"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Global Village Idiots


[Dead Kitty]

What would it be like to be

Sherry Turkle's cat?


[Sherry Turkle]

Turkle, author of Life on the

Screen: Identity in the Age of

the Internet, is not

particularly obsessed with the

more salacious possibilities

available to the adventurous

avatar. We are. So forgive us if

Turkle's high-minded theories

about MUDs, chat rooms, and

virtual communities call to our

low minds thoughts of pussies in

a FurryMUCK.


[Life on the Screen]

According to Turkle, networked

computing is supposed to

"challenge traditional ways of

thinking about healthy selves as

single and unitary." If so, then

why does Time-Warner's

avatar-infested virtual world,

The Palace, seem less like a

forum for mutating forms and

ideas and more like Greg Brady's

bachelor-pad bedroom? Granted,

it's difficult to fit "When it's

time to change you've got to

rearrange/Who you are into what

you're going to be" inside a

speech balloon, but the basic

level of discourse (and

overriding motivation) is the

same in either environment.



Chip Morningstar's and Randy

Farmer's seminal paper on

virtual communities, "The

Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat,"

provides a clue to the root of

chat room banality. Habitat was

the precursor to Club Caribe,

the Commodore 64-based

multi-user virtual world offered

by QuantumLink, a service later

christened America Online. In a

section titled, appropriately

enough, "Get Real," Morningstar

and Farmer answer the criticism

of a colleague who claimed that

"most of the activity consisted

of inane and trivial

conversation." Admitting that

the observation is "largely

correct," the authors go on to


In a real system that is used by  
real people, it is a mistake to   
assume that the users will all    
undertake the sorts of noble and  
sublime activities which you      
created the system to enable.     
Most of them will not.            

[The Palace]

While Turkle, Rheingold, Lanier,

and a host of others all

happily produce volumes

(sprinkled liberally with

half-digested French theory)

exploring the new ways of

thinking/being that virtuality

engenders, Morningstar and

Farmer illuminated the theory

that motivates our own practice:

deep down, all anyone really

wants to be is the global

village idiot.


It's a common experience in

cyberspace: you enter the

Privacy Forum for an in-depth

discussion of the Communications

and Decency Act, and instead

find yourself having an in-depth

discussion of your privates.

Does it come as any surprise,

then, that avatar, meant to

refer to an embodiment of a god

(that's you and me, bub),

literally means "he goes down"?

And something tells us this

refers to more than IQ points.



As in Baudrillard's oft-repeated

formulation, in which Disneyland

is presented as imaginary in

order to make us believe that

the true city of illusions, Los

Angeles, is real, so, too, can

we postulate that we act like

cretinous morons online in order

to assure ourselves that, in

actuality, we're not. If, in the

safety of our "alter" egos,

we're blathering fools, then in

real life, we must be fucking



[Fur Computing]

Which brings us to Sherry

Turkle's cat. And to Usenet, the

virtual place where the Club

Caribe detractor accused its

denizens of idiotic enjoyment.

And to something called



MEOWCHAT doesn't have rooms, or

dungeons, or amphitheaters. It

isn't graphical. It's not even

realtime. It's just a bunch of

grown adults acting on

rec.pets.cats like - well, as if

they were their cats.


[Tiger Beastie]

It's as if the cats have been

taught to read and write, then


ooh, lawndry is good. I like it   
wen meow-my does lawndry. then I  
have nice-warm place to sleap     
on, cawse she puts the warm       
cleen stuf on the bed, to fold.   
My favrits are sweaters (blak)    
an pajamas. She shoos me away     
but then I creap - evr so slowly -
back ovr to the close an sleap    
sum mor.                          


In MEOWCHAT, if a cat may look

upon a king, it is undoubtedly

because MEOWCHAT is the crowning

achievement of humanity's

virtuality: by adopting the

mewings of kittens, we declare

ourselves to be royalty, avatars

descending into lower life

forms, giving paws to any doubts

as to our own conception of




Not that we expect to find Sherry

Turkle's cat here. Like

Schrödinger's cat, Turkle's is

undoubtedly half-alive,

half-dead, its existence - or

nonexistence - relying on a

small conceit thrown out to

prove a point. Excuse us as we

go purrrrr to our meow-mys on

MEOWCHAT, and enjoy our split

subjectivity as only the living

dead can.

courtesy of Dunderhead