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"Absolution"

January 5, 1999


I suppose it can be excused. I suppose I can laugh at myself for falling into the trap. It's easy, after all, to mix the metaphor for the message. Crucial error, but an easy one when it comes to fin-de-sicele 20th century America, Land of Media.

You shouldn't talk unless you have something to say.

Just because you can broadcast your thoughts all over the world doesn't mean you necessarily should.

If you want to talk about the negative effects of unfettered communication, look at Geocities. I mean, you just have to wade through terrabytes of crap. Tripod is slightly better, but not by much. (As a Tripod user and a former Geocities user, I feel qualified to make such a judgment.) Millions of voices, all with their 10 megs to fill as they see fit.

I suppose it isn't the expanse of the medium as much as it is the lack of imagination. Not that I'm a Web visionary or anything - but I like the images I make. And my writing may be pedantic, but I like what I say here in this little forum. I enjoy my words, and I'm proud of them. Even the ones I regret. (I take it back, okay - glassdog.net is kinda useful, and Fierce is actually a very cool site once you get to know them. Note to self: Never whip off rant about Web culture without doing research.)

But, in a sense, isn't that what the Web is all about? Instantaneousness. Immediacy. You don't have to pick up a book or trek to the library to do research - you just go to Yahoo! and type in your query. You don't have to get in your car and go to a mall - you can just feed your credit card number into your Compaq. It's this rapidity, this digital give-and-take, that defines the Internet.

That's why people feel guilty if they don't instantly respond to someone's emails. I hear about people with email from last year that they haven't replied to. But why should they? Email has all but killed the art of letter-writing. I remember the thrill of receiving a letter in the mail, opening it, devouring its contents. I still have all the letters I've ever received. They're special. They mean something.

Email, however, lets you whip off a thought without thinking about it. You can send anything you want, be it a question, a stupid chain letter, or a resume, in a matter of seconds. What is this rapid communication doing to us?

I'm gonna go Neil Postman here, and expand on him a little bit. The faster and more rapid the means of communication, the less intelligible and important the message it conveys will be. The medium tailors the message.

I mean, the people who live and breathe for the Web have managed to transcend this rather pointless limitation. I mean people like My Pal Carl, Lance, Derek, and so on and so forth. (I just wish they'd stop publishing each other so goddamn much...you know, there are other people in cyberspace...) But personal pages are all over the place; very few of them are good. Why?

Because they're talking about the same shit that I found two journals ago. Guess someone's been busy with the cloning machine, eh? "Hey, look, another personal site that's all lower-case Verdana! Wow! Who'da thunk?"

Who are you? Who am I? Do you know me? Do you even pretend to know me? Is there a me? How do you know this isn't a hoax, written by some 55-year-old woman who found a picture of this blond guy and ran it through Photoshop a couple of times? Where the HELL is the personality?

People like to say that the Web can bring people together. Can it? Do I know Adam Rakunas through his Knock list, his web site, and the brief exchange of hellos we had at Smugdog? Does he know me? Does Alexis know Maggy? Do we know anyone simply by these Web pages? Guess what I'm like. Go on, guess. Just from this lousy Web site.

Because these Web sites aren't the real, unadulterated us. These aren't windows into our lives, our personalities, our souls. They're masks, just like any other. When you call up a personal site, you're not calling up a person. You're calling up 0's and 1's that weave an intricate (or not-so-intricate) mask. You're getting raw information that someone else has crafted, even it looks like the most painful personal confession a human being could muster.

Knowing a person means hearing their laugh, hugging them, arguing with them in a conversation, making love, singing karaoke in a dive, actual human contact. You know, all the stuff that digital impulses strip away from every message you send out into the great big world.

This isn't life. This isn't an alternative to life. This is a bonus, an extra, a handy convenience. Use it wisely, 'k?

Because you can scream into the void all you want, but it won't matter unless your words turn into actions.

Firmly yours,

Scott

 

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