Ed. Note - for those of you who read the LAST rant:
Things are much better now. I got past (but not over, never over) the pain described in my last rant, and I am now seriously involved with a wonderful woman. I have tried twice to write about all this, and I keep finding that (1) I am still too damn close to it all to have any sense of perspective, and (2) all these feelings are too new and I'm a lot more comfortable with feeling lonely and heartbroken than I am at feeling loved, so you'll have to give me time to get used to it.

Because of these two things, which means my musings on the subject currently look like something I wrote when I was in 2nd grade and every poem I've tried to write has sucked, I'm instead going to give you a cautionary piece I wrote about the Internet. Enjoy, and I promise once I get that perspective I'll clue those of you that give a rat's ass in on all the other stuff.

The Old Statue of Liberty Play


  Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
  With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
  Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
  A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
  Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
  Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand
  Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
  The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
  "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
  With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
  Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
  I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
          - Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"

Hide the women and tie up the horses, boys. There's a new sherrif in town.

Or, more accurately, a new colossus. And we're not talking about some ditzy dame holding up a torch like she's part of some village mob. This is a big, scary motherfucker with arms like a blacksmith and a face you could hang most of a hardware store on.

He's the Internet. And he's not very happy. There's about a million jillion people crawling around in his pants.

His plaque doesn't quite echo the sentiments of his little sister, either:

Give me your lazy, your bores,
Your latent perverts yearning to break free,
The damaged rejects of your psycho wards,
Send these, the nerdy, bully-tost to me,
I lift my SLIP Behind The Green Door!

But enough anthropomorphizing - here's what I love about the Internet:

It puts us all on a level playing field.

And here's what scares me about the Internet:

It puts us all on a level playing field.

Out here in cyberspace - in our IRC channels, our newsgroups, our web pages (if we don't include photos) - we are without face or form. This is good: we no longer are judged on our appearance; we can't be abused for our color or height or percentage of body-fat. This is bad: when talking to someone we don't catch the leer, the hyperactive eyes, the sideways head-nodding.

I love communicating via computer for the same reason I love the written word - because it is a medium in which I have power. I don't need a preacher's voice or an athelete's body to draw someone's attention; I don't need the charisma of an Andrew Robbins (or a Hitler) to move a crowd.

On the other hand, that same separation which allows me to knock off commentaries like this in few hours also allows someone who shouldn't be allowed near sharp instruments or small children to slowly put together, re-work and re-work, a series of words which makes him or her look halfway sane, even trustworthy. That same emotional distance which lets me say things I could never say in person also allows the white supremicist or conspiracy theorist to present their respective delusions in a format which almost seems reasonable.

So, these people are everywhere in real life, too, so why does it bother me so much on the Internet? Well, we've got a LOT more than our share here.

I mean, it's a regular goddamned carnival here.

We've enough pedophiles to fill the Superdome, and these sickos are just a small percentage of the unwashed (literally) millions who spend hours a night on the Net in search of new stroke material. We've got eight gozillion chat-rooms on AOL of unemployed steelworkers pretending to be "HotBiBlackChix". We've got newsgroups with names like alt.fuck.the.dead.skull.of.jesus.binaries.erotica (I made up the AOL chat room name, but I didn't make the newsgroup name up. Sometimes truth is sicker than satire).

We've got any number of shy or damaged people, along with those that society deems unappealing or unwholesome, running around here in a number of guises, trying to build a new personae, trying to find an acceptable facade, secure in the separation of the glass window, scared to turn off that tube and turn the window into a mirror. I think it's great that we have a medium which allows these folks (I was once one of them, and maybe still am) to have contact, to feel the kiss of life - but too often the lure of that kiss is so great they misrepresent themselves or go too far in building their net-personality.

We're also lucky enough to provide a haven for every type of whacko, divinely inspired, thorazine-deficient, three-bullet theory, god-told-me-to-saw-the-heads-off-lawn-jockeys, paranoid shizophrenic international house of fruitcakes religion / society / individual point of fright ever invented. If the Internet's fiber-optic backbone ever went down, these freakazoids would keep the links up with the sheer volume of strange electricity shooting out of their noggins.

In short, if you were to take a random sampling of the populace, and then turn around and take a random sampling of the denizens of the Net (weighted by time and frequency of presence), you'd find we've got a far, far higher percentage in cyberspace of the kind of people your mom worries at night you might be dating.

So what the hell is going on here? Whose fault is it or, more appropriately, where's our scapegoat?

Luckily, we don't need to search for a purloined letter or a smoking gun. The culprit is easy to find.

The culprit is that old glass window.

It's not much of a filter, is it? We like everybody - as long as they can afford a computer and a modem and can either rent an Internet connection or slide their way onto the local college's service. And the reason you get more of all those groups I mention above here is because they've rarely got anywhere else to GO. They'd be ostracized or laughed at or soundly beaten if they tried their magic acts out in the real world.

So here they come, and here they live, and damnit if it doesn't even seem like they're propagating somehow, too. You probably invite a few of them into your home every time you surf. The World-Wide Web provide an easy way for any basket case (who ordinarily has trouble getting both hands on the crayon to address that letter to his congressman) to become a commentator, author, and publisher.

On an ancillary note, the only Webb I know, Webb Hubbel, is hardly world-wide. His dimensions are limited to a prison yard and cell block and a red jumpsuit. He was my mom or dad's divorce attorney (I forget which) before he got involved with that Clinton guy. He doesn't surf the net. I think they give him two stamps a day, though.

On an ancillary note to an ancillary note, the day we wire prisons is the day I take down my shingle and call it a life, because if you thought the doofuses on AOL and Netcom were bad, you'll soon be kissing them and calling them cousin compared to what will happen then. I'm not making any blanket statements about the stability and literacy of those unwillingly in our country's care - it's just I've SEEN some of the mail that comes out of prisons, and I am scared.

On an ancillary note to an ancillary note to an ancillary note - no, wait that's too much nesting, I'm risking a stack error if I try to take you all down to another level so I'd better back out and sum up.

Don't get me wrong. For the most part I think we should be proud of what the Internet has done for the individual.

I'm not a big fan of elitism, and I don't condone its tenets or practices. I also think the ability the Internet gives people to be HEARD, to self-publish, to express their opinion, to find other people with common interests or just doggonit to find other PEOPLE, is the coolest thing since some guy named Ogg said What If We Lay The Big Rock On Those Tree Trunks.

The power that anonymity imparts to us is also well-known to me, and I think it is largely a good thing. I cut my teeth on community computer bulletin boards, where you saw a real name about as often as you saw a stable and unattached female. We called them "handles", like the old CB term. We also were for the most part an even more pathetic bunch of losers and misfits than you find in even the darkest, slimiest #WarezDudez IRC channel. And that anonymity helped me gain confidence, helped me realize that stuff could come out of my brain that moved people, that made them think and even respond.

Finally, the power that the access to information gives us is also pretty spiffy, too. I used the Internet to look up the origin of the "Give me your tired, your poor" quote. Hell, I thought Irving Berlin wrote it (the lyricist never gets proper credit - file that one under Webber, Andrew Lloyd) until about an hour ago. Only because I surf the Net do I know all the words to R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It". Information is fun, okay? I admit that.

What I am getting at, though, is that when we lay the beams and the concrete and build the Information Superhighway (god, I hate that metaphor - I mean, isn't a superhighway something you get on to GO somewhere instead of to find something, and aren't you usually driving in one direction being colossally bored?) running between all of our homes, we suddenly become neighbors and pen-pals and bridge buddies with a lot of people. A WHOLE lot of people.

And we need to be careful. We need to be wary of our new friends.

When we lift our lamps beside the golden door, we need to keep them held high just in case we need to crack them down on the skull of whoever comes barging in.

So what, practically, can you do? Well.....

If you make a habit of doing everything but sending scans of your latest thoracic x-rays through e-mail to people you've never met, or if you're single and you've heard too many stories about how people met on the Net, please, PLEASE assume everything someone tells you is a lie. Enjoy the conversations, learn from them, share your dreams and all that stuff, but be DAMN sure you know you're not chatting with the president and founding member of the Ted Bundy fan club before you so much as give out your zip code.

If you're a mother or father, watch your kid like a hawk. I guarantee you they're doing stuff you don't want them to do. I don't care how many "Jeez"'s or "Awww Mom!"'s you get, it's worth it to make sure they don't go to the park to meet that nice man who told them he had Nine Inch Nails tickets for five bucks.

And in general, be aware when you are point-and-clicking your way through homepages or reading heartfelt testimonials on alt.support.whatever that you are usually seeing exactly the face the person on the other side of the glass window WANTS you to see. Be aware that it's a big, scary, dangerous world out there in cyberspace, with more than its share of Mad Hatters, and that we all need to be careful that we read every last freakin' ingredient on the box before we pour anything into our cereal bowl.

We need to make sure we don't give the school bus keys to the next guy who thinks Beatles albums are telling him to do anything but buy more Beatles albums.

And in fact, why the hell are you listening to ME? I could have written this painstakingly over the course of months in the brief periods between the time the medication wears off and the time they take me to electroshock (I hate biting the rubber thingie).

Go on, get outta my yard.

Rick Wyatt
March 1996

Postscript: He was my Mom's divorce attorney.

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