Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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links.net : vita : fam : 7/21/95

c o m p u t o p i a

sharing stories humanizes computer connections

I've spent endless hours a week on a computer since I was seven. Thirteen years of bits and bytes, and I'm just now discovering the underlying zeitgeist.

It took the Internet to make me a believer. In the eighties, I consulted, teaching people how computers could enhance their lives. But it was hard to evangelize a DOS machine running Word Perfect as a quality of life enhancement; the learning curve was too great, the process and product too obtuse.

The net is different. There is still an obtuse programming language involved, but this one is easy enough for me to use, and the results look pretty spiffy. I've always known I want to be a writer, and I'd enjoy an audience. January of 1994, I began publishing on the World Wide Web, part of the Internet. Today I self-publish articles read daily by tens of thousands of people. Much easier to evangelize.

For the first couple of months, my magazine consisted largely of reviews - pointers to nifty net nuggets with commentary. Engaging, sure, because I found cool stuff and I liked to talk about it. Beck then, it was hard to find guides in cyberspace, and I relished that role.

I had anticipated a trend - soon the net was huge, and everybody and their service provider had a list of hot links (some even using my material!). In this smattering of sites, covering everything was pointless. To alleviate self-referential online uselessness, I shifted gears. In addition to luscious links, I now publish stories about my life. Having been at this for over a year and a half, talking about myself keeps me going.

So people can spout about themselves online, more pages than you can click a mouse at. Where's the revolution in all of this?

Storytelling is cathartic in any medium. The web offers widespread communication, community.

tiny chenny I recently came down off an erratic intense relationship with a beautiful depressed woman. While we were going out, I wrote over 80 poems and stories about her. I have put many of these online, connecting them together with a narrative account of our time together.

I have received many messages from people who have experienced similar agony, trying to be close to someone who is depressed. They tell me about their relationships, some promise to post their tales on the net.

Sharing stories online, we can pool experience and memory to ease our pain and expand our horizons.

The best use of our technology enhances our humanity.

The best use of our technology enhances our humanity. Telling stories establishes computers as a communications medium, prevents each one of us from being labeled a number, passive recipients of media marketing. If we all have a place to publish, the Plugged In channel, the GK Darby channel, there's no way the web will end up as banal and mediocre as television. There would be as many places to find fresh and engaging content as there are people who yearn to be heard.

We could engage in world wide conversation through computers; sharing stories, tips and tricks for life enrichment.

Our quality of life stands to be vastly improved when we have the world brain at our fingertips. Got a pain in your gulliver? Find a remedy, find four, without leaving your computer. Interested in Moroccan art? Tap into the Museum of Morocco from your desk.

The collective human wisdom can help you with any hobby, any problem.

This doesn't mean we lead our lives online, online will advise a richer life offline.

We live in a shrink wrapped world. Everything is covered in cellophane, to give that Christmas morning feel to each purchase, as we can rest assured that no human hands have actually handled our acquired goods.

Instead of providing for ourselves, we shop for the things we need, while products are pushed at us from every corner. Everything is made for us, while we demand it faster, better, and cheaper.

I was looking for a bag, just big enough to hold my journals and notebooks. I could not find the right size, I went from store to store, all were too big or too small. I lamented having such peticular taste, and resigned myself to miraculously someday stumbling on the appropriate vessel for my writing utensils. Wandering out of the last Haight street head shop, disgruntled with the selection, I noticed a store "Far Out Fabrics." I selected some soft, strong Indian gauze, and Yvonne, a five foot latina fashion designer, gave me a few pointers. After a few hours sewing in the park, I had just the right sized bag, and now people ask me where I bought it.

When we consume without producing, we lack responsibility to and respect for our surroundings, we lose a sense of our own power to beautify. National Parks are filled with "Recreational Vehicles" casting that 90210 glow on campers in the midst of redwoods. They have transplanted their couch potato reality into beautiful surroundings, spewing fossil fuel filth on rare country to perpetuate their tune out. That is the sad reality of television, mass media fostering passivity.

Computers are not turned on and let play, they must be used. Computers empower us; as tools to implement our vision, or design our environment, they give us a sense of our ability to create and control.

You want to build a deck. You tap into the online deck discussion, explore the collected wisdom on deck creation. You are not reinventing the deck, instead you build on the success and failure of others. We share our lessons and learn together.

s t o r i e s

Stories are capsules of transmitted experience. Good stories are heartfelt stories, told by someone in the thick of situation. Reading novels by Latin American authors gives you a better sense of crisis and culture than anthropological textbooks on Latin America.

The Internet offers that immediacy of storytelling distribution to anyone. There's no such thing as objective, distanced media; people are responsible for telling their own stories. Instead of watching Bill Blather report on Bosnia, tune into a Sarajevo on line, where Alma Duran, "I am an eighteen-year-old girl and I am a high school pupil," explains

"Everyday life in Sarajevo is awful. We do not have enough electricity, gas, water or heating. Sometimes we do not have it at all. Right now it is snowing heavily and the gas and heating systems are out of order so when I go back home I will be freezing to death.

"Since the war has been going on here for three years, people stopped working and so they do not have any salary. Because of that they can not pay for this gas, water, electricity, etc. That is why only such things are for free. For everything else one has to pay in DM [Deutsche Marks]."

Haris Hadzialic muses,

"You know that all people in sarajevo are missed people? (I mean because they are alive it means the buletts missed them, but also they missed their life because their life is spoiled)"

finally Amir Telibecirevic, addressing nightlife in a war torn city:

"We relax for good times with good rock and roll or good party with or without electricity. During the first two years of war, we lived on rock and roll. Now we play music again instead to live under hard regulations of rock.

"Yes there is some good bands in Sarajevo playing different music (punk rock ,hard rock,hard core rap and heavy metal). Before the war Sarajevo was the best music center in ex Yugoslavia.

"It is difficult to talk about nightlife in our town, because there is curfew from from 10 o clock at night to 6 o clock in morning. But it cannot stop us to go from one apartment to another in the late hours. That's the time when we create our own funny party even our own music and poetry. Sometimes we have special sexual feelings during these parties."

Sure beats anything I've heard on the news to date.

Folks worldwide collaborating on computers, ready when you are to pursue any hobby or be in any support group. There is consolation for the vertically challenged. Scott and Shawna, married June 10, 1995, have a page about their wedding, including advice and relevant resources for planning couples.

By offering rich communication and community prospects, computers will change the way we construct and inhabit our physical spaces. When so much human content becomes available over the wires, we can convert their current concrete recepticles back into soil space. In this way, computers could promote deurbanization.

de urbanization

Many folks live in a city to be close to work. Otherwise, they live in outlying suburban communities and spend daily hours in commuter isolation. For the jobs of tomorrow, in the service sector, the home is the workplace. They already have a catch phrase for it - telecommuting.

I can remember watching Alan Koppel trading stocks from the Macintoshes in his living room. During market hours, he watched fluctuating price graphs and called in his orders. His afternoons he spent going to museums, hanging out with his kids, enjoying his life during the light of day. If his neighbors and friends telecommuted as he did, they could hang out together.

You can be near your kids, your pets, your garden, in the comfort of your own home, work on your computer and video teleconference to your meetings.

Each office I have worked in has sucked up hours of my day. Dealing with other people's crises, lounging by the coffee machine, pointless meetings, getting from one place to the other. Home working, the time you waste is your own, around your family and friends. Set your own schedule, in your own environment, no commuting.

No longer will towers of glass and steel house the most vital aspects of our economy...

If we abandon the concept of the inner city office workplace, we can begin to unpave this country. The ugliness and blight that is skyscrapers and highways can be stripped for houses and forestry. No longer will towers of glass and steel house the most vital aspects of our economy - people will be rooted in their local communities while maintaining global presence.

...people will be rooted in their local communities while maintaining global presence.

Home cooking and home improvement; the family structure will be bolstered by the presence of parents, in communities of energized folk.

Cities offer connection to culture. Culture thrives in cities, music wafts from windows, dancehalls jump all night, opera houses and symphonies belt out the classics.

Movies, television, game machines, these have already adversely affected attendance of cultural events. Over theatre, people prefer air conditioned shoe boxes with oversized television screens.

These pre-recorded media are all shifting to a computer. Soon, leaving your house to see a movie will be a rare occasion. Even now, more people rent movies than go to see them. Someday you won't even have to leave home for that. All that media will be available through a wire into any room in your house - projected on your living room wall, or the screen of your watch.

The elements of culture that cannot be replicated on a computer, the distinctly human analog media could be enacted on a local scale, by people freed to pursue the arts. If folks don't have to commute to slave away at jobs they hate, there'll be more sculpture, more gardens, more plays, more fairs, more music, more dancing, more home cooking.

When culture, work and humanity can be found in part through a computer, the home and the neighborhood will come into focus as the center of life. No more midmorning headlight caterpillar crawl between suburbs and cities, we can live in houses in the country with big gardens and still enjoy the connectedness of living in a city. All the more, in fact, since we will have peace of mind, surrounded by more soil than concrete.

We can grow our food, we can revel in local art. At the same time, we can virtually attend any event, anywhere in the world.

When we can travel by computer, we won't need many cars and highways and airplanes and runways. We'll make beautiful our communities, with planting and projects, instead of traveling to see those things in other places.

Our society is so complex; between bank accounts, bill paying, taxes, shopping, information retrieval, too much time is taken up with micromanaging intense layers of resources.

We train computers to do what they do best while we take care of the rest. By administrating material, computers offer enhanced autonomy, freedom to pursue vision. Alleviated resource management and allocation, we are left with the essential art of human creation. When we are in turn connected through our computers, we can achieve collective creative heights.

Computers have already changed the way we lead our lives. Doubtlessly they will continue to do so. What is up to us is utilizing the positive potential - figuring out how we'd like them to serve us, and demanding that of our technicians, as we make the net in our own image.

I've been working largely full time on the Internet since January 1994. Many hours a day bent over the keyboard, staring into the glow, building and exploring virtual worlds. At first I was solely fascinated with commenting on what I saw online, recounting cool places to visit and strange slices of Internet life. As I spent more time there, holding a mirror up to the net began to inspire me less. Recently, I've been putting my life online, telling stories about the people I know, the things that happen to me.

I have fun telling stories on the Internet. I have made pages about my family members, my friends, the places I've worked and learned, the trips I've taken.

FWP I have a page about my high school that gives a narrative of my time there. I have links to a few of my old Weekly articles I dug up, as well as a page about all the trouble I got into with Mr. McCutcheon. Each page has links to others, so you can wander through my stories according to what strikes your fancy.

People I haven't spoken to in years, as well as people I have never met, take the time to write me and share their impressions, or their stories in return.

Often I find other online spaces have a sanitary feel to them. Clear, crisp lines and seamless production remove the human element. People put their resumes online, without actually saying anything.

I look at the net as a neighborhood.

I look at the net as a neighborhood. I want to live in a neighborhood with funky houses, neighbors who greet me on the street and have something to say. Not amidst office sky-disgracers, plastered with useless billboards and littered with forgotten glossy flyers. I want my house to have a warm glow, like people really live there. I have given my online space a human feel with honest and revealing material, publishing even the painful parts, because cyberspace will only be funky if it reflects our joys and sorrows. Anything else is sanitized, alienating and just not any fun at all.

The response I've gotten tells me people appreciate humanism online. At the same time, it seems to be rare. People have a hard time opening up and sharing of themselves, no less over the wires.

Computers teach us that we can build our world, construct a reality according to our vision. We must encourage openness; communications between folks instead of tight reins on the means of information production and distribution. Widespread tales instead of pervasive corporate persuasion.

The potential entails emphasis on personal connection. Not only must everyone have access to a broad range of tools and information, but they should take make something meaningful of the medium. Shallow glossy well targeted salesmanship is a waste of technology.

The phone was invented as a broadcast radio. The Internet was invented to facilitate fail-safe defense department communication. People naturally subvert technology for sharing stories.

I have faith in this medium; unlike TV, the Internet encourages participation. It is too easy, and there are already too many amateurs out there to resist trying your hand. By exposing myself on the web, I hope others will join me gettin' down and groovy, shakin' a little online booty. The potential is real, the alternative is scary.

Encourage funky stuff, be willing to share of yourself with the online human collective. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised by folks empowered by computers. With faith and vision, we will use this technology to bring people together.


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