The Net Net Home


















Contribute Masthead About Home


by jkcohen

I BEGAN in this lamentable business, this bourne of wretchedness and ill-feeling, in November of 1993. I had downloaded the DTD for HTML 1.0 at the insistence of a mad computer science professor who had been surfing the nascent net for some six months, gleefully imbibing Nathan Torkington's WWW FAQ and NCSA's little primer on HTML. The IMG tag had just crept into the lexicon, and was beginning its reign of overuse in a slow, polite fashion.

At the time, it seemed a wondrous fairyland; the chains of Gopher and .cap files had been sloughed off in favor of effortless navigation, pretty pictures, and some degree of learning. The initial ideals of the Web -- exchange of information, scholarly and otherwise -- were in full bloom. Place information out there, of any sort, and it would be gleefully consumed by the avid and curious. The little Centris 650 on my desk was abuzz, running MacHTTP 1.2.3 and grinding to a halt at any time that it received more than three simultaneous hits. My productivity did not slow, but tripled, as twenty more hours informally appended themselves to my workweek. I remember cornering one of the Uncles of the Net, before he was famous, running him out in my car to a Chinese restaurant, and pummeling him with questions for three hours on just how CGI scripts were supposed to work. I hope he enjoyed his Family Bean Curd; perhaps he remembers the indigestion to this day.

My Noble Employers were enchanted by the Web and its promise. They put me to work on grand exhibitions along the lines of their personal interests. Lock me in a room with a scanner for three weeks, and lo, their favorite things would appear on the Web, available to the world. Sales were next. Forms had appeared, and, as in a science fiction novella of the 1950's, all the developments of the future seemed to be just around the corner, compressed into some six months in 1994. My sector of commerce was slow to appear on the Web, so we were the first; as such, we appeared in HotWired and the LA Times, and I received half a billion calls from eager entrepreneurs curious as to whether I could put them, their dogs, and their Arabian Spice Market on the 'Net. (One such entrepreneur, a mafioso by training, would keep after me for the next six months.) Our hit rate went from 5,000 a week to 90,000 a week to 210,000 a week.

Already, though, signs of the future to come were amassing. GNN was becoming corporate, the NCSA What's New List was growing ever longer, and comp.infosystems.announce was moribund. The Future Fantasy Bookstore was doing some very strange things with CGI scripts; state, which that Uncle of the Web had mentioned to me with the wonton soup, was being maintained between pages. The team for Netscape 1.0 was being assembled in a hotel room, ready to spread chaos uniformly over the world -- "ten bugs on every desktop" was a goal that had already been achieved many times over by Microsoft, but there was no harm in trying for more.

I cannot go forward chronologically. To look back from today seems an exercise in regret and metalepsis. But, across the Web, large teams have taken over the work that I have pursued alone. Where I learned Unix, Perl, Photoshop, and Illustrator in a mad dash towards dilettantism, specialists execute their given tasks with a speed and finesse that I lack. I watch as the companies that hire and exploit them grow great and then fold inward, like chrysanthemums. My Noble Employers seethe with impatience, as my once-proud exhibits wither on the file tree. I seek aid in the arms of consultants, only to watch them stare into the void of my Noble Employers' dreams, and flee, taking some of our money with them. The prepackaged systems that would make their dreams real are geared for large corporations, not priced for ordinary businesses. Little packages peep up from time to time, but one always gets what one pays for, in the end. The Uncle of the Web spoke, over the fortune cookies and orange slices, of "low barriers to entry"; they have been drawn up. High school students will take the bottom feeders for the ride they deserve; "multimedia houses" will do the same for the cash-rich and cash-proud.

The Web will become television with a 'buy' button. The operative distinction will be the one between network television and public-access cable; they are both television, but the production values and the audiences differ in quantity and quality. Asymmetric cable modems will make sure that what streams into the home like the spring freshets will dribble out as a series of monosyllabic assents, assuaging the tension built up by the content with a soothing flow of product.

As for me, I am teetering on the brink of obsolescence. I can read, and I can learn, but the Web is no longer what I am. My creative friends flourish, and I am happy for them, but I am almost finished. Even my style -- the jeremiad -- has been appropriated and made cheap by the so-called net.moguls. Perhaps someday, they will try to appropriate the Word of G-d, and in so doing, come away with a sense of their own finitude. They may call faith an opiate; at the very least, it can alleviate pain and loss with the hope of redemption.

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.

Psalms 107:23-24

All Rights Reserved, 1996.   6/21/96

The Net Net is affiliated with
All contents of this Web site are copyright © 1996 - 2001 The Net Net and individual artists and authors. Do not reproduce contents of this site without permission of The Net Net and the artist or author. You may link to this site freely.
Design by Marmoset Media. Illustrations by Les graphiques Grenade. Hosted by The Anteroom.