"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 23 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Fear and Coding


[Low Rider]

Bumper stickers have become the

oracles of our time, the

prophetic conduit of cheap,

populist wisdom. The good folks

of ancient Sumeria used to read

the livers of goats to figure

out what their gods had in store

for them. Today, it's a lovely

blue Chevy Nova parked outside

our high-tech offices that bears

the sign of these declining

times: "Moody bitch seeks kind,

generous man for love-hate



Can there be any doubt that there's

a vast reservoir of untapped

nausea percolating below the

surface of all things great and

digital? The unpleasant sense of

unease many people feel about

where the web may go - and the

unbridled promiscuity it

inspires in others - is a

symptom of a long-standing

love-hate relationship. In these

millenial times, the wizened

neo-Luddites and the panting

technophiles tend to monopolize

the bandwidth. But we're here to

raise our multicolored pompoms

on behalf of the silent

majority: the techno-ambivalent.



Look at the unflagging popularity

of rock 'n' roll. Absurd feats

of postmodern dislocation

notwithstanding, rock musicians

and audiences are utterly

dependent on proximity to and

connection with the modern urban

grid. Not unlike the net, it's

easy enough to pull the plug on

the whole sordid affair: no

electricity, no Bacchanalia. But

weirdly enough, rock music

revels in the degeneration of

the technologies it depends upon

for its very existence: smashed

guitars, blown amps, and fuzz

boxes that saturate the signal

with noise make it clear that

technology can be redirected at

itself to create chaos -

glorious chaos. And the kids

love it. Of course, with

Walkman, Discman, and -

inevitably - Netman, you render

the abyss portable, and you can

"party" as far off the grid as

your legs will carry you.


[Rock Slide City]

Now that summer's in full swing,

the present wave of

postindustrial ennui has sent

everyone into the interior,

where we've discovered that some

are kvetching about securing local

control of national parks. What

they're really saying: "Think

globally. Jet ski in Uncle Sam's

backyard." But never fear, the

process of natural selection

occasionally takes out even the

highest members of the food

chain, along with their

spectacular, resource-intensive

toys. Shed no tears - it's a

filter on the gene pool.


[A utility Knife....IT slices, it dices..]

But the local yokels aren't the

only techno-ambivalent

sojourners in the wilderness.

Even the tree-hugging

survivalist totes along some

astounding gadgets these days.

And the irony of the new line of

digital global positioning

systems - which allow you to get

away from it all but still know

precisely where on the globe you

stand... well, it's like having

a thousand spoons when all you

need is a knife.


We kid ourselves that the

digital, post-industrial age is

environmentally friendly and

waste-free. We speak in glowing

terms about the latest advances

in microprocessors and active

matrices, pretending that we've

left the grit and grime of

industrialism behind. Of course,

our virtual, cyberspatial world

is built on a foundation of

petroleum-enhanced plastics and

high-tensile wiring. Like the

dirty little secret of

backcountry traveling, where

molybdenum white-gas stoves are

preferred to wood fires,

"minimum impact" is actually

"deferred impact." Where will

the plastics for the next

generation of much-anticipated

Mac clones come from? And where

precisely do you think all those

displaced 286s and PC Jr.s will

end up? Friends, the Salvation

Army is but a weigh station on

the cattle-path meander to



[Grover, sitting, thinking]

But then, we never actually

wanted such a clean, controlled,

predictable, and digital reality

anyway. We secretly treasure

that vintage Atari Pong console,

we play pranks on our voice

messaging systems, and we agree

with Neil Young that vinyl blows

CD away any day of the week.

Never mind Pentium - solid state

bites, bring back the vacuum

tube. Dreams of ENIAC and rotary

dials beckon. We want our

technology tarnished with the

stain of a little humanity. At

least then - like the

sweat-marred Mr. California

shirts at Super Thrift - we can

afford it.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner