Computer underground Digest Sun Sep 11, 1994 Volume 6 : Issue 80 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: J
Computer underground Digest Sun Sep 11, 1994 Volume 6 : Issue 80
Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET)
Archivist: Brendan Kehoe
Retiring Shadow Archivist: Stanton McCandlish
Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth
Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala
Urban Legend Editor: E. Greg Shrdlugold
CONTENTS, #6.80 (Sun, Sep 11, 1994)
File 1--Exon Amendment text
File 2--Turing Test
File 3-- Musicians of the World, Unite! (eye Reprint)
File 4--The Process of Writing a Cybercolumn (Robert Rossney Reprint)
File 5--Cu Digest Header Information (unchanged since 09-11-94)
CuD ADMINISTRATIVE, EDITORIAL, AND SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION APPEARS IN
THE CONCLUDING FILE AT THE END OF EACH ISSUE.
Date: 9 Sep 1994 12:29:26 -0500
From: email@example.com (Steve Barber)
Subject: File 1--Exon Amendment text
((Here is the text of the Exon "Communications Decency" amendment to
the Communications Act of 1994 (S. 1822) currently winding its way
through Congress. Whether you think its effects would be good or bad,
it's worth getting familiar with what the text actually says.
Included here is the amendment text, Sen. Exon's introductory speech,
and an article placed in the Cong. Record to bolster his position.
CONGRESSIONAL RECORD -- Senate
Tuesday, July 26, 1994
(Legislative day of Wednesday, July 20, 1994)
103rd Congress 2nd Session
140 Cong Rec S 9745
REFERENCE: Vol. 140 No. 99
TITLE: COMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1994
EXON AMENDMENT NO. 2404
SPEAKER: MR. EXON
(Ordered referred to the Committee on Commerce. )
Mr. EXON submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by
him to the bill (S. 1822) to foster the further development of the
Nation's telecommunications infrastructure and protection of the
public interest, and for other purposes; as follows:
On page 104, below line 12, add the following:
TITLE VIII-OBSCENE, HARASSING, AND WRONGFUL UTILIZATION OF
SEC. 801. OBSCENE OR HARASSING USE OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS
FACILITIES UNDER THE COMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1934.
(a) Expansion of Offenses. -Section 223 of the Communications
Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 223) is amended-
(1) in subsection (a)(1)-
(A) by striking out "telephone" in the matter above
subparagraph (A) and inserting in lieu thereof
(B) by striking out "makes any comment, request, suggestion
or proposal" in subparagraph (A) and inserting in lieu thereof
"makes, transmits, or otherwise makes available any comment,
request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication;
(C) by striking out subparagraph (B) and inserting in lieu
thereof the following new subparagraph (B):
"(B) makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications
device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues,
without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse,
threaten, or harass any person at the called number or who receives
the communication;" and
(D) by striking out subparagraph (D) and inserting in lieu
thereof the following new subparagraph (D):
"(D) makes repeated telephone calls or repeatedly initiates
communication with a telecommunications device, during which
conversation or communication ensues, solely to harass any person
at the called number or who receives the communication,";
(2) in subsection (a)(2), by striking out "telephone facility"
and inserting in lieu thereof "telecommunications facility";
(3) in subsection (b)(1)-
(A) in subparagraph (A)-
(i) by striking out "telephone," and inserting in lieu thereof
"telecommunications device,"; and
(ii) by inserting "or initiated the communication" after
"placed the call"; and
(B) in subparagraph (B), by striking out "telephone facility"
and inserting in lieu thereof "telecommunications facility"; and
(4) in subsection (b)(2)-
(A) in subparagraph (A)-
(i) by striking out "by means of telephone, makes" and inserting
in lieu thereof "by means of telephone or telecommunications
device, makes, transmits, or makes available"; and
(ii) by inserting "or initiated the communication" after
"placed the call"; and
(B) in subparagraph (B), by striking out "telephone facility"
and inserting in lieu thereof "telecommunications facility".
(b) Expansion of Penalties. -Such section, as amended by
subsection (a) of this section, is further amended-
(1) by striking out "$ 50,000'' each place it appears and
inserting in lieu thereof "$ 100,000'' and
(2) by striking out "six months" each place it appears and
inserting in lieu thereof "2 years".
(c) Prohibition on Provision of Access. -Subsection (c)(1)
of such action is amended by striking out "telephone" and inserting
in lieu thereof "telecommunications device".
(d) Conforming Amendment. -The section head of such section is
amended to read as follows:
"OBSCENE OR HARASSING UTILIZATION OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS
DEVICES AND FACILITIES IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA OR IN
INTERSTATE OR FOREIGN COMMUNICATIONS".
SEC. 802. OBSCENE PROGRAMMING ON CABLE TELEVISION.
Section 639 of the Communications Act of 1943 (47 U.S.C. 559)
is amended by striking out "$ 10,000'' and inserting in lieu
thereof "$ 100,000''.
SEC. 803. BROADCASTING OBSCENE OF LANGUAGE ON RADIO.
Section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by
striking out "$ 10,000'' and inserting in lieu thereof "$ 100,000''.
SEC. 804. INTERCEPTION AND DISCLOSURE OF ELECTRONIC
Section 2511 of title 18, United States Code, is amended-
(1) in paragraph (1)-
(A) by striking out "wire, oral, or electronic communication"
each place it appears and inserting in lieu thereof "wire, oral,
electronic, or digital communication"; and
(B) in the matter designated as item (b), by striking out
"oral communication" in the matter above clause (i) and inserting
in lieu thereof "communication"; and
(2) in paragraph (2)(a), by striking out "wire or electronic
communication service" each place it appears (other than in the
second sentence) and inserting in lieu thereof "wire, electronic,
or digital communication service".
SEC. 805. ADDITIONAL PROHIBITION ON BILLING FOR TOLL-FREE
Section 228(c)(6) of the Communications Act of 1934
(47 U.S.C. 228(c)(6)) is amended-
(1) by striking out "or" at the end of subparagraph (C);
(2) by striking out the period at the end of subparagraph (D)
and inserting in lieu thereof "; or"; and
(3) by adding at the end thereof the following:
"(E) the calling party being assessed, by virtue of being asked
to connect or otherwise transfer to a pay-per-call service, a charge
for the call.".
SEC. 806. SCRAMBLING OF CABLE CHANNELS FOR NONSUBSCRIBERS.
Part IV of title VI of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C.
551 et seq.,) is amended by adding at the end the following:
"SEC. 640. SCRAMBLING OF CABLE CHANNELS FOR NONSUBSCRIBERS.
"(a) Requirement. -In providing video programming unsuitable
for children to any subscriber through a cable system, a cable
operator shall fully scramble the video and audio portion of each
channel such programming that the subscriber does not subscribe it.
"(b) Definition. -In this section the term 'to scramble', in
the case of any video programming, means to rearrange the content of
the signal of the programming so that the programming cannot be
apprehended by persons unauthorized to apprehend the programming.".
Mr. EXON. Mr. President, I rise to file an amendment to S. 1822,
the Communications Act of 1994. I expect the Senate Commerce
Committee to take this legislation up next week. I intend to
offer this amendment at that time.
Simply put, this Communications Decency amendment modernizes
the anti-harassment, decency, and anti-obscenity provisions of the
Communications Act of 1934. When these provisions were originally
drafted, they were couched in the context of telephone technology.
These critical public protections must be updated for the digital
world of the future.
Before too long a host of new telecommunications devices will be
used by citizens to communicate with each other. Telephones may one
day be relegated to museums next to telegraphs. Conversation is being
replaced with communication and electrical transmissions are being
replaced with digital transmissions. As the Congress rewrites the
Communications Act, it is necessary and appropriate to update these
important public protections.
Anticipating this exciting future of communications, the
Communications Decency amendment I introduce today will keep
pace with the coming change.
References to telephones in the current law are replaced with
references to telecommunications device. The amendment also increases
the maximum penalties connected with the decency provisions of the
Communications Act to $ 100,000 and 2 years imprisonment. The
provision requires cable providers of adult pay-per-view programming
to fully scramble the audio and video portions of the programming to
homes which do not subscribe to the particular program.
Unsuspecting families should not be assaulted with audio of
indecent programming or partially scrambled video. The amendment
also prevents individuals and companies engaged in the pay-per-call
services from by-passing number blocking by connecting individuals
to pay-per-call services via a toll-free number.
These measures will help assure that the information
superhighway does not turn into a red light district. It will help
protect children from being exposed to obscene, lewd, or indecent
This legislation also protects against harassment. Recent
reports of electronic stalking by individuals who use computer
communications to leave threatening and harassing messages sent
chills through the users of new technologies. Recent stories about
the misuse of the internet and 800 numbers also demand action.
I ask that two stories related to the misuse of the information
technologies be included at the end of my remarks as illustrations
of the type of activities this amendment attempts to address.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that an article be
printed in the Record.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed
in the Record, as follows:
((Los Angeles Times and other articles deleted))
Date: Thu, 8 Sep 1994 00:10:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: Robert Epstein
Subject: File 2--Turing Test
For Immediate Release September 1, 1994
INTERNATIONAL QUEST FOR THINKING COMPUTER
TO BE HELD IN SAN DIEGO
(Human vs. Computers on December 16th)
In the very near future, many believe that human beings will be
joined by an equally intelligent species -- computers so smart that they
can truly think, converse, and perhaps even feel.
To expedite the search for this new species, the fourth annual
Loebner Prize Competition in Artificial Intelligence will be held at
the new San Marcos campus of California State University on Friday,
December 16th, 1994. The Loebner Prize pits humans against
computers in what the Wall Street Journal described as "a groundbreaking
battle." The first three competitions drew national and international
In the event, human judges converse at computer terminals and
attempt to determine which terminals are controlled by fellow humans and
which by computers. For the 1994 competition, conversation will be
restricted to certain topics. This year, as in 1993, all judges will be
members of the national press. The 1993 judges represented TIME
Magazine, Popular Science, PBS, the Voice of America, and elsewhere. The
contest has drawn media attention around the world, including coverage on
CNN television, PBS television, the New York Times (front page), the
Washington Post, the London Guardian, The Economist, the San Diego Union
Tribune (front page), Science News, and many periodicals in the computer
field, including Computerworld and AI Magazine (cover story).
"Surprisingly, in early competitions, some of the computers fooled
some of the judges into thinking they were people," said Dr. Robert
Epstein, Research Professor at National University, Director Emeritus of
the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, and the organizer and
director of the three previous contests.
The author of the winning software of this year's event will receive
$2,000 and a bronze medal. In 1995, Epstein said, the first open-ended
contest -- one with no topic restrictions -- will be conducted. When a
computer can pass an unrestricted test, the grand prize of $100,000 will
be awarded, and the contest will be discontinued.
The competition is named after benefactor Dr. Hugh G. Loebner of New
York City and was inspired by computer pioneer Alan Turing, who in 1950
proposed a test like the Loebner contest as a way to answer the question:
Can computers think?
Transcripts of conversations during the first three competitions are
available from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies (telephone
617-491-9020). Diskettes that will play back the conversations in real
time may also be purchased.
A partial list of sponsors of previous competitions includes: Apple
Computers, Computerland, Crown Industries, GDE Systems, IBM Personal
Computer Company's Center for Natural Computing, Greenwich Capital
Markets, Motorola, the National Science Foundation, The Alfred P. Sloan
Foundation, and The Weingart Foundation.
Application guidelines: Official rules and an application may be
obtained by contacting Dr. Robert Epstein, Contest Director, 933
Woodlake Drive, Cardiff by the Sea, CA 92007-1009 Tel: 619-436-4400
Fax: 619-436-4490 Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org * The deadline for
receipt of applications is November 1, 1994. * Applications must be
accompanied by printed protocols recording actual interaction between the
system to be entered and one or more humans. The protocols may not
exceed ten double-spaced pages. * Applications must specify a single
domain of discourse in which the computer system is proficient. The
domain must be expressed by an English phrase containing no more than
five words. * Each entry must communicate using approximations of
natural English, and it must be prepared to communicate for an indefinite
period of time. * Computer entries may contain standard or customized
hardware and software. The hardware may be of any type as long as it is
inorganic and as long as its replies are not controlled by humans
responding in real time to the judges' inputs. * Entrants must be
prepared to interface their systems to standard computer terminals over
telephone lines at 2400 baud. * The prize will be awarded if there is
at least one entry.
Advance notice of new guidelines for 1995: The 1995 event will be
an unrestricted Turing Test, requiring computer entries to be able to
converse for an indefinite period of time with no topic restrictions. In
1995, entries may be required to run on hardware located at the
For further information: Complete transcripts and IBM-compatible
diskettes that play the 1991, 1992, and 1993 conversations in real-time
are available for purchase from the Cambridge Center for Behavioral
Studies (tel: 617-491-9020). Sponsorship opportunities are available.
Dr. Robert Epstein
619-436-4400 (fax 4490)
Dr. Hugh G. Loebner
201-672-2277 (fax 7536)
Date: Fri, 2 Sep 1994 11:07:39 -0400 (EDT)
From: eye WEEKLY
Subject: File 3-- Musicians of the World, Unite! (eye Reprint)
eye WEEKLY August 11 1994
Toronto's arts newspaper .....free every Thursday
EYE NET EYE NET
MUSICIANS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
You have nothing to lose but your labels
Back in May, eye Net reported how Burlington band The Banned
uploaded their single, "Karla And Paul," to cyberspace. The song,
about Homolka's deal-making with the Crown, was refused airplay by
radio stations. Screw them. Get it from the net. Judge for yourself.
In July, Aerosmith's label Geffen decided to emulate groups like The
Banned. Aerosmith's tune "Head First" was made available on
CompuServe for one week. A hefty bugger of a file, almost 5 megs
"Head First" is no longer available through CompuServe, but it can
be found in eye's music directory -- gopher.io.org or www.io.org/eye.
(You'll also find The Banned and a couple of local bands there. More
to come. To store your songs/samples/bios, write email@example.com or call
"Head First" was recorded at an unnecessarily high quality -- 22
KHz (44KHz being "CD-quality"). Most songs on the net are recorded
at 8/11 KHz -- tinny AM radio quality, good enough to judge a band,
shit for regular listening. The idea: if a person likes your sound, they
fork over the bucks for a good copy.
"I guess this scares record labels -- music getting to people
immediately, without the clutter of marketing machinery, hype and
demographic reports," Arizona's Keith Kehrer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
told eye -- email him for info on the MusicLink Musicians Network.
Kehrer even envisions "online recording studios."
Tyson Macaulay (email@example.com) is setting up an indie
net.distribution service in Ottawa, with Shake Records. Macaulay
helped bring the federal industry ministry online. "This could
completely revolutionize the music industry," he agrees. "No more
signing your life away to a major label to get distribution. If the net
keeps growing the way it is, a local band can get worldwide
distribution. Small bands with small budgets can do big things."
Denis McGrath, segment producer with CITY-TV's MediaTelevision
(firstname.lastname@example.org), says most record company people are
"blissfully unaware what's happening; and those that know are so
scared they don't want to delve into it any further." They placate
themselves with irrational assurances the net is a fad, or digital
computer files that decrease in quality when re-transmitted.
James Macfarlane (email@example.com), columnist for The Computer
Paper, agrees the music industry is due for a shake-up, but so are all
consumer products, not just music. "Direct from manufacturer to
consumer. Down the road, there'll be no retail level as we understand
Debbie Rix, publicity/promo honcho with MCA Concerts Canada,
agrees the industry is nervous about what Geffen did. "Music
companies have one salable item: music. Everything else is given
away pretty much free: videos, in-store appearances, bios, photos,
etc. If songs are given away free, what's left?"
But Rix predicts people will not send money to small online
distributors once a few charlatans spoil the party. Right now, it's
1967 and the Summer of Love. How long before scammers move in
and paranoia kills the scene?
BREAK THE MARCONI LOCK
The net may also help snap the stultifying Marconi Lock, what
McGrath calls the "Eric Clapton-Mariah Carey-Phil Collins-Michael
Bolton-Unholy Alliance" that lords over radio.
Rix agrees, to a point. "Look at Canadian radio: lots of talk, lots of
classic rock. Try getting the Dayglo Abortions played."
Which is why many people instinctively recoil from major-label
hype. I liked Nirvana when first hearing Bleach on CKLN's Aggressive
Rock. When they were picked up and subjected to ram-it-down-
their-throat promotional blasts, I simply stopped listening. Some
argue this is silly -- you like the music or don't. Bullshit. Rejecting
hype is a healthy defence mechanism. Without it, you're a hopeless
And that's the appeal of the net -- lateral cross-pollination,
circumvention of verticalized/monopolized sound. I'm not alone. TV
ratings fall while Internet connectivity soars.
Last week, eye Net mentioned news media's Holy Trinity of instant
net coverage: pedophilia, piracy and pornography. As the net offers
opportunity for unauthorized transmission of music files, Jim
Carroll (firstname.lastname@example.org), co-author of the bestselling Canadian
Internet Handbook, agrees net.cops could result from an industry-fed
anti-piracy media barrage. But so what?
"Face it, the technology is outstripping the ability for anyone to deal
with it. It defeats centralized control structures. What's to prevent
me from being a smart hacker and taking a CD-ROM that plays music,
copying the digital bits to hard drive, then uploading them
somewhere?" Business Week recently did an article predicting
Canadians should have the equivalent of 64-gig chips by 2010 --
compared to the 4-meg average now. "You should be able to load the
entire Aerosmith discography into computer memory with that,"
Carroll grins. Speedier lines will decrease transmission time
McGrath thinks the music industry might engage in backroom
jockeying to kill the medium, like it did digital audio tape (DAT).
Right now, there are a lot of steps in using the net.
Mass popularity requires a handy, inexpensive device that does it all
automatically for the consumer, McGrath says then writes the
digital file to a playback medium, like CD. "The music industry might
very well be in a position to stall or even stop the production of just
this device -- like DAT."
McGrath says music companies have another motive to kill pure
digital distribution, =85 la the net. "Without physical distribution of
CDs, consumers will ask: how come producing a CD costs $2 yet sells
for $16? It's common knowledge a CD is now cheaper to make than
vinyl was. Right there, alone, record companies are in real trouble."
Retransmit freely in cyberspace Author holds standard copyright
Full issue of eye available in archive =3D=3D> gopher.io.org or ftp.io.org
Mailing list available http://www.io.org/eye
email@example.com "Break the Gutenberg Lock..." 416-971-8421
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 1994 01:07:01 PDT
From: CuD Moderators
Subject: File 4--The Process of Writing a Cybercolumn (Robert Rossney Reprint)
((MODERATORS' NOTE: In CuD 6.79, we wrote of a cyber-death watch (in
The Well's News conference, topic 1581), which included summaries of
two media stories of the event. We suggested that the media missed
the real story. One media piece, a column by Robert Rossney, which
appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, also drew some criticism on
The Well. In response, Rossney wrote a description of the genesis of
his column, explaining the process by which an event is framed and how
editorial and other constraints shape the final product.
As critics of much of the media depiction of cyberspace, we often
comment unfavorably on much that appears in the media. Some
commentators are hopelessly uninformed, others opt for shameless
sensationalism, and a few are competent writers who usually do a
decent job in spite of the requisites of their medium that influence
what ultimately appears in print. Rossney's commentary reminds us that
even experienced writers are not always able to frame stories as they
wish, and that the writing process requires a number of personal
choices and confrontation of a variety of administrative obstacles (as
his summary of the rejection of a proposed story on CuD archivist
Brendan Kehoe illustrates). The following reminds us that writing is
damned hard work, especially for conveying the complexities of
cyberspace to a general audience. The post originally appeared
on The Well in Media/833)).
Let me tell you all how this column came about. If you're already bored
with this topic, don't read this response; you'll be REALLY bored by the
time you get to the end.
* * *
One of the things that I am trying to do in my column is to cover what
goes on online as though the online world were an actual society with
an actual culture. A society full of real people having real experiences,
even if they share those experiences through the written word.
In particular, I want to illuminate something for those readers who are NOT
online: however technogeeky and insubstantial and weird the world they
might have heard about from less brilliant and informed sources than little
me, it is, nonetheless, vital and human.
I thought this story fit in to these broader objectives pretty well. Here
we have a pivotal life event -- the leaving of it -- and it's causing
ripples to travel through this new and strange context. What happened
in news 1581 struck me then, and strikes me still, as a perfect example
of the making-it-up-as-we-go-along quality, the dreaded "co-creation,"
that has made the online world such an exciting and fascinating place
to hang over the last dozen or so years.
The keyword here is ONLINE. It may have escaped notice in all the hooraw
here, but that's the name of the column. I write about stuff that happens
ONLINE. That's my mandate. Keep this in mind; it will be important
* * *
Now, I had a political problem to struggle with. About six months ago,
I wrote a piece about Brendan Kehoe. I thought it was remarkable and
touching that you could find the story of his catastrophic accident
everywhere on the net, and that his coworkers had set up a .plan for
people to finger so that they could track changes in his condition.
My editor killed it. Said it was "too depressing."
Well, here I had another story that I really wanted to cover, only it was
about something even more depressing, something that ended with an actual
dead person at the end. Plus it happened on the WELL. I try very hard to
avoid writing about the WELL too much; it would be easy to slip into
omphaloskepsis and end up being boring and parochial.
All of that was true, but the story I was watching happen was, from the
perspective that I described above, too good to pass up.
Fortunately, the WELL is famous at the moment. A piece in the Washington
Post, a blurb in Time magazine, and now I had something that outweighed
the depression quotient, as far as the people standing between me and
the newspaper were concerned: a breaking story that had been covered by
someone else. It was this that gave me the handle to get it into the
* * *
At this point, I had two other problems to deal with. The first was that
the obvious way to write this piece was dead wrong. The obvious way is
the inspirational and uplifting story of the good people that all pulled
together and supported kj, each in his or her way, in her final days.
A COMMUNITY RALLIES IN THE FACE OF DEATH.
There were at least four things wrong with this angle.
First, it wasn't the whole story. There were MANY other currents going
on besides that one: there was the flaming, and the blank postings, and
the poetry, and all the other things that people were doing that had
nothing at all to do with bringing aid and comfort to a dying woman.
Second, it wasn't what was happening online. What people that followed
this story online saw was how the direct, physical, offline community
response, the one that actually meant something to kj, was described
after the fact by tigereye and ralf and others. The act of going to
someone's deathbed and offering aid and comfort is one thing; the act
of coming back from someone's deathbed and bearing witness is another.
It was the latter act that was occurring online. This is a troublesome
distinction, and I'll revisit it in a bit.
The third problem with writing that story is that it could not help but
sentimentalize kj. Now, kj and I loathed one another. I thought she was
unprincipled on her good days and batshit crazy on her bad ones. I don't
know exactly what she thought of me, but I'd bet folding money it wasn't
Nonetheless, however much I disliked kj, I didn't dislike her enough to
write a warm piece about the glowing positive energy that coalesced about
her in her final days. I found the idea distasteful, and I bet she would
have too. Whatever else I can say about her, she was about the most
fundamentally unsentimental person I ever met. I wasn't going to dishonor
The fourth problem is that such a piece would be predictable and boring.
* * *
The approach I adopted instead was doomed from the start: ethnography.
Take a complex society and pull apart one of its rituals, examining how
the different consituents of the society participate in it and respond to
one another. The traditional ethnographic essay, like, say, Clifford
Geertz's "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" or "Thick Descrip-
tion," is about forty pages long. I had eight hundred words. Also, I
am not Clifford Geertz.
Nonetheless, it's a way of thinking that I'm comfortable with, and so I
set to work. I discarded obvious aberrations, like 's appalling
response. (If you're looking for something in that topic that I actually
disapproved of, that's it.)
I read through the topic three or four times, cataloguing the major
divisions that the responses seemed to fall into. I came up with ways
to characterize these divisions that I thought would make sense to the
readers. (Remember them?) And I decided that, in accordance with the
kind of analysis that I was trying to do, I needed to adopt a detached
When I was done with this, I sat back to figure out what I thought about
the whole thing. There were a couple of ideas that I explored and then
One was the idea that kj was, essentially, a placeholder for the
This wasn't at all true for what was going on offline, and it wasn't
completely true for what was going on online either, but there was
substance to the idea nonetheless: it was very clear to me that many
of the people who were responding -- and, I guessed, the vast majority of
those who were reading -- had only the vaguest idea who kj was.
It could have been me, or you, who was dying, and while the topic would
be completely different it would still have a lot of people in it who
posted "I didn't know rbr, but I find this incredibly moving."
I didn't like this idea because there were many, many counterexamples, and
the counterexamples were some of the most interesting and affecting stuff
that was happening in the topic. So I dropped it.
Another idea that I rejected was the notion that there was a lot of
grandstanding going on. This had been my impression the first time through
the topic. I felt that here was a place where people came to talk about
their feelings, and that the will to attention that drives most of us to
post led people to rage against the dying of the light a little too loudly
and too long. It seemed to me that people were preening their sensitivity.
But on rereading the topic the three or four times I did, I found that
this idea just didn't hold up. Read carefully, the topic looked much
less facile than it had when I was skimming over the new postings every
day. Even the strange sunflower thread, which I had thought was pretty
ridiculous the first time through, proved to have a great deal more integ-
rity than I had originally thought.
* * *
The only idea that I came up with that seemed to be solid came out of
the fact that there were so many different kinds of responses to kj's
Some, like the blank postings, were all but totally opaque. There was
selflessness to be found, and self-centeredness. There was a certain
amount of shock and despair. There were people who were inarticulate and
people who were glib.
This was, essentially, much like any other topic online: full of the chaos
that attends a group of independent minds who are far from unanimity. And
it was a topic that didn't have the we've-all-done-this-before character
that many topics that we see tend to develop.
Because we HAVEN'T all done this before. Only three WELL users have made
their deaths known to the WELL over the last ten years. This is a new
world for us here. We haven't yet developed the language that we'll be
using when it happens for the tenth or twentieth time. We're still
figuring out what to say. No clear picture of the right way to respond
emerged from this topic.
So that was my handle for the column: bewilderment.
And at this point, I think you can see how it goes together and why.
Graf 1: the note that convinces my editor not to kill it. Grafs 2-4:
Americans aren't good at dealing with death. Everything up to the
conclusion: here's the story, emphasis on the contradictory ways
that people online are learning to deal with death. Conclusion: this
kind of response is new right now, but ten years from now as people
develop more familiarity with it we will see traditions emerge.
There was some careless stuff in there that I regret. I wish I'd gotten
the numbers right; that was just dumb. The bit about "stammering inco-
herently in the face of the void" is cute, but it was dumb too. I could
have avoided using "peculiar" twice. But really, I've done lots worse,
and I don't know any columnist who hasn't.
* * *
Now, for the last week I've had to listen to a lot of remarkable stuff.
(Not all of it came from people who disagreed with me, either. A number
of comments, like chuck's and humdog's, were, while supportive, utterly
baffling to me. I still can't see how someone can read this column and
come away from it with a sense of who kj was, except insofar as the
column is unsentimental and so was she. It wasn't *about* kj.)
Mostly, the negative response here just makes me uncomfortable. Not that
people would disagree with Lofty Me, but that people could find something
to disagree with in a column so utterly flensed of actual opinion. By the
time I was done with this column, about the only opinion that I still had
about news 1581 was that xxxxx's response was really creepy. (And it
really is. "I'm so sorry you're dying, you're one of the few people that
backs me up." There's a fucking comfort to the afflicted for you.)
Most of tigereye's ire, I think, comes from a fundamental difference of
perspective. Her interest lies, as it ought to, with the dozens of people
who provided aid and comfort to kj, and she's concerned that their story
not be shortchanged. I don't disagree with that.
But I was telling a different story. My story was about what happened
online. That's my *job*.
The grim truth is that the only reason kj's death appeared in the paper
at all is the online developments that accompanied it. I think that's
pretty stark, and if kj had been my friend it would make me bitter,
but it's true. The REAL story, the one that was happening in real life
24 hours a day and not just when the reporters were logged in, that story
never saw print, and probably never will.
From my perspective as a cog in the media machine, I'm standing pretty
firm. I had good reasons for choosing this story in the first place,
good reasons for taking the approach to it that I did, I described what I
saw accurately and fairly, and I drew my audience towards an overall
sensibility that I think is good for us all. Apart from one factual
inaccuracy, and a certain walking-on-eggshells tone that I couldn't get
rid of, I'm not unhappy with it.
I sure am tired of hearing about it, though.
Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1994 22:51:01 CDT
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