Internet Death Imminent: Frontiers are for Children

  1. Pileups on the Infobahn
  2. Internet Death Imminent
  3. Internet Farm

“I don’t want to go to school and learn solemn things,” he told her passionately. “I don’t want to be a man. O Wendy’s mother, if I was to wake up and feel there was a beard!”--Peter Pan

I live on the Internet because it is a refuge from the real world, and a wedge into the real world of the future. What I do on the electronic frontier today will echo into the electronic cities and highways of tomorrow. What I do today, your children will do next year. In some sense, it’s already turning around. What our children do today, we’ll do next year. The game computers such as Nintendo have always been more “state of the art” than the desktop computers in our offices. On the net today, the multiple-user games are providing a glimpse of what the future net will be.

I’m working as a computer operator at a small private University in San Diego. There is no ‘upgrade path’ to that job. It ain’t a ‘fast track to success’ in the computer world. But it does allow me to run a major Internet service station from my desktop at school. Universities traditionally allow--and even encourage--diversity, as well as opinions that the real world recognizes as twisted. I’m sticking with a basically dead-end job because it gives me Internet access in such an environment. I will gladly pay you Tuesday for freedom today.

You’re keeping a dead-end job in order to relive the sixties electronically? Will you ever grow up?

I’m too old to grow up.

Let me tell you what I believe the infobahn should become as it gets re-built into the Superhighway.

In the past, computers have allowed us to reorganize, first, how we deal with numbers. When the Visicalc spreadsheet software came out in the seventies, suddenly any idiot could produce detailed financial analyses and forecasts--if that idiot had a computer. Word processing software continues to redefine how we write, where we write, and when we write. Dr. Thurber said it this way:

I would note in passing, though, that the “document”... is more ephemeral than it would have been before the advent of computer networks: the “document” we hold in our hands is the “hard copy,” the most recent of several earlier electronic incarnations. While not earthshaking, this already represents a change: did Shakespeare create “hard copies?” No, and not just because he didn’t have a computer. The “documents” he understood himself to be creating were a different class of objects than hard-copy “documents” which record prior electronic interactions.(?)

The editing process that word processors allow, while not necessarily “earthshaking” (I think that I disagree with Dr. Thurber here) is a completely different way of writing than writing by hand or by typewriter. In a “how to write” lecture, author Daryl Mallett praised computers like Marc Antony praised Cæsar: “I used to be able to write a novel in a year. Now that I’ve got a computer, it takes three years.” (?)

Computers allow you to organize what you’re doing. You can organize your book (as I have done) in a way that helps you write it. You can also spend more time organizing than you ever would have before, because there is never any moment when you can’t change your mind. The ink doesn’t dry until you send it to the printers. On the net, the ink never dries at all.

The document revolution is over: all the new rulers are in place, and the old rules have been toppled. Visicalc relegated the slide rule to mathematical museums, and the Wordstar word processor and its successors have done the same to the typewriter, which itself held sway for less than a century.

The children of today can no more type without the cut-and-paste abilities of the computer than I can calculate statistical analyses on paper using the slide-rule I’ve kept in my desk as a talisman since I found it, abandoned, moving into a new home in 1977. The drawing-board is on its last legs as well.

When children come to see Jack Kirby’s drawing board at the Smithsonian, they’ll be looking at more than the legacy of the king of American comic books. They’ll be looking at a way of doing things that belongs to another age. Putting things down on paper and leaving them there is dead. Rather than just do it, we do it and think about it. The computer isn’t going to change the way we do things. It already has. All that’s left now is to sweep the debris under the rug.

What does this have to do with the net? The infobahn is a way for individuals to organize their personal community, and it’s going to have the same effect on community and culture that the word processor has had on the “document”, and that the spreadsheet has had on numbers. When you have the Internet and its bastard child, the information superhighway, you will have your choice as to what your community is.

You will have a folder called “friends”, a folder called “personal acquaintances”, a folder called “contacts”, and a folder called “business acquaintances”. With the flick of a finger you can move individuals from one folder to another, affecting how you talk to them and how you hear them, according to the priorities you have attached to the folder.

You will no longer be forced to live with the community that is geographically close to you. For some people, this will be a great gift. Many urban dwellers have no community anyway; a virtual community will fill a void that has been needed for at least a century.

Even if you are a complete loser, you will find a community on the net:

From: [b--d--y] at [] (Brad Woods)
Subject: Re: Pathetic loser seeks someone to love him
Date: 4 Apr 1995 23:59:21 GMT

Karl Peters ([k r peters] at []) wrote:
: *sigh*
: Well, the subject about says it all. I suck. Ergo, I am
: alone (people fail to love me for good reason.) Ergo, I feel
: lousy.

: Of course I would appreciate it if someone would try to help
: me feel better. But I am forced to admit that there is no reason
: why anyone would want to.

: ‘later.

: karl

: <marx>

Bummer, you too. huh?


Others will find that their friends are abandoning them for on-line pastures. As human beings, we tend to be able to juggle a limited number of people in our community-space. Making room for a group of model train fanatics in England will leave less room for people whose only claim to your community-space is that they live next door.

Or happen to be your parents.

For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother... (?)

My hope for the net is that it will become a place where anyone, no matter how strange, twisted, or bent by their own culture’s standards will find and create communities of others equally bent. And yes, this includes everyone from comic book artists to pedophiles. I want to see the rec.murder hierarchy, with its subgroups rec.murder.mass and rec.murder.religious, take its place next to recipes, and share the same bitstream with I see the net weakening the bonds that each person’s culture places on them from day one, and hope for a world where “socialization” is a choice not forced by the accident of birth.

Whether you drive up for the global community, the free books, or just to see what everyone else is doing, you will still have to make your own way, and that will take time from whatever else it is that you do. But there is certainly room for you on the infobahn, and if you decide to make your way into the traffic, the adventure is often enough its own reward.

I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me a busy signal.

  1. Dr. Barton Thurber, Why Computers Matter, The University of San Diego Access, Fall 1994.
  2. Daryl Mallett, “What to do after you’ve finished writing”, at the San Diego Comic-Con, 1993. He attributes it to Tim Powers. My own experience backs this up.
  3. Matthew 10:35
  1. Pileups on the Infobahn
  2. Internet Death Imminent
  3. Internet Farm