A strange little JavaScript toy known as the DeathClock informs me that my part of this mortal coil will be shuffled off on the 23rd day of August, 2013 — about what I might have guessed myself, were I planning ahead that far. Those who know me, of course, will sneer at the very mention of planning; my ability to plan barely spans fifteen minutes, let alone the better part of fifteen years.

Of course, while foresight is denied most of us, hindsight comes freely to all, and usually with 20/20 vision. And while my usual chat haunt winds down its last few days, there has been a substantial uptick in the number of Nostalgic Farewell Letters, some of them tearful, some of them bathetic, but none of them exactly unexpected. This is, of course, human nature at its most relentlessly social. Even if we're surly and uncommunicative in real life, everything changes online: when in chat, we must do as the chatters do.

Fortunately for me, I had planned ahead, and wrote my own N. F. L. last year. Some of it read like this:

Set the Wayback machine to November first, 1998. Whatever any of us were suspecting at the time, I'm sure none of us really believed that the plug would be pulled within a year. And when the announcement came, and people began defecting in droves, it seemed as though our worst fears were coming true. How could this happen to us? We were a community, dammit, not just some chat room. You might have expected recriminations, and anguish, and bitterness, and you'd have seen them — for a while. But sure enough, the room started filling up again, the regulars returning to the old stand, the banter flying and the IMs resounding, cheap hugs and elaborate ones...and by the coming of spring, we'd realized that we weren't just fooling ourselves, that we really were a community, and it didn't much matter what the suits did in White Plains, or in Mexico City, or wherever, they couldn't take it away from us. And they never will. For those of us who live and die by the modem — I've done fifteen years on line, and I imagine I can do fifteen more — it's a feeling that you just can't explain to that kid down the block who just put up a Web page full of Quake cheats.

Should I have done things differently during my four years in this particular room? Maybe. I do have something of a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve, which is not something I can recommend. Still, reticence is not always the answer either — and as this one outpost of cyberspace is abandoned and left to undergo the inevitable bit rot, at least I can say that I was starting to ask the right questions.

The Vent

24 September 1999

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 Copyright © 1999 by Charles G. Hill