There is a sinister undertow...
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 95 13:11:57 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: There is a sinister undertow...
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Appeared in the UK Independent on January 24, 1995.
Dear Net Junkies,
Go ahead and fry your brains, turn into zombies, it's a free
world. I don't mind if you want to fritter away your lives
wired up to a terminal. It's none of my business if you get
your kicks from interactive electronic sex. I even admit to a
kind of sneaking admiration when you hack into some
international banking corporation or the Pentagon. Some of my
best friends are computer nerds.
But whenever I hear the latest technobabble about 'surfing the
Internet,' I reach for my gun. I can understand that, hooked
up to a heap of silicon, you are bound to be desperate for some
spurious glamour. But let's get things straight: clicking your
mouse is not surfing. Dialing up a monstrously over-hyped
global noticeboard does not make you into cool dudes, beach boys
in baggy shorts. 'Graze' the Net, if you will, like the less
hypocritical couch potatoes whose only exercise is punching
their remote controls. Cruise, crawl, trawl or snuffle the net
-- but not surf.
'Surfing the Net' is not just a piece of innocent poetic
licence. There is a sinister undertow, a clear danger of
hard-won lived experience being swept away by pixels. A
generation is growing up under the impression that jacking in
and booting up and opening a window is what surfing really is.
Riding massive life-threatening waves, probably the most
difficult and dangerous and rapturous sport in the world, with
its roots in Polynesian culture going back a couple of
millennia, will come to be seen as derivative, a video-game
dreamed up by burned-out keyboard jockeys. 'Getting in the
tube' -- the ultimate sensation -- will be interpreted as a mere
metaphor for gazing mesmerically into your Mac, synaptically
synchronizing with the cosmic artificial intelligence.
If you want to be mice not men, so be it. What worries me is
the virtual virus, the Web conspiracy. Net evangelists, who
have taken over large chunks of the media, education, goverment,
cafes -- everything -- make other fanatical religious cults look
distinctly amateur. But your metaphysical strategy is familiar:
take an intangible (the Ideas, God, the Internet), idolize it
and elevate it so that it overshadows and undermines the real.
Rewriting Derrida, the sinister implication of terminal
terminology is that 'There is nothing beyond the Web.' Being
is being on the Net.
The real has been relegated to the status of add-on, an optional
accessory. Surfing is one of the few remaining vestiges of
intense, uncompromising reality left. The last time I was in
Hawaii, I ran into one of the cyberspace navvies laying down
the information superhighway that runs through Maui. He pointed
out that, even landlocked and wave-starved in England you can
now call up 'Surfnet' on your computer for a dose of simulated
surfing. 'But,' he was frank enough to admit, 'it'll never be
a substitute for a spitting twelve-foot barrel at Pipeline.'
Let's compromise. I promise not to lose my cool every time you
surf the Net on the condition that if you slip and press the
wrong key you download death in a million-volt wipeout.
© 1995 Peter Langston