A Very Peculiar Kind of Social Congress

From: Jim Fehlinger (fehlinger@home.com)
Date: Wed Mar 14 2001 - 05:37:49 MST

I ran across a question-and-answer exchange with a
certain Clay Shirky at Slashdot yesterday
( http://slashdot.org/interviews/01/03/13/1420210.shtml ).
I had not been aware of this gentleman before, though it
seems he has been mentioned on this list (e.g., by
Max More in http://www.lucifer.com/exi-lists/extropians/1419.html ).

He has a Web site too, with links to many of the articles
he has written for various on-line magazines, at
http://www.shirky.com (and there's a CV of Shirky at
http://www.shirky.com/bio.html ).

His writing style is very breezy and dryly funny; I find
his opinions both congenial and plausible, and he talks about
lots of things likely to be of interest to folks on this list,
such as Web economics (micropayments, and charging for content),
litigation and the Web, censorship and the Web, the Web as
an evolving system, and more. Here's a sample from the Slashdot

"In 1993, during what I can now thankfully call the nadir of my
personal and professional life, I discovered the internet, and
essentially disappeared into it. For someone who had spent
a lot of time thinking about language and community, the net
was like a gift, having something this interesting to think about.
At a time when I was living an otherwise flattened existence, the
daily challenge of trying to understand the net gave me something
to live for.

None of my friends at the time was online, so I made a second
set of friends, mainly on panix, ECHO, and alt.folklore.urban. During
those years, I essentially lived in two worlds, with the networked world
seeming realer to me than the real world. I often had a daydream in
which the hum of the internet just grazed the top of my skull; it felt as if
by standing on tip-toe I should be able to press my brain directly into
the network. Going 24 hours without jacking in made me physically ill.


I have no trouble saying the internet saved my life, but I also have no
trouble saying that I was for a time addicted to it. (The addiction
passed like a fever. I awoke one morning a few years ago, and
*didn't need to check my email*, a craving whose absence rattled
me a bit, as getting online with the first crack of consciousness had
for years been a more reliable feature of my mornings than either
eating or getting dressed.)

I was addicted to communication, to a very peculiar kind of social
congress that put a huge premium on verbal acuity while conveying
none of the emotional cues you pick up from other people when you
are in the same physical space with them. Anyone who has ever gotten
to know someone in email and later met them in the real world understands
this difference instinctively: you read someone's email differently after
you've spent some time with them offline as well.

So the web can paradoxically enhance our ability to communicate *and*
further isolate us. The real danger, it seems to me, is in believing that
it can only do one or the other."

Jim F.

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