(Note: Pretty florid on the headline, huh? OK, it was 1995; we were flush with the excitement that this was all going to be SO big ... you get the idea. (Jeff) )
Jeff and I are tired of media pundits denouncing the e-maelstrom of cyberspace conversation as a sad commentary on our "depersonalized" times, when people don't even speak face-to-face anymore. As though, before the introduction of the home computer in 1978, we'd all sat around discussing Sartre. Who had time when Starsky & Hutch was on? We'd like to know why there is this inherent cultural bias some have that says no communication medium is valid unless the two people involved can touch each other. And why do the Internet's harshest critics always seem to be the ones who don't get on-line?
-->JS: She means people like U.S. Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., who made the startling discovery that there was pornography on the Internet because ... someone ... told him. What I wanna know is, who was the spoilsport? Exon's Senate bill 314, designed for the express purpose of letting everyone know that the Senate had heard all about computers and that everyone had better just "watch out, or else," did accomplish this: there is now, in fact, more space on the Internet devoted to what witless chowderheads U.S. senators are than there is to dirty pictures. This is progress.
If anything, cyberspace may actually bring us together again. For starters, there is nothing passive about electronic mail. You actually have to react to something and type your response. If you're doing that, chances are you're not sitting in stupefied catatonia in front of your TV. For another thing, you can talk to anyone anywhere on the planet if they're wired. You're no longer limited to human contact within your hometown or your state or however far you usually travel. You can be more honest than you ever would be, say things you would never say to someone personally, and get sincere feedback.
--> JS: Anyone who thinks e-mail or news-group participation is anything less than a full contact sport hasn't really played. People not in tip-top intellectual condition get carried off the field every day. You can play casually, but only if you avoid the the blood-sport arenas like Fidonet's "Holy Smoke," where no one should venture unless they're prepared to have their religious belief system dismantled by experts.
Raysor, a Baltimore, Maryland-based Netizen found recently on one of Internet Relay Chat's "Newbie" areas, certainly didn't seem to find cyberspace depersonalizing. "There are thirty or more people I've actually gotten to know," he commented. "After I get to know people I feel better able to communicate without repercussions."
Steen, from Amsterdam, had a differing opinion. "Anonymity gives you freedom, until you get to know people. But you aren't judged by how you look, or other things."
-->JS: There are pluses and minuses to anonymity and distance. No one can hit anyone, which is good. On the other hand, some people take advantage of this by zooming around saying things that would get them punched in the mouth if they said them in person, which is bad. Sen. Exon probably would have scored points with netfolk if he had championed legislation that would allow individuals to administer non-lethal electric shocks through cyberspace to anyone who types "Wanna fuck" more than once per keyboard session.
People, in general, find it is worth it to suffer the occasional foulmouthed idiot. If your Internet address doesn't give you away, people can't tell whether you're male, female, black, white, handicapped, gay, straight, Jewish, Tanzanian-American, or older than Ronald Reagan's grandmother. The only thing that shows is your educational background, depending on how articulately or poorly you post your pearls of wisdom.
-->JS: We both have been nonplussed, on occasion, to discover that we were having deep, meaningful conversations on the meaning of life with 14-year-olds, whom we generally hold in higher esteem than we did before we ventured out ... here.
How does on-line conversation differ from real-life conversation? "If I met a pretty lady on the street and just started talking to her, I might get arrested," Raysor pointed out. "But on IRC, you know that people are here to talk." And how does one tell whether a lady on the computer is pretty or not? "Maybe you can tell if a lady is pretty by the way she sounds on IRC!" a fellow calling himself Dodger added.
-->JS: Maybe you can; and maybe you can't. I once spent a hilarious two hours on America Online using one of Nicole's female pseudonyms, deflating male egos, ranting the N.O.W. party line and being irresponsible in general. My attitude seemed to inflame certain male libidos; the more sensitive gentlemen engaged me in private conversations for the express purpose of reassuring me that, in fact, there are kind, sensitive men, even on America Online, who know that putting the toilet seat down is important.
"Why are you bothering?" I asked one. "I know there are nice men. Heck, for all you know, I could BE a guy, making all this up!"
"Nah," he replied. "I could tell if you were a guy."
"Tales from the Bitstream" is a participatory exercise in cyberspace. Jeff and Nicole can be reached out ... there ... at jeffbot at this domain or in care of the New Haven Advocate.
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