In With The In Crowd
Fri, 18 Jun 1999 21:25:01 EDT

This put me in mind of a story a friend (or maybe a prof) told me about an
unpublshed writer who, frustrated, began to write erotica just to get
published and how he, the unpublished writer, atst began to write a book
about *being* a writer of erotica and that he noticed that most good books of
erotica had eleven chapters with eleven paragraphs per. He finished his book
about writing about erotica, and it was published. My friend (or prof) told
me that upon reading the book he noticed that it contained - ygi - 11
chapters with 11 paragraphs per.


(they're not your friends if they grade you)

(don't even think it)



The Last Luddite Gets Wired

By Ron Rosenbaum

Dispatch No. 3: In Which I Grow To Hate My Computer and Despise
Those Who Send Me E-Mail

The story so far: In the previous two dispatches I recounted the
preliminary results of the deal I'd proposed to the editors of
Slate last year--Slate would buy me a computer, modem, printer,
peripherals up to a cap of $3,500. In return for which I would
file, under the rubric of "The Last Luddite Gets Wired," a series
of dispatches detailing my decision-making process (whether to do
it, what to buy), and then the experience of my late entry into the
digital age.

At the close of my last dispatch, my purchases had arrived: $5,600
worth of Apple PowerBook G3 with DVD, Hewlett Packard printer, and
assorted software and peripherals. When we left off, I was
comparing myself to the awestruck apes in the opening scenes of
Kubrick's 2001, warily staring at the black slab of my Apple
PowerBook as if it were the alien monolith. By the way, can anyone
explain to me exactly who put the monolith there and why? I'd never
really liked 2001 but had been intimidated by those who were (like
the apes) awestruck by the monolithic icon Kubrick had become. The
night I got my black slab from Apple, I rented 2001 and found
it--like most allegedly profound and prophetic accounts of the
Cyber Age--to be an overrated snooze that gestured at
portentousness but delivered only an amateurish light show at the
end, a light show that seemed like a substitute for the profundity
it lacked. Kind of like Coppola's inability to figure out how to
end Apocalypse Now and desperately throwing in some heavy-sounding
passages from "The Wasteland."

But I digress. Let me cut to the chase. It's three weeks after the
black-slab monolith arrives and I'm on the phone with my friend
Cynthia, who's very cyber savvy. "How's it going with your
computer, are you online yet?" she asked me.

"I hate my computer," I said.

"That's a fast learning curve," she told me.

The implication being that everyone sooner or later, or sooner and
later, hates his computer, for its unreliability, its lack of
consistency, its drop-outs, drop-offs, frozen screens, and the

Oh, things seemed to go swimmingly for about the first 24 hours.
With the help of my computer tutor, I managed to light it up, my
PowerBook, even signed up for an Internet service provider. I chose
an e-mail name. Which, by the way, I'm not going to disclose,
because frankly I don't want to hear from you. Well, maybe not you,
but from your typical chatroom wise-guy poseur, the "snide
know-it-alls who lord it over the chatrooms with their wannabe
witticisms," as I put it in my last dispatch.

And here I want to dwell a bit on the question of cyber-era wannabe
wit. My friend Cynthia, who's fairly au courant with wired culture,
noted I'd brought it up in my first dispatch as well, my distaste
for know-it-alls and the way cyber discourse, perhaps because it's
grounded in ones and zeroes with no gradations in between, seems to
bring out the worst in people, to breed the arrogant assumption
that he who posts is the one and everyone else is a zero.

Cynthia encouraged me to get deeper into the culture and
personality of the chatroom poseur in this dispatch, and since my
assignment was to write about not just navigating the technical
side of wired culture but about the culture itself, I'm going to
take a look, a very close and exacting look, at one e-mail a Slate
reader sent in response to my first dispatch. One e-mail that
beautifully, perfectly embodies that peculiar combination of
arrogance and ignorance, of self-aggrandizing wannabe wit I find so
repellant about cyber-chat culture.

I'll spare you the name of the sender. It's irrelevant. What's
relevant is that he's so typical in tone of the genus, Chatroom
Poseur. The subject line for his dismissive missive: "Rosenbaum,
the Luddite?" promises a stunning expose, which he proceeds to
deliver thusly:

"Rosenbaum, no Luddite he, saves himself typing time by using the
letters MST3K to stand for Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (my
favorite TV show. Watch it and visit its Web site before Barry
Diller kills it). Only someone who is a closet computer user would
bother to reduce the long title to a five-letter/number combination

Oooh, busted, man! Busted for abbreviation.

I love this so much that before quoting the rest of this
devastating indictment, I want to savor its asinine splendor
slowly. Let's see, I'm not a real Luddite because I use
abbreviations. Duh, don't they have dictionaries online for people
as ignorant as this? But ignorance does not, in Chatroom Poseur
rhetoric, preclude arrogance. I don't know, I checked: There's
nothing in my "How To Be a Luddite Handbook" that proscribes the
use of abbreviations. But in his ignorance and arrogance, he's sure
he's nabbed me in the act.

Now let's turn to his brilliant Sherlockian deduction from this:

"Only someone who is a closet computer user (as he admits) would
bother to reduce the long title to a five-letter/number

Let's see, where to begin in this feast of arrogant, ignorant
feebleness? (Do you know the phrase--was it from Alexander
Pope?--"Often in error, never in doubt"?) So his deductive facility
proves I'm a "closet computer user," as I supposedly "admit." Not
likely, pal, on either count. As I wrote, I've never owned a
computer, I've never produced a document on a computer, I've sent
two e-mails in my life, made one visit to a chatroom and surfed the
Net once, all on friends' computers. Hardly a closet or any kind of
computer user. Just enough, though, to give me a distaste for types
like him.

But still, I'm fascinated by his logic. His certainty about the
detail with which he seems to believe he's nailed me: I use
abbreviations. Um, exactly what's the connection? People who use
typewriters (which, I suppose I need to point out to this
ignoramus, also have keyboards) don't use abbreviations? There's no
logic to it at all but that doesn't prevent a Chatroom Poseur from
proceeding, all puffed up with self-congratulation on his coup, to
his next point:

"If he is allowed to spend $3,500 on a computer set-up, give me the
money and I'll spend a lot less for a complete and excellent
system--provided I can keep the difference ..."

Make way for Mr. Techno Whiz! He seems to have a (not unsurprising)
problem with reading comprehension. The premise of the dispatches
was not to test my computer shopping virtuosity. The point was to
chronicle the perils of an admitted novice. I'm perfectly prepared
to believe you could do better than me in selecting "a complete and
excellent system." Why don't you go enter that contest then and
stop patting yourself on the back, because that's not the point
here, dimwit. Sorry, but close proximity to this sad and pathetic
variety of arrogant ignorance seems to bring out something more in
me than the pity it deserves. It inevitably coarsens my own
naturally gentle and forgiving temperament, brings out an irritated
contempt. Q.E.D, that's what chatroom discourse seems to do to
everyone: bring out the worst, most snide side of the soul.

But what else could you feel for this fellow but contempt? I'm not
unwilling to listen to criticism, but a critique clothed in such an
invincible armor of arrogance and ignorance is, well, typical of
cyber-chat rhetoric. I'm not saying all e-mailers have achieved
that perfect fusion of arrogance and ignorance, but the ones that
do set the tone.

Hmmmm. I seem to have spent most of this dispatch denouncing a
single e-mail. But really it is not the person but the tone, the
all-too-typical wise-guy wannabe, the self-congratulatory would-be
wit of the Chatroom Poseur.

What other generalizations can be made about the Chatroom Poseur?
As a species, a genus, I suspect, he (and it's almost always a he;
the Chatroom Poseur is perhaps the end-stage cyberspace refinement
of Male Answer Syndrome) considers himself a writer when he posts
his little bons mots. For some absolutely incomprehensible reason,
Chatroom Poseur is rarely able to get his work published, at least
in the once conventional fashion that required someone else to
believe and invest in his work. But that's probably because The Man
just can't handle the searing vision of his Truth!

So, he's a little bitter and resentful beneath his smugness. The
lordly condescending tone Chatroom Poseur employs is the armor that
hides his insecurity, his wounded (and well-deserved) sense of
inadequacy. But the Web is the great equalizer for Chatroom Poseur,
the Web doesn't discriminate between good and bad prose. The
labored and leaden wit of Chatroom Poseur gets "published" as if it
were S.J. Perelman (note to Chatroom Poseur: S.J. Perelman is not
the same as Ron Perelman). As if it were real writing.

So in a way, I'm happy for Chatroom Poseur--that he's found a place
to preen indiscriminately, to preen intemperately, to preen all
over the place. If Chatroom Poseur didn't have the Net, he'd be one
of those people you pass in the crowded streets of big cities,
moving along with the crowd on the sidewalk, talking and
gesticulating with great articulate intensity--to himself. If he
didn't stay at home and tyrannize other Chatroom Poseur wannabes,
you'd have to listen to his self-congratulatory monologues at
parties. Or at the post office. Well, you still sometimes do, but
much less now that he's got his little cyber-realm to lord it over
back home in the bedroom of his parents' house.

Am I being too harsh to Chatroom Poseur? Only as a symptom, I
guess. In ancient Athens, they had a name, a name that became an
epithet, for the ancient equivalent of Chatroom Poseur, the ones
who preened in the Agora, the chatroom of Athens. They called them
Sophists, people who were less interested in finding the truth of a
question than in winning an argument, turning the search for truth
into an argument they could win and preen over.

sense), and 23 centuries later, in the person of Chatroom Poseur,
pseudo sophistication (Chatroom Poseur is not quite clever enough
for genuine sophistry).

I was trying to figure out what it is about the tone of Chatroom
Poseur's postings that make them so irritating. I think some of it
has to do with their staginess: Chatroom Poseur always seems
conscious of his audience when he's tapping out his would-be
witticisms; they pose as conversation but they're really
self-regarding performances. He's not completely there in his
utterances because he's listening to himself, hearing himself,
admiring himself, posing for himself at all times. The Narcissus of
the Net, he puts the pose in Poseur.

But as I say, I don't want to be harsh about Chatroom Poseur. I'm
probably displacing on poor C.P. some of the anger at my PowerBook
G3. Actually, I don't think it's the computer that's at fault so
much as my Internet connection. My computer tutor thinks it's my
phone line that's causing these frequent dropouts, which require me
to redial or try different Internet service providers with pretty
erratic and unpredictable results.

My goal in my first session with my black-slab PowerBook monolith
was a modest one. Get online and at least get into Slate so that I
could see my first dispatch and decide what I needed to revise
while it's posted. Here I think is a wonderful, if potentially
nightmarish, feature of Internet writing. I'm almost always plagued
by second thoughts about my magazine pieces, things I would have
changed or added, but second thoughts that come too late, after the
issue's closed, on the way to the newsstand. I like the fact that I
can revise, add, correct errors online in Slate. As I did in my
first dispatch when I called Slate to change Scrooge McDuck to Gyro
Gearloose (don't ask). But on the other hand, this same wonderful
feature could, I can see, if I were to write more for online
publications, become a source of nightmare: A compulsive rethinker
and rewriter like myself would never have the enforced closure of a
print medium that has gone to press, would never think himself free
of a piece, would never in some corner of the mind stop working on
it. That way lies madness.

But anyway, after my initial success, trouble started. Netscape
Navigator would frequently interrupt my reading of Slate to drop me
out and tell me that they were unable to locate anything even
faintly resembling Could this be fallout from the
Netscape/Microsoft war? Could this be evidence in the ongoing
Microsoft antitrust trial? But for which side? I don't know; all I
know is when I shifted to Microsoft Internet Explorer, I could stay
on Slate (which, needless to say, is a Microsoft-owned enterprise)
but without the full 4.0 graphics I got on Netscape before they
kicked me off and told me they never heard of Slate. I think there
must be more to the story, but it's beyond me.

Beyond me also was the reason my screen froze so often, why even
after my computer tutor carefully installed my DVD software for my
on-board DVD player, I couldn't get rid of a message reading "Apple
DVD player cannot continue after your computer has gone to sleep"
(even after I woke it up). I couldn't figure out why my icon
wouldn't change back from a watch reading 9 o'clock on the DVD
screen. It was in the midst of this I had to do some traveling, but
when I came back I found I didn't even want to open the black slab.
It seemed a lot of hassle, for what? The better to be able to read
the bilious effusions of preening Chatroom Poseurs? I put in a call
to my computer tutor for an emergency intensive session. In the
next dispatch, I'll let you know whether I go back to being a