InfoShok: A Wake on the Internet

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I come into the office comparatively early in the morning, and I bicycle for environmental reasons. Which means I don’t listen to the news before I leave, and I don’t listen to the news on the way in. On August 9, 1995, hump day smack dab in the middle of the week, I received this message right around half-past nine in the morning.

I had no idea what it was about.

Date: Wed, 9 Aug 1995 12:28:12 -0500
From: TOM MCGANN <fsz01>
To: jerry
Subject: WHAT A SAD DAY *clt*
Cc: [f s z 01] at []






“What a long, strange trip it’s been” is an obvious reference to the Grateful Dead song Truckin’. Most of the lyrics of songs sung by the Dead are available on-line. Long ago, I modified a Unix program of mine so that it could search through these lyrics and find a song by keyword. So if you wanted the lyrics to all the songs sung by the Dead that include the word “Cassidy”, well, thanks to my program, you could do it.

So I assume Tom is thanking me for writing this program, but it’s an awfully strange way of doing it.

A few minutes later, I hear some people come into the office’s main area, and they’re talking about some death that occurred early in the morning.

Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack in Marin County at 4:20 in the morning.

The Grateful Dead community is not your average group of fans. You don’t see the Grateful Dead, you follow them. The Deadhead community is a lot like the Internet community, and a lot of Deadheads are on-line. They’ve even got their own Usenet newsgroup,, and I knew immediately that something was going to happen there as soon as the news filtered through. But I had no idea what.

The Grateful Dead newsgroup is a fairly heavily trafficked newsgroup. I probably see two hundred to three hundred messages a day, although I read very few of those messages. For the next six days saw over a thousand messages a day. It is Monday evening as I write this, and the deluge hasn’t stopped. People are writing about their favorite shows, their first shows, who introduced them to the Dead, who they’ve introduced to the Dead--their lovers, parents, friends, and children.

They’re talking about how the Dead and Jerry Garcia have affected their lives, they’re telling stories about meetings and near-meetings and spiritual meetings. They’re talking about where the Dead will go, and, more importantly, where the Deadheads will go.

Vigils are being held nightly across the country. After a number of postings for vigils are made, David Whiteis compiles a “Nightly Vigil FAQ” combining them all. I archive it on Cerebus the Gopher. It lists where vigils are being held in various cities across the states.

Web pages are sprouting left and right with pictures of the man, pictures of shows, stories, dreams, and news. I’ve still got some links to a few. They’re going to stay up for a long time.

People have died before, and no doubt there have been occasional eulogies on the net. But this is the world’s first electronic wake. It’s one massive party of laughing and crying, wondering, planning, working things out and trying to make sense of a lost loved one. Early risers crying into the void, “where is everyone?”, greeted by replies, “we’re here, don’t worry.” And you can see the tears through all the text-only postings.

Poetry is composed, laws are broken, songs are sung. Believe it if you need it: the Internet is a place for social interaction. It’s a place where people can go when they need a friend as much as when they need a fact. Within the Internet, there are communities as rich and as varied as any that live on land or sea.

In the land of night, the chariot of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead. On the Internet, the bit stream flows from the heart of the on-line community.

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