"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 13 August 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Passive Aggressive



From the avant-garde to ActiveX,

passivity is making a comeback.

How can we tell? We read about

it in Details, of course.


"Post-rock," they call it - a

nebulous term that covers

everything from the

superficially screechy

glass-breaking of Jim

O'Rourke's various projects to

the somnambulant solipsism of

The For Carnation and Trans Am.

This "lite jazz for young

people" has been attracting

trendoids for well over a year.

But the fad's longevity will no

doubt be limited by the fact

that conversations at

"post-rock" concerts, robbed of

punk's cosmetic din, all too

quickly reveal that no one

really has much to say.



Details didn't have much to say

about ActiveX - though it would

make a good name for a

skateboard company - but

ActiveX, in some circles, is

laying the groundwork for the


"Pointcast-killers." The advent

of yet more visual Muzak (audio

Muzak is already available on

the web) would finally give the

wireheads what they've really

wanted all along: cruise




Sure, the high-forehead

early-adopter technophiles that

make up a quickly-diminishing

minority on the web and the

greedy-eyed VCs that back them

treat "interactivity" as the One

True Path between entertainment

and addiction, as the killer app

that will bring the masses to

their doorstep. But they have

obviously never spent a Saturday

afternoon in the average living

room, where the masses spend

most of their time interacting

with the next channel button

(Click... click... click...

pause) and none of their time

actually thinking above their

brain stem ("Crap... crap... crap... Ooo,



[Beta Logo]

Long touted as the distinction

and advantage of the web, the

interactive nature of surfing

will instead doom this squalling

techno-infant to smallish niche

markets, at best. Far from the

medium of the future, the web is

destined to follow reel-to-reel,

Betamax, and the Macintosh into

the dark corners of specialized



Interactivity isn't worth it.

People don't want to be



Like nattering nabobs, purveyors

of the conventional wisdom have

long predicted the demise of the

web, but for all the wrong

reasons. Quality content,

reliable delivery, intrusive

corporate flag-waving? Who gives

a damn? Not anybody who watches

TV. No, what will throw the web,

young and cocky, into a ditch at

the side of the road is the

simple fact that it wants too

much. Like an attention-starved

puppy, what starts out as cute

quickly becomes irritating. The

web is going to end up at the

bottom of the river, tied in a

burlap sack, the mass of

consumers opting for a more

docile media companion.



Big-time new media editors have

wasted a goodly amount of time

on Feed, whining about how hard

it is to squeeze good

conversation out of the great

unwashed, all the while

oblivious the fact that the

great unwashed want nothing to

do with them. Michael Kinsley

appears to be the only sensible

naysayer, though his opposition

to the miracle of interactivity

is based on the supposition that

the reader wants his content

prepared by a "chef" rather than

the guy sitting next to him. Ha!

What the reader wants is not to

have to get up out of his chair.

He'll take a microwaved burrito

if he doesn't have to get a pan

dirty. To quote a random Joe

from a recent Time article,

after he was exposed to the

wonders of the web: "When do the

movies start?"



The web simply requires you to

pay too much attention to it.

Where television and radio and

movies are content to empty

their content all over you in

sticky, endless waves (whether

you're paying attention or not)

the web demands your

concentration. Where other media

is completely passive - it plays

to your goldfish without

hesitation - the web isn't, and

needs someone, presumably

someone thinking, to interact



All told, this make the web a

hugely obnoxious medium, one

that puts incredible, unwanted

demands on its users. TV, radio,

movies, magazines, newspapers,

smoke signals - all allow the

user some degree of freedom, be

it mental, physical, or

geographical. The web permits

none. People don't want to have

demands made of them, and to

expect them to allow a form of

communication - any form of

communication - to dominate them

while they use it is folly.

Hell, most people don't pay

enough attention to their




The problem with interactivity is

that it's entirely too active.

Where previous media were

content to catch your eye once

in a while, the web - arrogant

and intrusive - demands

attention constantly. It's

restrictive and it's exhausting

and it's not what anybody

without vested stock wants.

Hence the hearsay about industry

interest in streaming video,

sound, and smoothed-over press

releases onto people's laps. If

they can port it to pagers, all

the better.



Those who protest that the net's

activist/hacker roots make a

transition to passive reception

heresy would do well to look at

the not-very distant

relationship of '20s Dada -

surely the hacker ethic of the

time - to Muzak's "da-da-da."

Long before "Stardust"-sprinkled

elevator rides from the Chrysler

Building to the Foshay Tower,

Erik Satie advocated the

production of musique

d'ameublement - "furniture



Furniture music was described by

Joseph Lanza (in his


Elevator Music) as an attempt to

create an "art form without any

nagging subject matter." God,

that sounds familar.

courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg