Donald Fagen of Steely Dan once said something to the effect that songs like the Dan's "Hey Nineteen" would be enjoyed by soccer moms in dentists' chairs, oblivious to the weirdness going on in the lyrics. Fagen, of course, was correct; there are still people who think "Every Breath You Take," the unofficial theme song of Stalky McStalkerson, is appropriate fare for weddings and funerals, and in a world like that, Fagen and bandmate Walter Becker can easily get away with a song about a geezer's moment with a callow post-adolescent, a moment made bearable only by strong intoxicants.

I know from callow post-adolescence: I wallowed in it at a time when I should have been doing something else, and after I quit doing that, I started this Web site, which is now a callow post-adolescent in its own right, having survived nineteen years, perhaps a remarkable feat considering the Web itself is not yet twenty-four. Back in 1996, no one was quite sure what would become of this weird hypertextual playground, though novelist/futurist William Gibson was willing to take a stab at it:

[O]ur world does not offer us a surplus of leisure. The word itself has grown somehow suspect, as quaint and vaguely melancholy as the battered leather valise in a Ralph Lauren window display. Only the very old or the economically disadvantaged (provided they are not chained to the schedules of their environment's more demanding addictions) have a great deal of time on their hands. To be successful, apparently, is to be chronically busy. As new technologies search out and lace over every interstice in the net of global communication, we find ourselves with increasingly less excuse for ... slack.

And that, I would argue, is what the World Wide Web, the test pattern for whatever will become the dominant global medium, offers us. Today, in its clumsy, larval, curiously innocent way, it offers us the opportunity to waste time, to wander aimlessly, to daydream about the countless other lives, the other people, on the far sides of however many monitors in that postgeographical meta-country we increasingly call home. It will probably evolve into something considerably less random, and less fun — we seem to have a knack for that — but in the meantime, in its gloriously unsorted Global Ham Television Postcard Universes phase, surfing the Web is a procrastinator's dream. And people who see you doing it might even imagine you're working.

Lest you miss his point, Gibson titled his piece "The Net Is a Waste of Time." And of course he was right: the Web is a frighteningly efficient, if perhaps no longer unique, time-sink. And being no less indolent than the next guy, I wanted some of that time for myself. Which explains why I was here in 1996, though it doesn't entirely explain why I'm still here in 2015.

At the most basic level, of course, it's habitual: I have put up something new, even if only a paragraph or two, every single day since the summer of 2000, and while there may be a handful of individuals elsewhere on the planet who have done the same, it's not necessary to presume hands sized for the likes of the Incredible Hulk. "Not quite unique" is actually a fairly comfortable position, as such things go: it allows me a measure of undeserved distinction, while minimizing the threat posed by being way out on a limb.

And the warts-and-all approach has paid off in terms of sheer textual bulk: there are at least thirty thousand pages on this site, and fewer than a dozen have been removed in those nineteen years. This is consistent with my conceit of constructing an unauthorized autobiography, and the necessity to maintain the proper level of documentation.

Still, the Web has overtaken William Gibson's description in one way: while it remains clumsy, it's no longer larval, and any innocence that remains is curious only in the sense that it's uncommon. I can't say I'm at all surprised by that; if I wasn't exactly worldly-wise in 1996, I'm certainly older, and maybe slightly more mature, as I embark on my twentieth year as some sort of Web writer. This doesn't mean I'm going to be seduced by the appeal of callow youth — as Steely Dan has noted, callow youth have gotten wise to the likes of me over the years — but it does mean, I suspect, that I really ought to go easy on the intoxicants.

The Vent

  9 April 2015

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