Megalopolis

When I first got online about 15 years ago, it was a pretty wild place, both in terms of design and culture. There was very little continuity or uniformity to be found. And everybody was as anonymous as they wanted to be. Everyone who was building anything personal online was following nobody’s rules but their own. Many websites were vibrant and lurid and strange. And I liked it.

I remember dark sites full of bad poetry in luminescent green text. Other sites were like being lost in vast and lightless subterranean rooms. You had to feel your way through the darkness with your mouse, as text and images appeared, linking and luring you farther into cyberspace. Which generally meant more bad poetry.

Gradually, the template builders appeared, staggering from the subsumed ruins of Geocities bearing design sets resembling styrofoam cheeseburger boxes, and a new strip mall Internet began to take form. I lamented the loss of out individuality even then, having no idea how much worse it was likely to get. Because millions of people were poised to swerve – one foot on the brake and fervently gripping their pocketable, plasticized brains – onto the information highway, with no skills or inclination to make anything to represent themselves.

Now look at what we’ve got. A megalopolis of shoeboxes, over half a billion strong, with little creativity involved.

Wait. I’m not saying that everyone who uses Facebook should have built a web site instead. There’s nothing wrong with living in apartments that look like they were designed by bees.

apartments1

Unless that becomes the only place in town to live, which I’m afraid is the trend. That would be bad. Where are the custom hand-built homes of the Internet today? Getting hard to see amidst the cardboard forest.

I miss the wild west manifest destiny days of the Web, with all its strange, colorful verbosity. And all the happy glassine metaphorical tubes of the Internets, ringing with clear, untangled anonymity. 

facebook: a love hate thing

Let me tell you what I love and hate about this social platform called Facebook.

  • It’s instant micro-publishing for the masses.
  • Anyone can generate and deliver their own content to hundreds of people, any time.
  • It requires almost no technical expertise, writing ability, or cogent thought. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t any, just that it’s optional.
  • It opens a pipeline of social interaction right on my desktop.
  • Many of my old and dear friends are there.
  • It’s very easy to express one’s half-baked political opinions.

You can’t tell if those are the things I like or the things I hate, right? Yeah, me neither.

But while many on the progressive side of life – like myself – will say the common man’s presence in Web 2.0, the growth of interactive information sharing, is a good thing, I wonder. Maybe it should be just a little bit hard, take just a little effort, to interact with Deep Thought. Maybe to talk to the guru, or to speak as one, a little ontological mountain climbing is in order.

Sometimes it’s good that things are hard, requiring time and planning and circumspect consideration, is my point.

I’m a writer, a developer of content. And one thing I can assure you about writing also goes for life, learning, recovery, and just about anything that makes existence worth anything: It’s a process, not a product.

When one sits down to write, or for that matter to paint, throw pots, build a birdhouse, whatever, one sets out on a journey of reflection, trial and error, polishing and striving for perfection. It may be a journey of moments, months, or years, but it’s always a process. If you try to birth it from first concept to completion in one step, you hit FAIL as sure as BP hit oil.

Therein lies the problem with Facebook, as I see it: Instant gratification. It is the microwave popcorn of human thought in the year 2010. 

I’m saying that in my own case at least, and probably those about me whose efforts I can myopically perceive, it’s better to slow down. Think about it. Scribble some first thoughts on the draft from that window, let them germinate while the moon rides, publish them tomorrow.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.

— T.S. Eliot, East Cocker

l’entre deux guerres
 

viral workout

I just did something I almost never do, I posted a virus warning to the general public, on the thoroughfare, to the camp at large. I mean I did it on Facebook.

I usually consider spreading rumors of viruses and spyware and such to be very bad form, especially if you’re just forwarding about something that hasn’t happened to you. Hoax virus alerts are just as common and annoying as real viruses. And such alerts are usually outdated, futile, or generally crap. But here’s the poop:

Last night, I dozed off in my chair, watching Letterman. I woke up at 1:00am and tottered off toward the bed, stopping in the home office to shut off the computer. There on the screen was an email from Facebook, saying there was a wall post to me from a friend. What the hey, I opened the email.

"Kyle, awesome workout video.. check it out! :)"

Sure, a little chuckle before bed, thinks I. And I clicked. Big mistake, which I probably would not have made if I hadn’t been half asleep. I thought it was just some innocuous Facebook app, to open a little video.

The next thing I knew, there was a download running. I tried to stop it, but it was too late. The toolbars on my Firefox browser changed, and my default search engine was changed from Google to Bing.

I finally got to bed an hour later, at 2:00, having been forced to reinstall Firefox, research default search, uninstall the new flash video player that had forced its way in, then run 3 different antivirus and malware scans. Some of that was maybe overkill, maybe not. They did find spyware had been installed on my machine.

Side note: As part of this process, I fired Microsoft Security Essentials. It saw the virus coming, claimed to neutralize it, but changes were still made. I don’t know if the AV program should have blocked those changes, but it sure seems like it.

So I got Panda Cloud Antivirus, which was recently acclaimed very highly by PC magazine. It’s free, and the interesting thing about it is that it runs in The Cloud. The virus definitions do not have to be downloaded to your hard drive. Which is cool.

I sent an email to my friend, letting him know this pretended or seemed to come from him, in case his FB had been hijacked.

This morning, I got an email from a friend of mine, saying I appeared to have posted the same thing on her wall.

There is no evidence of any of this in my Facebook account. So in reality, I don’t have a clue what happened. But I know this for sure:

Facebook is a dangerous neighborhood of the Internet, kids. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t accept candy, and watch where you step. It’s probably best not to go down there late at night, is my point.