Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Dosing the Bicycle

Jerry Stratton, May 31, 1994

I’m sitting in a room in the San José Hilton.

I switch on the portable computer and I’m riding with Albert Hoffman. Only this time...

We’ve dosed the bicycle.

Instead of dosing the message or the messenger, we’ve dosed the transport, and everyone who uses that transport gets the benefit of the nineties psychedelic high known as the Internet. Computers are Babbage’s Problem Child, and the sites and sounds and potentials on the Internet are at least as heady as Albert Hoffman’s first trip on LSD.

There are more people at the Convention Center today than the entire population of my home town of Hesperia Michigan. They are all here to discuss the Internet, the whole Internet, and nothing but the Internet. The conference is Meckler’s Internet World. The telephone in my hotel room has an outlet specifically for computers. It’s a long way from what I had to do five years ago: surreptitiously rewire the telephone jack at a Bed & Breakfast in Arizona, while driving a beat-up old Plymouth van to California to learn to play rock’n’roll guitar. Coming into San José on Southwest Air, each seat had a FAX/Modem jack to plug a computer into--for a mere two dollars plus two dollars a minute.

San José knows that it is a boring city. The bookstores all sell postcards from San Francisco.

Dear Katherine & Gini & Maddie:
I didn’t see the fireworks on the other side of this postcard. I did see the bridge while our plane was plummeting to the ground. I bought this card in a retro-diner while eating a Tex-Mex burger smothered in an entire avocado.
Love, Jerry

The diner in question is the California Kitchen in San José. Rating: Four napkins and a blocked artery, and two James Deans on the wall. Tomorrow: Abyssinian.

Dear Annick:
Don’t you think the Golden Gate Bridge is the perfect place for a Disney World?
Love, Jerry

The Golden Gate Bridge is a perfect metaphor for the Internet: It connects two places everyone wants to be over a beautiful bay that they’ll ignore on the way there. We ignore the bay in favor of the bridge that takes us over it. It’s crowded, overloaded, and probably ready to fall into the sea. In addition, it’s painted a gaudy color, is held up by God & wire, and was built by Asian Americans.

In every convention in the last two years, any seminar, class, or workshop with the word “Internet” in it has been swamped. An Internet-only convention is such a no-brainer I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it before. The Internet: It’s not just for geeks anymore. It’s for businessmen and teachers, publishers and readers.

And for burglars. One of the biggest topics at the convention promises to be security: firewalls and passwords. Maginût lines up and down the Internet blocking crackers and phreakers--computer criminals--from breaking and entering into computers. They work about as well as the real Maginût line did for the French against the Nazis.

And then, of course, there is the computer-based assault weapon that Clinton fears so much: PGP and public key cryptography. Codes that even the government can’t crack will radically affect the future of communicating. It will also change the way that the government deals with us.

Perhaps the next war will be fought on the net. Like Stanislaw Lem’s bombons and cadaverons, virtual tanks and virtual neutron bombs could wipe out virtual cities at a fraction of the cost of the real thing.

  1. WCCE 1995 ->