11.0014 online happenings

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Fri, 9 May 1997 21:01:08 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 14.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (52)
Subject: WELL

[2] From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca> (43)
Subject: Re: 11.0007 online

Date: Fri, 09 May 1997 20:32:00 +0100
From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk>
Subject: WELL

In the May edition of Wired magazine is a fascinating account of the WELL
(Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link), in Katie Hafner, "The Epic Saga of The Well:
The World's Most Influential Online Community". According to a notice on the
corresponding Web page, <http://wwww.wired.com/wired/5.05/well/>, the
full-text of this article will be available 20 May. Fascinating reading.

The WELL was the creation (in 1985, two years before Humanist) of two
visionaries, Larry Brilliant and Stuart Brand, the fons et origo of The
Whole Earth Catalog and similar works. Very Californian, and specifically
San Franciscan. What's most remarkable about the WELL, I suppose, is the
degree of emotional and imaginative intensity and commitment it evoked. "The
Well is, after all, a boiled-down, concentrated essence of what people love
and hate about the Net: community and intelligent discourse on the one hand,
wackos, poseurs, and flamers on the other.... [E]ven if The Well itself
should disappear, its mystique will continue to exist in the minds of people
searching for a reason to venture into cyberspace. Forty years from now, The
Well may be remembered only dimly, or not at all. But it will have left
behind a lasting imprint on our culture, as we will be left with the lush
promises it whispered into our ear."

It hardly reached us in Toronto, which is not all that far from the U.S., or
at least it hardly reached me, and I wonder if the imprint Hafner talks
about isn't rather hard to see beyond the borders of that great country. The
glimpse of Eden (if I may wax biblically mythological for a moment) is
certainly something we all can understand, and have seen in various ways,
even on Humanist, in these early days of computer-mediated communication. I
cannot help but wonder if, as in so many other things, this most important
glimpse will not get increasingly harder to discern as our medium enters
every more deeply into ordinary life. The trick is, I suppose, not to forget.

.... Such is our hold on the future --
Eight days, eight years, or eight decades, a handful
of air accumulating in the palm,
grasped from the window of a moving car,
is all we have, a stretch of time we cram
into our hungry mouths as if it were
something solid:
as if enough of it could be good food... (Alastair Elliot, "Looking Out")

Electronic communications are not quite yet the stuff of everyone's daily
life, however, and certainly not in every household in my neighbourhood.
Just today I was discussing with a colleague the rather odd sensation I have
had repeatedly, here and in Toronto, after spending early mornings online,
writing to friends and colleagues around the world, fiddling with the Web,
and so forth, suddenly to emerge onto the streets of my city like a being
from another world, among people who have no idea whatever where I've been,
though virtually, and what I've been doing. Did people feel like this in the
early days of the telephone? And what now do we make of the rage for the
cellular phone, which in London has reached the proportions of a plague,
turning us all into performers and evesdroppers.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk

Date: Thu, 08 May 1997 18:14:00 +0000
From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 11.0007 online

> around 3 [million pounds]." To what degree, I wonder, does this happen with
> supposed biological diseases and health threats generally? Improved
> communications systems, as we have noted here before, make raising a scare
> (for ill as well as for good) increasingly easier.

Chack out John Katz's article on the Elaine Showalter book _Hystories:
Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media_
<http://www.netizen.com/netizen/97/18/katz2a.html> then chck out the
book own Web page at
Part of the Web page blurb is below. It seems very much relevent to the
topic at hand.

Quoted material:
This provocative book charts the surprising persistence of a
cultural epidemic. Tales of alien abduction, chronic fatigue, Gulf War
syndrome, and the resurgence of repressed memories in psychotherapy are
but some indications that we live in an age of hysterias. As Elaine
Showalter demonstrates, the triumphs of the therapeutic society have not
been able to prevent the appearance of hysterical disorders, imaginary
illnesses, rumor panics, and pseudomemories that mark the end of the
millennium, and which pose a threat to those very virtues--reason,
courage, skepticism--we need most. Like the witch-hunts of the 1690s or
the hypnotic cures of the 1890s, the hysterical syndromes of the 1990s
reflect the fears and anxieties of a culture on the edge of change.
Showalter connects contemporary syndromes to earlier times and settings,
showing that hysterias mutate and are re-named; under the right
circumstances, everyone is susceptible.

Today hysterical epidemics are not spread by viruses or vapors but by
stories, narratives Showalter calls hystories that are created "in the
interaction of troubled patients and sympathetic therapists ...
circulated through self-help books, articles in newspapers and
magazines, TV talk shows, popular films, the Internet, even literary
-end quoted material.

> Students of automata will take notice. Is anyone
> watching the match between Gary Kasparov and Deep Blue? Is there a web site
> for the match?

Try <http://www.chess.ibm.com/home/html/b.html>

Gary W. Shawver