Life online as we know it has existed for about thirty years. Of course, most people still don't have a life online — the question of whether most people online have a life, we must leave for another time — and most of the new arrivals are very new indeed. This particular distribution curve puts me, with my fifteen-year dalliance among the digerati, in a rather odd position. Obviously I can't claim to be any sort of net.pioneer; I wasn't on hand, for instance, to watch Al Gore roll up his sleeves and turn the first shovel of dirt for the original ARPAnet land line in 1969. However, I do have a sort of semi-elder-statesman status in my own particular sphere of non-influence. And while this title in no way reflects the getting of wisdom over the years, it does allow for the fact that I've had ample opportunity to make the same mistakes routinely committed by newbies today, and it does confer upon me an occasional perspective.

Cyberspace, like any location inhabited by humans, is full of misconceptions and delusions. One notion I find perplexing is the presumption that Net communication is somehow a boon to the socially challenged, that even the most insular, self-obsessed types can somehow manage to be the life of the party, or at least the chat room. Being somewhat insular and self-obsessed myself, I can appreciate why this idea might catch on, but the First Law of Been There, Done That compels me to throw cold dihydrogen monoxide on it. The ostensible anonymity of the Net does not empower; it merely strips away one layer of social conditioning. When I was doing that local BBS stuff during the 80s, some associates and I adopted the term "dweeb" to cover one specific sort of character, which, we were happy to explain, was an acronym: Dim-Witted Excruciating Egotistical Bores. I hasten to add that we did not invent the word, nor did we make any dent in national usage, which posits "dweeb" as a sort of synonym of "nerd" and cousin to "geek".

Geeks, however, resemble our our designated dweebs only superficially. Geeks practice a totally different type of antisocial behavior: in an effort to focus on their particular interests, they tune out the perversities of mass culture, except to the extent that the culture provides material for mockery. While geeks may be brusque, even occasionally rude, they are seldom motivated by rancor; they simply don't consider your objections (or mine) relevant. The geek doesn't want your approval, or even your attention — he has better things to do.

On the other hand, you've already seen the sort of character we described as a dweeb. He craves your attention, and he will take steps to get it — and your approval, or lack thereof, makes no difference whatsoever. If you're a woman online, he's already pestered you, and half a dozen others in the past hour alone. He was a pain in the neck before he installed that first AOL disk, and he's a pain in the neck today. Lots more necks, in fact. And while you could complain about English pronoun usage, in which the male tends to subsume the female, or about the standard stereotype of Men Behaving Badly, I have to insist that over the past 15 years online, I've seen far fewer examples of practiced obnoxiousness among the women. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

The Vent

#149
16 May 1999

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