"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 3 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hobby Hoarse



What lobbyists are to politics,

hobbyists are to the net. But

ordinary hobbies don't cut it

anymore: you have to take your

timesinks public. Just for the

sake of argument - and boy, do

we relish arguments - let's say

that you really, really dig...




For Father's Day, the wife gives

you an alligator-patterned

cravat. An inflatable gator

circles toothlessly in the

aboveground pool. Granny

needlepoints a gator throw

pillow. You've repurposed

Junior's vaguely gator-shaped

ashtray as a dandy paperweight

for the smoke-free office.

You've got gator fridge magnets,

gator tree ornaments, gator

bumper stickers. You're easy to

shop for, and daydreams of a

Florida safari make the workday

pass faster. But lately, you've

been tempted to turn that hobby

into hard cash.


Why? Because (you've heard that)

you can. So you buy a copy of

WebSuite, lock yourself all

weekend in the kids' old

Ping-Pong Palace, and crank out

a Gator Gateway on the World

Wide Web.



Cartoon gators. Gator mascots.

Gator farming. Gators, the state

animal of Florida. The longest

documented gator was 19 feet, 2

inches. American Gators vs.

Chinese Gators vs. Crocs. Morbid

Everglades accounts of the

vanishing Valujet body parts.

The lyrics of Maurice Sendak and

Carole King's "Alligators All

Around." 80 teeth inside a

gator's maw. Gator boots, gator

billfolds, gator bracelets, and

gator belts. What to do if

attacked by a gator. "Gatoring,"

as described in The Preppy

Handbook. "Alligator skin," or

the heartbreak of psoriasis. "El

lagarto" - Spanish for "The




Pretty soon, the Gator Safari

folks offer that longed-for

vacation, FREE, if you'll just

cell-modem in a travel diary;

and a gator steaks-by-mail

company (low in fat!) wants to

partner with you and Visa. So

you quit the old grind and

install a T1 line in the PPP -

which no longer stands for Ping

Pong Palace now that Junior is

there, busily updating your

HTML. And Barbara DeAngelis

would die to hear how this

creative burst has reinvigorated

your marriage. Yesteryear's

identity crises are now the

stuff that entrepreneurial

dreams are made of.


Gators are no longer your hobby.

They're your ticket into the

multimedia age.


[Frog Keroppi]

Alright, so you don't dig

alligators. You dig frogs. Or flea

markets. Or high tea at flouncy

hotels. Or penny ante poker.

Approached with enough gusto,

someone could build a thriving

net business around any of these

"interests." Give a consultant

one night with The Book of

Lists, Funk & Wagnalls on

CD-ROM, plus anything that rates

above the eighty-fifth

percentile of those terms fed

into Excite!, and she'll have a

money-making machine on your

desktop first thing in the

morning. Our Web jockeys are

standing by to construct sites

from Alligators to Zebras.


[New Experiencer]

And everyone's "interested in"

something; it's de rigeur for

virtual cocktail parties. If

only the hobbies thematized in

corporate "communities" were as

earnestly innocuous. Still -

never has the phrase "don't quit

your day job" had quite as much

resonance for quite so many.



To paraphrase Paul Goldberger,

virtually everything has now

become grist for the PageMill,

which has begun to plunder everything

and anything in search of

material. We've heard it before,

but surveying the vast troves of

data, all bundled with the same

deft mix of appropriate links,

historical background, video

clips, and cute logos, it's hard

not to agree.



As the word "pastime" is dividing

back into its component

pass/time parts, the increased

ease of browsing and

broadcasting one's hobbies may

bring us up against an

existential wall. Marketers have

anatomized a planet's worth of

Enthusiasts, Aficionados, and

Fan Clubs, relativizing and

leveling all content for

convenient slotting into

correspondent niches. The

banality of our leisure-time

pursuits edges nastily into the

foreground, and it's easy to

become as perplexed as Pierre,

the hero of War & Peace who

frets that wherever people "seek

refuge from life - some in

cards, some in framing laws,

some in women, some in

playthings, some in horses, some

in politics, some in sport, some

in wine, and some in government

service - nothing is without

consequence, and nothing is

important: it is all the same in

the end."


So the ontological anxiety over

Free Time that's 'til now lurked

around the periphery of our

skeet-shooting vision has

finally been flushed from the

bushes. As the number of URLs

tracked by Ultraseek grows, the

thought creeps in that we're

nothing more than 75 wpm

keyboard monkeys, feeding

semi-random chunks of data into

a primordial infostew. We can

only hope that our ones and

zeros are fit enough to survive

and replicate.



It's not difficult to predict

where all this will lead: if a

Website of Babel does not

already exist, it will be

necessary to invent it. The

site, consisting of only a

black-and-white, 144x144 pixel

image, would take its cues from

"The Library of Babel," a short

story in which Borges

intellectualized the old

monkeys-at-typewriters conceit.


[Nixon and Elvis]

Inexorably, the Website of Babel

would cycle those 20,000+ pixels

through every possible on/off

combination, eventually creating

postage stamp-sized,

low-resolution, monochrome

versions of every possible image

in the past and future of the

universe. Logging on at any

given moment, you would likely

encounter subtly-shifting

static. But then again, some

lucky numismatist might

encounter a facsimile of the

Richard Nixon 32-center, or

Nixon morphed with Mao, or

Tricky Dick pictured on the

Chinese yuan.



Build it if you want - we won't

register the domain. Unlike that

Tiananmen guy with the tank, we're

not so quixotic as to try and

block the Sousa-esque march of

progress. Just let your server

push any lingering angst aside,

and return now to your regularly

scheduled site-seeing.

courtesy of Ersatz