"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 August 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Step Right Up



Sometimes you're trapped. You

suddenly find yourself - no use

asking why - surrounded by giant

fiberglass water slides. Or huge

rotating wheels. Sawdust or hot

concrete beneath your feet, the

scent of hundreds of similarly

trapped revelers in your nose.

You obviously have money burning

a hole in your pocket, and/or

plenty of time to kill.



Certain ways to spend (or waste)

your money and time seem unique

to artificially created

environments - theme parks;

carnivals; circuses; official,

city-created public promenades.

Items and services exist there

that no one tries selling

anywhere else, and this leads us

to conclude that rather than

filling a demand, such

fripperies just prove that hot

oil and vomit-slicked floors

grease the wheels of commerce

perhaps a little too well.


[Blond Lady]

You might not often find yourself

thinking, "Hey, it sure would be

nice to have a multicolored wax

model of my hand. Or a

humiliating, ugly sketch of

myself made while providing

entertainment for an unruly,

unattractive, sweaty crowd that

wears shorts even if they really

shouldn't. And boy, that

hubcap-sized slab of fried

dough doused in sugar is

something I need to be eating.

And that fruity drink in the

cute bottle shaped like fruit -

and that Rewired magazine - and

that homepage for the mail-order

record store...." But there you

are, wax model in hand, powdered

sugar on your cheeks.


In its most important defining

element - how many pointless

ways can we squeeze some

bucks/the life out of you? -

Internet content is mostly on

the same level of purpose,

entertainment, sophistication,

and usefulness as a

Kmart-parking-lot carnival.


[Virt World]

Both fairs and the Internet

provide you with a vast array of

superficially bedazzling

options, most of which you'd go

out of your way to avoid in a

less controlled environment. The

philosophy of the personal

homepage, for example, is surely

that of the seller of hours-old

cotton candy down at Ye Olde

Faire Grounds - you're here, so

maybe you'll chew on something

unsatisfying, distasteful, or

possibly harmful. You need to

hear a webpage "soundbite"

exactly as much as you need to

test your strength trying to

ring a bell with a hammer. Yet

both activities make an eerie

sort of sense when one is

mentally staggered by hours of

staring at a computer screen, or

hours surrounded by the wheezing

'70s hard rock of the Himalaya.


What amusement parks, fairs, and

Internet hype are all selling is

the supposed thrill of just

being there. It's supposed to be

the experience that counts.



Like all dumbass analogies, we

could pile on details more (or

less) convincing till writer and

reader mutually lose patience

and stamina and collapse on the

couch with a relieved sigh. The

dunking booth and the "exploding

head page." The mustachioed

strongman and John Perry Barlow.

Hypertext - with its exaltation

of distraction from the task at

hand - and the hoots from the


fishtank guy while you're trying

to score at the throw-the-ball-

through-the-trick-hoop booth.

Carnival barkers leading up to

the blowoff and an IPO




Fairs and carnivals, especially

neighborhood street fairs, are

customarily entertainment for

the less wealthy and allegedly

less culturally refined, while

the exigencies of wealth have so

far made computers the

playthings, mostly, of the rich

and privileged. The net's

pleasures are more like water

slide parks, or EPCOT than the

sort of Kmart-parking-lot Black

Mamba fests where if you value

your life, you'd best examine

the roustabouts' bolt-tightening

work with a critical eye.


Loud garment-rending over this

economic/sociological fact at

such a relatively early stage in

the toy's history requires

ignoring the history of such

useless gewgaws as radio,

television, the telephone, and

Mr. Coffee. As the development

of small-town freenets

continues, Internet access will

be more and more in the grasp of

people who actually enjoy the

cotton candy, can't wait to see the geek,

and use the "test your love

potential" machine unironically.

Once reality makes their dubious

expertise in spinning bogus

utopian "futurological"

fantasies a commodity as

sellable as day-old coagulated

Polish sausage on a week-old

crusty bun, professional

Internet boosters will have to

glom onto glorious new futures -

like the potential for

transcendence in Global

Positioning System implants

(talk about something that will

keep us all connected) or

standards for cross-platform,

networked bread machines

(everyone, everywhere, will have

personal, at-home, real-time

access to the same kind of




One world, one merry-go-round.

courtesy of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk