By nature, I am not a particularly social creature: I attend few events of any description, and for the most part, nobody notices because they had no reason to expect me there in the first place. Of course, where I've been for the last sixteen years is at this keyboard, turning ideas, news items and random rants into something vaguely resembling writing, with the whole of the Internet at my beck and call, assuming I know whom to call and what gestures might be construed as beckoning.

According to this Wikipedia piece, this condition is not necessarily good for me:

Whether new technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones exacerbate social isolation (of any origin) is a contested topic among sociologists. With the advent of online social networking communities, there are increasing options to do social activities that do not require real-world physical interaction. Chat rooms, message boards, and other types of communities are now meeting the need for those who would rather stay home alone, yet still develop communities of online friends. But those who oppose leading one's life primarily or exclusively online claim that virtual friends are not adequate substitutes for real-world friends, and research [who?] does suggest that individuals who substitute virtual friends for physical friends become even lonelier and more depressive than before. [citation needed]

Allow me to cite as "needed":

[A]nthropologists who spend time with modern-day hunter-gatherer bands report that social isolation and loneliness are largely unknown among them: group members spend the bulk of their time — virtually all day, every day — in the company of friends and loved ones.

Even Americans of a few generations ago used to benefit from a richness of community life that has all but disappeared, as we've witnessed a long, slow retreat into the hermetically sealed comfort of our fortress-like homes ... deep friendships replaced by screens, gadgets, and exhausted couch-potato stupor.

This notion comes from a familiar mindset: that of the Coastal Elitist Snob, who despite his name now ranges well inside the coast and beyond the boundaries of anything reasonably identifiable as elite. He identifies with the hunter-gatherer because Al Gore told him to be a locavore, and he is utterly convinced that the rest of us are doomed because we don't go out of our way to meet up with people we don't like for the sake of our social development. (Not that he's ever going to do that, of course; the physician seldom finds a reason to heal himself.)

I, the not-nearly-as-rugged-as-I'd-like individualist, refuse, as a matter of principle, to turn my social development over to anybody but myself. And that explains, more than anything else, my more-or-less continuous connection to the virtual world since the middle 1980s: in the period immediately before, when I was most affected by some imagined need to fit in, I found the brim of my Inner Asshat far out in front of me, and this wasn't doing anyone any good. So I dialed (literally, this being the days of the old-fashioned modem) into a world full of people I didn't have to see on a regular basis, and, for a while at least, assumed the mantle — more of a dolman, actually — of a sorta-cute geekette, there being no girls on the Internet.

This acting job couldn't last for long, and it didn't; however, forcing myself to walk in someone else's shoes — heels, yet — did give me the foundation for something resembling a personality, something I had lacked during my days of rectal millinery. The process was far from complete, however, and I didn't really start evolving into someone I wouldn't be embarrassed to recognize as me until late 1995, when the company for which I was working got the idea that they should have a presence on this World Wide Web things, and sent a few of us off to class. And while I hadn't yet mastered the differences between <H2> and <H4> or how to make a response form work using POST, I had vowed that I would get a site of my own, before the company did.

The Bird version 4My service provider of the moment, having just set up its own gateway to the Web at large, meaning we were no longer restricted to their proprietary sandbox, was offering free Web space: one whole megabyte. Thinking that it would take months, maybe years, to eat up that much space, I signed up, and on the ninth day of April 1996, uploaded a handful of pages and a couple of graphics. In December of that year, along with version 4 of the front page, I introduced The Bird, who has been here in one form or another ever since.

I had also begun referring to the place of origin as "Dustbury, Oklahoma," a name which baffled some people and went unnoticed by the others. (There exists an explanation, for the curious.) By the time I'd decided to get my own domain, having pretty much used up the free space I'd been offered, I figured the logical thing to do was turn that fake name into a slightly less fake brand, which I did in March 1999. SiteMeter, whose counter code was duly copied over to the newly renamed files, read 6,444 at the time.

Not much happened after that for a year or two, though I went to a daily update schedule in the summer of 2000:

Version 7 (you're soaking in it) introduces my Sort Of Blog, a way for me to get some stuff on the table without regard to the semi-regular Vent schedule or the ongoing necessity to update the other sections. Most of the existing pages will continue as before, though minor design changes will be forthcoming here and there, and the usual sporadic updates will continue to take place, as the saying goes, When I Get Around To Them.

The Vent schedule had been pretty much firmed up in '97 — four per month — and by that time I'd done 201 of them.

None of this mucking about with bits and pixels and tags, however, had really addressed the socialization issue, and after dropping a hint in the daily update, I set off on the first World Tour in the summer of 2001. By any conceivable standards, it was a success: I got to sit down with people who'd previously seemed to exist only as pixels, and I didn't make a complete jerk of myself in so doing. There would be six more Tours before I had to abandon them for financial reasons: gasoline had nearly doubled in price, and I was becoming overextended anyway. I expect to resume them some day (2016, maybe?) once things stabilize a bit.

And now, from the hermetically sealed comfort of my fortress-like home, I conclude that my instincts were correct: I had to step away from the world for a while before I had any business stepping back into it, and I couldn't have done either of those things without that online connection keeping me grounded. If you see me on the Architecture Tour this weekend, say hello. I'm the guy with the bird on his front bumper and a sorta-cute geekette in tow.

The Vent

  9 April 2012

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