Surfing on the Internet
by J.C. Herz
AFTER THOUSANDS of hours in front of a computer screen, I’m shell-shocked. The Net feels like a carnival gone awry. Too many choices. Too many people. Too many posts stacked like an endless tube of Pringles. Too many threads that aren’t worth the time but scream to be read all the same. It’s like elbowing through a department store on Christmas eve, with all those cosmetics ladies trying to spritz you with cologne and five more people to go on your Christmas list and you don’t even know what to get them or where to look and the clock is ticking toward closing time. Mall mania. I’m getting agoraphobic. I’m getting bored. I’m wearing thin.
It sounds crazy, but text can buffet you on the Net. It can fry you. It’s like solar wind. And when there’s way, way too much noise and not enough signal, it can send you running for shelter. And that’s what I’ve found on MindVox.
I read about Vox somewhere along the way, probably on alt.cyberpunk. It’s hard to remember where I first heard about it, considering that I must have read the equivalent of tens of thousands of pages on hundreds of channels by then (I sound like a seventies club crawler when I try to piece out the details… “It’s sort of a daze, man. It was one of those places. I don’t remember if it was day or night, but I was with these really weird people…”) I’ve heard Vox described as “the East Village of cyberspace.” I’ve heard that two former members of the fabled Legion of Doom (a notorious pack of teenaged hackers busted and disbanded in the eighties) have gone legit and built the place. Every member of the LOD, as well as their rival hacking ring, the MOD (Masters of Destruction, Masters of Deception, Mothers on Drugs — take your pick, no one’s really sure), is supposed to be hanging out there. It seems like a pretty interesting group house, and I’m looking for digs, so I telnet in to check out the place.
An ASCII iron cross greets me at the gate. Later, I consider it a welcome mat, a gothic Home Sweet Home door knocker that winks hello, log-on after log-on. But the first time, it’s imposing. I log on as guest and read MindVox’s explanation of itself as “a sprawling Tavern at the crossroads of the entire world.”
Whether you have jacked into Vox by dialing a local number with your modem, or stacked together a web of net connections that spans the world, you have arrived — and while you might make use of the facilities provided, chances are you’re not here ‘cuz you want to flip through an online multimedia encyclopedia, or because you’re on a quest for that elusive copy of MegaTerminal 92.7Y NOW SUPPORTING NEON ANSI MODE and V.FAST You’re bored with the cookie-cutter tract houses that litter the electronic landscape with copies of copies. All featuring the same thing, with the same environment and the same people. Your cruise through the Datasphere has brought you to our gates because it’s more interesting to hang out in an experimental theatre, recording studio, occult bookstore, headshop, R&D lab or club, with people you read about; than a 7-11. with people you’re sick and tired of.
Please, I think, please let this be for real.
I scroll down through more than sixty thousand bits of Patrick Kroupa’s editorial. Kroupa, who has been described by the Associated Press as “a towering 25-year-old high school dropout in a black leather jacket, with long hair gathered under a gray bandanna, three earrings and a hearty laugh,” is one of MindVox’s two principal gods, the other being Bruce Fancher, a twenty-three-year-old who dropped out of Tufts to cofound the system. Bruce minds the store. Patrick imbues it with rock star charisma. And between Bruce’s intellectual elbow grease, Patrick’s Jim Morrisonesque mystique, and the collective cachet of the entire semi-reformed Legion of Doom, MindVox has cultivated the noble rot of cyberpunk legitimacy. It has drawn bulletin board bohemians like moths to a lava lamp.
I have found my home.
I stroll into Bandwidth Forum (BWF), MindVox’s central piazza and watering hole, the place where voxers flesh out their personas, post their day-to-day epiphanies, and rip good-naturedly at each other’s flesh, where you can find threads under the rubrics of “Cat Vomit” and “The Hume Thing.” The Algonquin Round Table meets the World Wrestling Federation. The men are proud, and women can snap tire irons with a flutter of their tiny, alabaster hands: bandwidth uber-moderator 3]ane; Cass in Atlanta; teenaged Newt (the Annette Funicello of BWF); Feline (“I’m freeing my Inner Bitch. Fuck off”); Eponine, who works as a theatrical electrician when she’s not cutting a graceful figure on the ice rink; and Spirit. The guys are a generally roguish lot with handles to match: Headbanger, the Chemist, Critic, Nihilis, the Ghost in the Machine (fGitM for short), Gearhead, Cable, Gunfury, the Toxic Avenger (Tox, to his friends), and the ever-disaffected Kieran.
Tomwhore, the resident poet, plays Bandwidth court jester to 3]ane’s empress. With a few notable exceptions, this gang is on the tender side of twenty-five — young enough to be nicknamed “Mindslack.” Vox isn’t a total playpen, but the high school and college posse definitely makes its presence felt In fact, the class curmudgeon is a twenty-two-year-old med school dropout named GaIt (I’m a month older than him; I feel like Mrs. Robinson). Smarting from accusations of crustiness, Galt broadcast what he thought was a rhetorical question: “Do I really sound so old?” He got back a volley of replies from kids too young to buy alcohol. “Yes!” Silly rabbit.
Outside of BWF, a plethora of forums awaits my perusal. Vox has a bad-assed image, which is reflected in forums devoted to hardware hacking, viruses, heavy metal, drugs, computer security (or lack thereof), and, of course, thugworld.
Voxers seem to enjoy their reputation as, “The Hell’s Angels of Cyberspace.”
“We are the citizens of this diabolical domain,” writes Tomwhore. “Each of us has added to the wrath of the elder masters, each of us has helped to stoke the flames of the great blind gods who are as, we post, spreading their terrible visions across the net. The net to them is just another plane on which to crawl across, to reach out and enter our minds and send us spiraling down into the abbys of our own tortured and self made hells. In short, welcome to your worst nightmare.”
This Dante’s-ninth-circle vibe is a touchstone for the faithful. Vox is hyper-aware of its own punk authenticity. “Vox is my online home and I will not live in Viacom’s lobby,” fumes Alibaba amid rumors of a sellout “Fuck that noise, I’m here because I like it here. If Patrick and Bruce sell out and dissapear, then that’s ok, because I wish them the best and its not like Patrick is ever here in the first place. But the day that happens, is the day I cancel and find someplace else to hang out. I’m about as hyped at the idea of MTVox as I am by the idea of signing up to the America Online Cyberpunk forum. I know its being run by people who’s ideology I hate, who are catering to some list of demographics that they’re reading off for ‘generation X’ which is their next big money barrel. FUCK THEM and FUCK THAT. I can see why they look at this and get all hungry, but we aren’t old enough to have become them, I hope to god we never do and its sometimes difficult for me to reconcile making money for MTV by watching the artists they play, its like Fishbone, GNR, Nirvana have all said, it helps them reach the people and say what they want to say and sell their albums, but you gotta hate it I don’t want corporate cyberspace run by them, I at least want my chunk of it run by people I know are real. If you guys can sell Vox, fuckyes, do it, but if you’re reading this MTV, FUCK YOU.”