Buy This Book or Eat My Dust

  1. Introduction
  2. Who the Hell is Jerry Stratton?

“Technology is changing so fast that each new discovery is old news before we have even had a chance to consider its implications.”--Börre Ludvigsen (?)

The “Indian Runner” is a legend among certain North American tribes. The runner is bringing a message across a long distance, but over the course of the story the messenger becomes the message. Some modern information theorists claim the opposite: that the message becomes the messenger. You’ve heard this as the medium is the message. If the medium is the message, what does the information highway mean for us? What is the message of the Internet?

What would your life be like without your car? No car, no bus, no airplane. At best, a bicycle or a public horse-carriage.

  1. You would have a different job, or you would live in a different place: probably a company town, or the center of the city.
  2. You would have different friends. You would no longer keep in touch with friends who moved across town. Of course, fewer of them would.
  3. You would spend your leisure time completely differently. No more popping off to a beach or an amusement park a “mere” sixty miles away. You would stay home, and do whatever was available to you at home.

In short, your work life and home life would be completely changed. You would eat differently and love differently and fuck differently. You would have married a different person-- the girl next door--and your friends by necessity would be limited to those who lived within walking distance. We can barely imagine how different our lives would be without the motor vehicle.

Now imagine that your car could take you, instantly, to France, or Pakistan, or Berkeley, or Prague. That it could take you to the doorstep of any inhabitant of any country around the world.

You’ve just imagined the Internet. How do you think that will affect your life, and the lives of your children? We cannot imagine how our children’s lives will be changed by the infobahn. And they won’t be able to imagine what we did without it.

Everything about the Internet today is news. As I write this, the headlines are screaming that “the most notorious hacker in the world has been captured!” At the University of Michigan, a student has been arrested for writing dirty stories--and mentioned the name of another student at U of M (more). People write dirty stories all the time. His mistake was to do so on the Internet. His ass was hauled into jail for a month, until three consecutive psychological examinations showed that he was not “a man who would act out the sexual violence he wrote about.” Had Baker stuck to traditional publishing and written a novel or just sent off a letter to Forum he would’ve found life a lot simpler and might’ve even made some money in the deal. Now he’s out on bail, is forbidden to go back to college or speak to his friends on the Internet, and needs to prepare for his trial. (Josh White)

Every two-bit thief is news today if their crime happens on the Internet, but when, half a decade ago, a college student named Robert Morris brought the entire Internet to its knees with a badly-designed virus, it merited little more than a few paragraphs in the Weird Science ghetto.

What does this mean? It means that a lot of people, including the people who enforce our laws, have no idea what to do with the Internet. The Internet is as alien to the older generation as the drug subculture was to the older generation of the sixties. Talking about the LSD subculture in particular, Dale Gieringer said:

The DEA hates LSD because it epitomizes many of the best characteristics of the alternative drug culture: it is non-addictive, rarely causes crime or violence, and often begets strong spiritual feelings. Moreover, it is distributed by people who have a strong ethical sense that is difficult for narcotics agents to penetrate. (Dale Gieringer)

It’s hard to call the Internet non-addictive, but the rest of the DEA’s problems apply as well to the Internet as they do to LSD. Most members of the “alternative drug culture” would be quite at home on the infobahn--and in fact, quite a few are. Police officers, on the other hand, have recently found it quite easy to infiltrate the lower echelons of Grateful Dead fandom, but they’ve yet to make their presence known in any way on the Internet.

If the police don’t understand the Internet, how did they catch Jake Baker, writer of dirty stories? The daughter of an influential U of M alumnus was reading and found his story particularly intriguing. This answers a question that’s been burning in the minds of a.s.s. readers since the dawn of time: do women read it too? Yes. And then they save the best bits to share with their fathers. is an embarrassment to the net, but the embarrassment has nothing to do with the message. It’s the medium. is all text. There’s no sound, no pictures, no dancing bits to woo and entice. It’s just a bunch of words, some in the tradition of Anaïs Nin, most in the tradition of Penthouse Forum. And to a culture that thinks in terms of multimedia, as the Internet elite does, letting its most graphic elements thrive as pure text is something that just shouldn’t be talked about in public.

Our society is well on its way to returning from its relatively brief sojourn with writing, back to a visual orientation. This book takes up .025% of the space on my computer. I could write a thousand books this size before even coming close to running out of space. A single picture can easily take up more space than this entire book. In the visual computer age, the book is worth nothing. It’s just text. When we say that a picture is worth a thousand words today, we’re talking about its economic value, not its educational value, and we’re underestimating its economic value at that. I work at the University of San Diego’s computing department. Our ‘interface’ to the Internet only allows people to get ‘text’ from their home computers. When we tell USD students that they can still get to the Internet through our text-based computers, that they just can’t get any pictures, the most common response is “so what good is it?” All the writings of Shakespeare are available to them. Oscar Wilde’s plays. Edgar Allan Poe. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. And, yes, the daily contents of And it’s all worthless, because they can’t get pictures.

What Your Children are Doing on the Information Highway started life as a series of ‘reports’ on the San José Internet convention known as Meckler’s Internet World, held in June of ‘94, and evolved further through a number of discussions with Thor Brickman, and with Jack Pope and Bart Thurber at the University of San Diego in conjunction with a paper for an English computer conference. Bart and I will have presented the paper to a thousand crazy Englishmen in July of 1995. Oh, and Dr. Pope, my boss at the University, says he knows nothing about anything that I wrote here. It’s all my fault. Thor doesn’t care. He knew all this stuff already.

Well now, what children am I talking about? Are five year-olds roaming the Information Highway behind the wheels of Turbo Pentiums and Power PCs?

Not yet. But they will be soon. If your children are in college, they almost certainly have access to the Highway. If your children have a job in an engineering or computer-related business, they do have access to the Highway. If their grade school is on the K-12 network, they have access to the Highway. Do you or your children subscribe to Compuserve? America On-Line? Delphi? GENie? Then they can drive up an on- ramp to the Information Highway.

And many of them do. So if you don’t want to be left behind in a cloud of electronic dust, you’d better read my book, preferably the hardcover. The Internet is a dusty library of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The shit that’s happening on the Internet will turn your hair gray. (footnotes) Dig, white boy? But everything that I write about here, whether it’s sex or guns or drugs, applies just as well to cooking and cars and model trains. On the Internet, you choose whatever community you want, whether its druggies or train spotters. The message doesn’t matter on a medium as powerful as the global net.

Actually, I’m just a good ol’ boy from Michigan. I thought I’d let my friends know about the infobahn. We need more frontiersmen for the electronic frontier. Feel like you have something to tell the world? I suspect that a lot of you landlubbers do have something to say, and some of you might even be interesting to listen to. You need the net, and the net needs you.

  1. “Presence and Form in the Architecture of Cyberspace”, Proc. INET 93.
  2. Her first name appeared at the very end of the story, and her last name was the title. It was, according to those people who could actually find a copy and read it, a sexual pun.
  3. Josh White, The Michigan Daily, 3/13/95. The charges have since been dropped.
  4. Dale Gieringer, California Drug Policy Reform Coalition.
  5. Speaking of your hair, white boy, you’ll notice lots of horrible footnotes scattered throughout this book. Don’t let ‘em scare you. That’s the tradition of the net. Or, if you do let them scare you, stay the hell away from the Internet. With an attitude like that, “cites, please?” is probably the second thing you’ll hear, right after “sure, asshole.” On the net, bald statements must be backed up with references, and even the common sense knowledge that everyone knows will be disputed by someone, somewhere. The net is a very big place.
  1. Introduction
  2. Who the Hell is Jerry Stratton?