MindVox, Spy Magazine


Commu-nets Plot
In Which Our Cybercorrespondent Logs On, Jack In and Zones Out

by Ellis Weiner

The Net. The Matrix. TheGrid. Cyberspace. The Metaverse. “I’m jacking into Netcom to surf the nodes.” “I’m slotting into USENET to download shareware.” “I’m cueballing through HyperSieve to troll for batch-feeds.” “I’m logging on to MindVox to access GIFs in OTIS.”

Actually, I’m jacking off at my computer, writing cyberpunk heptalk I know nothing about. Well, not nothing. To translate the above; The first three terms are synonyms, more or less, for the worldwide network of computers and data, either formally linked or not, while the next two are science-action extrapolations of same.

Netcom, USENET and MindVox are “online” or bulletin-board services (BBSs), As for the quotes, the first refers to messing around on such a service, looking for action, cruising. The second means, “I’m connecting to a BBS to bring free-trial software into my computer.” In the fourth, a GIF is a kind of graphics file (i.e., a picture), and OTIS is an on-line art gallery.

As for the third quote,..! made it up. Cueballing has a nice reckless, kinetic jumpiness, so perfect for describing an activity consisting of sitting in a chair staring at a screen for three hours. Hyper is an all-purpose, can’t-miss computer word that may not really mean anything, while sieve is a kitchen/sandbox word that, in computer lingo, could mean absolutely everything: networks, “selectivity,” skinny neurons and synaptic brain stuff. Finally, a batch-feed is a kind of garbage disposal, where you put the garbage to be disposed of into the drain, then plug it with a special magnetic top that activates the “unit.” Garbage in, garbage disposed.

I’m practicing real and fake cybertalk because, any day now, I’ll be going on-line, off-kilter and out of body with one or several or any or, jeez, all of those interlocking communities, like the ones cited above, or CompuServe, America Online, DELPHI or BIX. Sure, these latter four sound, respectively, like a tennis courtesy, a society of people who dry their laundry outside, a sorority nickname and a cult that worships dead cornet players. Which they probably are! But, of course, they are much more, as are GEnie, Prodigy, PANIX, FidoNet and the…well, WELL.

These networks of computers linked by telephones represent the toll plazas, “rest areas” and unlit off ramps of our nation’s “information super-highway,” a vast wire-and-fiber-optic infrastructure soon to be an immediate reality yesterday, and already in place tomorrow, right now. Are there many of them? Wired magazine estimates that there are 45,000 in the U.S. alone. Forty-five thousand users? Goodness, no. Forty-five thousand systems. On them, or off them, or whatever the preposition is, you can get airline schedules, news/weather/sports in the U.K., recipes. You can buy tangerines from the Florida Fruit Shippers and then worry about it by scanning the Rare Disease Data Base. You can get, in a word, that horrible word, information.

Frankly, FYI, I hate “information.” Untrustworthy or pseudo-intelligent people wave it in your race these days in an effort to seem trustworthy or intelligent. Every PR Hack on an expense account has learned to say, not “I’m here to lie on behalf of my employer,” but rather “I’m here to see that the public gets as much information as possible.”

Still, there really is a lot of authentic, legitimate information out there. Nonetheless, who needs it? Who really wants to “track your investments” in laborious, ulcer-inducing real time, or swim unprotected through the shark- infested Sargasso of airline schedules? What news event, short of the Second Coming, is so compelling that one needs to “read about it on DELPHI before the newspapers are even printed”?

No, if I’m going to take the plunge and fall into the Net, it will be because of…people. People who need people. Which is to say, people who need people to talk to via the absolutely sex- and age-neutral medium of the computer screen. And not just a lot of people, but upwards of 20 million of them, from all over Earth, if you are able to get into the Internet, a globe-girdling patchwork of government, military, university and corporate systems linked into a de facto ultranet.

Once on, you access users (“talk” to “people”) in two ways, either by sending and receiving messages (“E-mail”) or by engaging in real-time on-the-screen exchanges (“chatting”). Now, I already take part in jolly E-mail badi-nage with various people on the BBS of the Writers Guild of America (East), and it’s good clean fun: You log on, read your mail, reply to it and get off. My correspondents are, after all, writers, and are usually pretty good at composing entertaining sentences.

But several years ago, on CompuServe (the biggest of them all), I sampled the experience of hardcore on-line chatting, and it was the opposite of enthralling. Bear in mind that when so conversing, you are staring at your screen, typing in your comments and reading those of others as they scroll up and away. It was my first time; I was, therefore, like a neophyte club member staggering unheeded through a cocktail party of longtime veterans.

:::Guys::: and >>>gals<<< kibitzed CuTeLy with CrrrrAzy! orthography (sp.’f??) and L1G1GGLE}] sideways smiley faces :+). LOUD-MOUTH WINDBAGS WROTE IN ALL CAPITALS AND CONDUCTED TEDIOUS EXCHANGES WITH PEOPLE THEY’D BEEN CHATTING WITH FOR MONTHS IF N O T YEARS!!!! Soi-disant wits noted their reactions to bon mots from one another (LOL = Laughs Out Loud; FOGL = Falls On Ground Laughing), or flirted smarmily by including reactions such as {GRIN] and {BLUSH]. You sit there feeling like a wallflower, trying to type a word in edgewise.

Finally, after half an hour of hypnagogic stupor, it dawns: You are paying monthly “connect” charges to read the results of bad writers writing, badly, to one another…about… +++===—> CRAP!!!<—===+++.


Why, then, am I up for it again, and on a worldwide scale? Because recently a friend banded me a printed copy of an exchange on the Internet about a topic in which I happen to be interested and about which I have a hard time finding books or magazine articles. The questioner was, I assumed, an American man or woman, but the respondent was—get this—a guy in Germany.

His reply—in English!—about a certain musical performer I like, was accurate and included details of a record 1 didn’t know existed. Here, at last, was +-*-R*E*A*L-+ =+ information. From someone in %#%E/U/R/O/P/£%%9 ̄ [SMIRK], I realized that, had I been on the Net, I could have told the questioner things the German respondent didn’t, and I could have made contact with both of them to discuss the subject further. Which is to say I saw, in a flash, how it might be fun after all to chum for nodules through the Photon Soup.

We’ll (LEIEOSS – Lifts Eyebrow In Expression Of Sophisticated Skepticism) “see.”