hotbed of digital discourseJune 1994, I had the job of this geek's webbest dreams: Editorial Assistant at HotWired. Summer over, I had to choose: stay a semester to see the magazine launch, or return to homework and cheap beer.The future of the digital revolution was determined at moments like these. If Steve Jobs had gone back to Reed at age nineteen, I would not be working on this PowerBook, I'd be stuck with 640k and using 5.25" floppy diskettes.
I dunno if that would have been such a great idea for the rest of us. On the other hand, imagine the world if Bill Gates had fallen in love with computer science and returned to Harvard.
I left this...
|So when I had to choose between staying in the pulsing, radiating, critical-massing center of the Web revolution, and returning to a college noted for its dogged devotion to excessive academic workload, there were moments of severe uncertainty.||
Thanks to wise counselling and favourable circumstances, I returned to Swarthmore college in January 1995 as a lowly sophomore, instead of continuing on as an $18k a year Editorial Assistant at HotWired.
Watching the first commercial Webzine become a money factory was an education in itself. But more important were my newfound friends and mentors. While I had been involved in the web, publishing my page since January 1994, I found in San Francisco a community of activists and artists, digitally literate folk who were as excited by this technology as I was.
To leave them, I thought, would mean a retreat from the frontlines of the digital revolution. My web work would have to wait while I forced myself to bone up on the Greatest Hits of Western Civilization.
Instead I found that the type of virtual community my enlightened san franciscan friends were commercially concocting had been quietly evolving in the hands of distinctly unwired Swarthmore students.
post, dammit, post now!_swat.talk.poetry, a college newsgroup, has upped the ante on informal prose at Swarthmore by providing a 24 hour bulletin board for romantic rantings; late night musings on socialism and socializing. Friends exhort each other to "post, dammit, post now" - poetic peer pressure.
I remembered late night beer and bong bull sessions, but upon my return I found shittalk had not only gotten a bit artsy, it was being slung online.
Two guys from North Carolina prod and poke the conference. Phi Psi brother Wilson Kello, frequently spews forth miscreant adventures of negligable fiction and mirthsome pace. AstroPhysicist "Big Ben" weighs in on the side of sparseness and Bukowski. Their postings far outnumber others, but they are listeners: besides their own regular missives, they take the time to compliment the work of others.
for Phi Psi brother Wilson Kello, _swat.talk.poetry is a forum.
Elizabeth Nickrenz, a stout fledgling folk singer with frizzy red hair and a taste for renaissance clothes also holds court, posting original lyrics as well as famous bursts of the macabre.
Of the contributors, few are typical techno-wankers, few are involved in the more official poetic discourse at the school. Astronomers, english majors, frat boys. Most would not participate in online community were it not included in the price of a Swarthmore tuition. Nevertheless, this newsgroup has become a primary place of personal expression for many folk.
My roommate Ben jokes about me and my enthusiasm - I get about thirty seconds into conversation with a person I've never met before I say "putitontheweb," whatever their story, shtick, specialty, they should come to one of my web seminars and publish themselves a web page.
Upon my return to Swarthmore, I had everything I needed to encourage a community of web weavers - free afternoons, computer filled classrooms, and eager publishers. About every ten days, I held two hour web marathon SINNERS sessions, Swarthmore Internet Novices and Experts Rhythmic Seminars.
some folks really took the medium as their own...Like someone in a Dead show parking lot, dressed in a sarong, lingering by the dining hall juice machine, Mariah Peelle seemed someone I should know. If there is an ordinary Swarthmore student, they use methodical, logic based means for establishing concepts in conversation. Rya's means are visual, nonverbal.
Check out her web page, you'll see what I mean. Rya came to a seminar in September, and she was off and runnin'. True to form, her page is immediately visual, unusually nonverbal, her first foray into online expression was scanning her hands and telling stories about her jewelery. Over time, she's posted poems and accompanying pictures. Without any formal training in Photoshop, or professional art direction, she is developing her own online aesthetic.
After a misunderstanding with the chemistry department precipitated by failing grades and excessive sufism, my friend Raina is harnassing the web to share her theories of finite and infinite science, and propose herself as a potential intern in mystical chemistry.
History professor Timothy Burke has netscape backgrounds, baseball cards, and an "overview on a forthcoming book on Commodification, Consumption and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabawe" on his saavy site. Besides the academic offerings, syllabi and historical analysis, he's using his server space at the school to make of himself a published book reviewer, restaurant critic and web wide commentator. Without any formal street cred in the digital revolution, he's taken issue with the direction of the medium.Instead of avoiding online pursuits and immersing myself in my studies, as I'd promised my Ma, I found myself challenged to keep up webbing with my Swarthmore peers.
If I thought you had to live in the Bay Area with a purple wardrobe to be down with the net community, I found in Swarthmore students and faculty honest use of the medium.
Without encouragement or training from the school, or primary pecuniary profit motive, these folks are harnassing Internet technologies to talk to each other, tell stories, and create community;
they're doing a mark-up job.