"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
And The Bandwidth Played On
The optimist looks at the Web and
sees, a few years down the road,
a great opening of sluice gates.
The pipes will grow fat and
there will be content to fill
them. The optimist believes this
combination of speed and content
will present us with the best
of all possible worlds. The
pessimist fears that the
optimist is correct.
Bandwidth is not the cure, it is
the enemy. Bandwidth will doom
us all. Bandwidth is going to
kill the Web - choke us with
QuickTime animation at 11.
You may think that what the Web
could use right about now is a
good, healthy dose of bandwidth,
especially since it took you
three minutes to download this
page. "Bandwidth," you're thinking
wistfully, "There's never enough."
Be careful what you wish for.
Just as freely-available RAM can
be seen as the chief culprit for
Windows 95, bloated, gout-prone
applications, and multi-megabyte
screen-savers, fer chrissake,
increased bandwidth is the Web's
Charybdis, luring it toward
where it will be impaled on the
jagged rocks of crashed
browsers. Or perhaps it will be
smothered - smothered underneath
acres and acres of fluff.
The other night I was watching TV
when I was assaulted by the
local news. KNBC anchor
woman/romance novelist Kelly
Lange thrust her way into my
living room, glaring seriously.
As the staccato news theme
blared in the background, she
spat pap about "a dream cut
short." Jessica Dubroff, the
seven-year-old girl attempting
to fly across the country, had
been killed in a crash.
I had read the Reuters story on
Yahoo eight hours earlier.
And oddly, The simplicity of the
brief, three-paragraph newswire
made it more affecting, more
After suffering through the
pre-designed grief ejaculated
from the TV, I felt eerily empty
but for a sense of vague
irritation. I didn't "care" like
I knew I was supposed to, not
one bit. I had earlier, but the
messenger this time had managed
to become so offensive, so
tasteless, so utterly vacuous
that it swallowed the story -
and any reaction to it - whole.
This sputum of "news" had
defeated itself, pre-programming
a reaction so hard that it
The problem is bandwidth, the
amount of information that can
be stabbed into my brain in a
given period of time. KNBC has
it, Yahoo doesn't.
Since the Dubroff story is small,
since there were no pictures at
the time, since there was
nothing to analyze and replay
and hash over, the lack of
bandwidth compressed the story.
There was no space to fill. No
music, no self-important
seriousness, no pompous
proclamations about "dreams" and
soft-focused euphemisms for
And while I wouldn't want to
follow a basketball game that
way, for this kind of story,
minimalist coverage worked,
and worked well.
And one would assume that this is
a victory for the Web, for those
that laud it as a new medium,
moving to take its place among
the pantheon of the greats.
But bandwidth is expanding, the
pipes are getting bigger. New
tricks, new technology, new
stuff - none of which actually
requires less space - is being
developed at an astonishing
rate. In a few years, they
promise, we'll have huge
fiber-optic data pipes plugged
into everything, allowing all
manner of miracles. Interactive
movies-on-demand! Full screen
video! Stereo sound!
When bandwidth was scarce, people
admired those who could make a
point and get on with it. You
didn't send a picture when a
thousand words would do. But as
the channels open wider, the
sewage just streams on
unhampered. The ideas are no
longer bigger than the
bandwidth, and garbage is being
packed in to fill the space.
The end result is inevitable: the
Web as TV, infinite capacity and
nothing to fill it. Nature's
abhorrence of a vacuum is
nothing compared to David
But, as Tennessee Williams said,
"A vacuum is a hell of a lot
better than some of the stuff
nature replaces it with." Server
pushes? Animated GIFs?
Shockwave? RealAudio? Wrapper
upon wrapper, shell upon shell,
with nothing at the middle but -
if you're lucky - the single,
ten-word idea that used to be
flat text on a gray background.
It makes me think of Kelly
Lange, and it makes me cringe.
Here's a test: Visit your
favorite sites using Lynx, the
text-only browser. Like them as
much? Jump around for a while,
like in the old days. Explore.
Boring, isn't it? I haven't used
a graphics-, sound-, animation-,
plug-in-, Java-capable browser
for two months.
I spend a lot less time on the
Web than I used to.
courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg