Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 5 / September 1, 1994 / Page 12

Mindless Child of Mother Net

by Man O'Sung

Are you connected? Do you have access to all the Usenet newsgroups? Clarinet? FTP? Gopher? Http? IRC? If so, you probably spend a great deal of time in front of your radiation box, microwaving your brain.

If you also work with computers then you may find that you spend most of your waking hours in front of a CRT with your fingers tapping the keys. AAAIIIIIEEEEEE! Some might say that if you work for your entire business day in front of something then you might find the mere mention of this thing nauseating.

Strangely enough, this is often not the case--many people choose to use much of their free time exchanging information and ideas (read: arguing and clowning) on the Usenet and Internet.

But what of those who aren't connected? Are they missing out? They must be-- that's what they are frequently told by their net.savvy friends and acquaintances as well as by the media, telecommunications gurus and advertising.

A typical question asked by the uninitiated goes something like: "How can you converse and debate so much with people you have never met, people you know so very little about, people who you don't even know exist beyond the shadow of a doubt?"

Perhaps the correct answer is "Easy!" But the response to this question is more often in the form of an attack on the person asking. It goes something like this: "They don't get it at all-- the reasons I like it are the very reasons they question and dislike it!"

I'm afraid I don't understand that argument. Certainly the nets do remove a lot of tension and responsibility from interacting with others but I'm not sure that's such a good thing. On the Usenet, people often bring up the concept of the "signal-to-noise ratio," a metaphor representing the ratio of text worth reading to the crap not worth reading. Many readers consider there to be entirely too much noise. But could not all the messages accurately be described as noise? With so many opinions flying around, the original point or message of a Usenet article is often lost, but the discussion continues, endlessly changing topics (much as this article does). How can one attach more importance to one article than another? Grammar and demonstration of intelligence and humor are one way to judge, predetermined agreement or disagreement is a more arbitrary way, but maybe there is no point in judging at all. It is certainly interesting to hear other's opinions (though they rarely change our own), but how many opinions would one want to endure? As Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu once said, "Waiting for one shifting voice [to pass judgment on] another is the same as waiting for none of them."

I think there is such a thing as too much communication. Especially the watered-down "virtual" communication that takes place on the nets. Maybe a smaller amount of real-life, actual communication would be more helpful than endless carefree chatter. In my experience, people who don't know a thing about any net are not less informed or less interesting than those who do, and some are rather more interesting.

I suspect this has to do with the excess of talk and lack of action that the use of the nets entails.

I have been on the Internet and Usenet for three years and this is the opinion I am left with: at best, the nets are tools to be used when needed; at worst, they are a venue for mindless, addictive entertainment and petty battles for self-importance. Personally, I use them for the mindless entertainment.

If you love irony, then please feel free to post follow-ups to the appropriate Usenet newsgroup, io.eye.d. ¤

Man O'Sung is a Western Ape and and aspiring free-lance writer. Man O'Sung is a cowardly alias--Internet address also withheld by request.

Copyright © 1994 Man O'Sung. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

This article originally appeared in eye WEEKLY, Toronto's arts newspaper (motto: "Break the Gutenberg Lock..."). eye WEEKLY is distributed both online and on paper (in the Toronto area) every Thursday for free. eye's full issues are available online.

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