A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Infobahn

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“Thots continue to orbit around the idea of cyberspace, of Internet and Connectivity. Made a purch. Will receive modem & AOL by next week. What will all this jargon do to mod lit?”
Journal Note, May 7, 1994

For me, the idea of linking up with the Net first emerged sometime in 1993. I wanted to get a modem, but in order to do this I had to upgrade my Mac… (I was still driving my original 512Ke.) This done I looked forward to Christmas when I could ask for a chunk of the payment toward a good fax/modem from Mr. Deep Pockets (as in Dad.) Unfortunately, I had some major writing projects I wanted to tackle, and I feared getting into the Pioneer Netsurf Mode would damage my productivity.

Fast forward to May 5, 94. It was a Thursday and I decided to visit Thinkman, a Net Surfer. He opened the gates and gave me my first peek inside the realm I had heretofore only dreamed of. Naturally, I was hooked.

Net travel quickly became the primary preoccupation in my thoughts. It was part of every conversation. My head was filled with questions. How time consuming will it be? How long does it take to learn the protocol for getting around? How accessible is it, really? Will my anticipation lead to disappointment?

BUT A FUNNY THING WAS HAPPENING on my way to this peak experience. People were not all that excited with me. I mean, most of my peers in the workplace didn’t even know what I was talking about. “Cyberspace? Infonet? Huhn?”

Except a few. THEY knew. They knew something about it, because they had seen it on television a few days earlier, a segment on one of those News Magazine type programs (Sam Donaldson?) that led them to believe the Infobahn was a world of terror where your worst nightmares come true, as stalkers and lurkers and hate mongers track you down, threaten your children and generally ruin your life.

Then there was the Newsweek cover story. Same week. Same fear-mongering. Is this really how it is out there? Fifteen hours logged and I still couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful.

Meeting people I could have never met any other way. A niche writer’s group. Very open and friendly chat room experiences. A sympathetic, heartfelt discussion about Jackie O’s sudden passing was in AOL’s Front Porch room before it hit the news, twenty minutes after it happened.

Of the horrors of Flaming? I had no clue what these people were talking about. How prevalent was it, really? The whole of it seemed a little childish, in my opinion. Well, can you imagine if driving cars got this kind of publicity. Show pictures of heads through windshields and a large sign that says, “THIS COULD BE YOU. DRIVING IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH.” M-A-D (‘Merican’s Against Driving)

My experience raised some questions, though. (1) Does the major media respond this way because it feels threatened? Does it hope the negative PR will prove detrimental to the movement? (2) Or is this an addiction that the news media has, looking for the darkest side of every story? Making people feel afraid must be an easier task than to making people feel beautiful or good.

After a month online, with thirty to forty hours logged, my Big Adventure showed no signs of tiring. List.serves, Usenets, Veronica searches in Gopherspace… a universe had opened to me. And guess what? I made some new friends, business contacts, even found a literary agent who was interested in my work.

Nevertheless, the Media still seemed addicted to its fear-mongering. A June 10 commentary by Bill Bishop in the local Tribune again emphasized the downside of the Net. Cyberspace will ruin language and communication, he predicted, citing an obscure notation by a Harvard political scientist’s study on communities in Italy.

Were they being a bit alarmist here or what?

The wonders of the Internet are available to all. And an open invitation was extended to anyone with a terminal. Sure there was hype, but there was also substance to the message of those Infobahn Evangelists, too.

24 years have passed since that 1994 journal entry. Has language been destroyed? Now the press is writing articles that text messaging will destroy language. Well, guess what? We’ve heard all this before. Maybe it’s a good thing people are communicating with each other. Maybe it’s a good thing people are sharing their thoughts and feelings with one another. If it connects us to other fellow life travelers, whether email or cell phones or text messaging, it has to be better than a world in which we remain alienated and isolated.

Blog on!

A variation of this post originally appeared on my Ennyman’s Territory blog.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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