-20s, but for the majority of the time that I was at the paper, our offices were in the Puck Building, which is in Soho, at Broadway and Lafayette, which is now the epicenter of Silicon Alley. And indeed, we had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing, it seemed to me, at an alarming rate, and eating up office space. These rapidly growing firms had rapidly growing staffs. And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”

Sifton’s work on “Skillet” required that he visit bars. “The bar scene in Soho,” he said, “is a good one. I’d go with my colleagues and jawbone with the bartenders, and the bars would fill up with these relentlessly casual, hipster kids, young people, people my age. I couldn’t at first identify them. ‘What do they do?’

“In the late 1980s, let’s say you ran a good Irish bar in New York City, and you did a good business, and then all of a sudden, a new group of monied customers started coming in, to drink martinis and smoke cigars. Well, a bartender could pick up the cash and be happy about it. But also, he might think, ‘God, these fucking yuppies.’ And I thought, ‘What do you call these people who work in dot-com firms?’ They aren’t yuppies. Yuppies are gone. They disappeared in 1987. The term lives on. But there are no more yuppies. Because they disappeared as a type, and we all — all of us, left-wing to right — accepted a lot of yuppie values. And I thought, ‘Christ, we’re all yuppies, if you have a job.’ If you had some wine in a glass in the past month, you’re a yuppie. Color you yuppie. But what do you call the elite? They aren’t all an elite. I was against this notion of calling them ‘dot-commies.’ It just didn’t work. The whole dot-thing seemed too ridiculous, because the new economy is booming so quickly that I would guess that even with recent market slowdowns and the volatility that we’re facing, I would guess that within three or four years, we’re not going to refer to these companies as dot-coms anymore. Amazon is a perfect example. No one talks about ‘Amazon-dot-com’ anymore. They talk about ‘Amazon.’ So the dot-com thing I saw going away.”

But, said Sifton, he felt he needed an acronym by which to call these people whom he didn’t want to call dot-commies. “Young entrepreneurial technocrats seemed to capture everyone, from the most naive young mouse jockey, a year out of Berkeley, to the most predatory VC” — the venture capitalist, whom Sifton characterizes as “the most rapacious pigkiller in all of yettiedom, save a Cyberlord at his most extortionate.”

Sifton concocted “yettie.” I asked if he thought he should patent it.

“No,” he said. “One of the lessons that the new economy is teaching us is that intellectual property is a thing of the past. So it would be silly to try to trademark the word and sell hats that say ‘Yettie’ on them. I’m happy enough that the new Penguin English dictionary, which came out several months ago in England, includes yettie.” Sifton explained that the dictionary’s editors happened upon yettie from reading his Talk magazine piece.

When the talk first began about turning the article into a book, said Sifton, “We sat around and talked about how to do that, and what it should be. Originally, we had talked a lot about charts. We talked a lot about illustrations. We talked a lot about The Preppy Handbook and all of that. I went home and I thought, ‘Damn, my first book is a cat calendar. I’m doing a Garfield book.’ I was so depressed and pissed off about that. I didn’t want to do that. So I started writing, and the more I started writing, I decided in my head, okay, I'll keep telling everybody it’s a cat calendar. Maybe it will end up having to be a cat calendar. But I started thinking about those Tom Wolfe books, and I thought, if he can do it, I can do it too. So I decided to do it that way. And at the end of the experience, at the end of the manuscript, I thought, there’s some writing in there I’m proud of, that’s cool. It’s not a cat calendar after all.”

Sifton is a close observer of clothing. I asked what he wore to work at Talk.

“Going from New York Press to Talk was a bit like going from the St. Ann’s School to the Collegiate School. At New York Press you could pretty much wear whatever you want. I thought ‘going uptown,’ so to speak, or metaphorically ‘uptown,’ it would all be black suits and magazine-boy outfits and the like. I flirted with that. But I found a happy medium where you can wear skateboard shoes and jeans and dark shirts.”

Sifton writes in his description of the VC about the VC’s choice in khakis. “The dictates of west-coast business-casual style demand the pleats, for which the VC takes heat when he’s in New York.” I asked Sifton about the pleats and no-pleats in khakis.

“It’s just a product of my observational reporting, my comic sociology. I noticed when I went out to the West Coast to report, that the barristers — and the CEOs, for that matter — did not seem to be so much slaves to fashion as they are in the Silicon Alley. The Silicon Alley Cats are very, very wired into these flat-front khakis. And I didn’t notice that so much on the West Coast.

In fact, quite the opposite. Deep pleats. I even noticed some cuffs on the khakis.”

The Designer Girl, the E-Artiste, the Analyst, the PR Bunny are among the girl yetties Sifton describes. I said that I was surprised to find so many women in his book, because I’d assumed that this yettie world was almost entirely male.

“I think that only 30 percent of the yetties, or 30 percent of the New Economy, is female. I think it probably has a lot to do with how we teach math. I imagine it will change. But, that said, there are, in fact, a lot of women who are yetties. They work mostly as content providers and in marketing and public relations, not too much in programming positions. The PR bunnies are entrusted with the image of a firm with a market cap that could be very close to a billion dollars. And they’re labeled as PR bunnies by these dorky programming guys. Well, you know what, those women are awfully smart and in a very kind of post-post ironic, triple-postfeminist way revel in this label because it allows them to get their job done. It is easier to get your job done in public relations if you’re really smart because people think you’re stupid and just a pretty girl.”

Most yetties, Sifton writes, are smart, he said. “That’s one of the things that marks the yettie as different from the yuppie and different from the hippie. You could be a hippie just by dressing like one and smelling like one. It’s pretty easy to be a dirty hippie, you just need long hair and dirt. The yuppie you just needed to go to the right school and then get the right kind of job and the right clothes. And the most important part were the clothes and the job. If you had anything to do with the financial industry and wore a yellow power tie, you were a yuppie. There were smart ones and dumb ones. This is,not to say that every yettie is smart. But many, many, many of them are. That’s one of the cool things about them, is that brains will out.”

— Judith Moore

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

San Diego aggressive rollerbladers return in strength

Big Wheels invade Balboa Park, Liberty Station
Next Article

Half-baked tracks with organic music quality

Local Natives, Nicey Nice World, Sully Band, Deaf Club, Steve Poltz
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close