Monthly Archives: April 2006

Literature, Text, and Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality died in the House Commerce Committee. btw, these are the Democrats who voted to kill the Internet as we know it: Ed Towns of New York, Bobby Rush of Illinois, Al Wynn of Maryland, Gene Green of Texas and Charlie Gonzales of Texas. Thanks! You obviously know where your well-heeled bread is buttered.

So let’s just suppose that the telcoms and cable providers are going to keep chipping away at Net Neutrality over the next 10-20 years. Even if they don’t win this round–and there’s no reason to think that they can’t–they’re going to keep at it. Let’s say that they do succeed and they manage to act as supreme content-gatekeepers. What does this mean for online literature? It might make it more necessary than ever. A lot of what these telcoms want to broker is video-on-demand, higher-end applications, etc. You get the sense that they don’t really don’t care about unadorned text. Where’s the profit in that?

Two Internets might exist, then–one as it existed in, say, 1996 (with, however, a greater quantity of sheer content) and the bells-and-whistles pleasure palaces that the telcoms want to force-feed us. Literature, then–pure text–will be at a pivot point in this new, slightly distopian online landscape. But it has served us well for thousands of years, so I think we’ll be in good shape–to not only write poems and stories that entertain and delight, but also to subvert the very constraining conditions placed on the intellectual and literary landscape in the next 10 years. It’s not going to be a pretty time. But if we have to go back to the Lynx-compatible Web to change things, then so be it.

Update: To see what the Internet will look like in 2010 under our new overlords, check out the Firefox extension of a Lynx viewer tool!


I’m going to be at Book Expo America in May. Anyone else going?

Panoptikon 2.0

Do you have an unquenchable need for penal simulation? Prison Tycoon is for you! And I wish I was making this up but I’m not!

Brick by Brick…
Start from the ground up placing the very walls and fences that will house and contain your prisoners. Choose from multiple isolated environments and get to work.

Pay the Cost to be the Boss…
Begin with a low security prison and build it up to a maximum security facility for the world’s most dangerous criminals.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate…
Expertly staff your prison with wardens, guards, cooks and rehabilitation experts. Carefully balance your budget, maintain prisoner morale and minimize the potential for financial meltdown.

Iron Hand or Velvet Fist…
Determine the overall security level of your lockdown, but beware! Too harsh a prison will create a dangerous environment and could spark prisoner riots. Too lenient an approach will result in rampant gang activity.

I hear the Department of Defense is putting out its own sim of Gulag Tycoon.

Is it just me #354: Kegger Edition

Has anyone else noticed a lot more groundling crowd noise on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report? A lot more time between jokes that the hosts have had to settle people down? A lot more random (young dude-ish) shouting at the top of the lungs: “Yeeaaaaaah!” or “Wooooooooooo!”? What’s…going…on?

some book news

Just a quick note…Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead has been long-listed for the Frank O’ Connor International Short Story Prize.

That long list is…well, pretty astounding, and I’m really honored to be in such company.

Mysterious Station

A section from my long poem The Stations is now online at Coconut Poetry. (Yeah, it’s 165 pages and counting. And a speculative poem) Anyway, Coconut Poetry is quite a strong online poetry venue; check out the rest of their issue; check out the rest of this issue.


Kristin and I saw V for Vendetta over the weekend. We loved it. Aside from the sociopolitical rabble-rousing (which was great), I really liked that it was actually…well-plotted. It didn’t have excess-fat scenes of, say, going into a basement to speak to a crazy Tim Robbins. It didn’t have that writing-by-committee feeling at all.

I didn’t understand one review I read that stated that Natalie Portman’s character was a mere bystander. Her transformation is the pivotal moment of the film (whether you think what V did to her was ethical or not–I think that isn’t quite black and white. But, those are the textures that the movie forces you to confront.).

on books

More from the Irwin anthology, on the joy of books:

…Moreover, have you ever seen a garden that will go into a man’s sleeve, an orchard you can take on your lap, a speaker who can speak of the dead and yet be the interpreter of the living? Where else will you find a companion who sleeps only when you are asleep, and speaks only when you wish him to?…A book obeys you by night and by day, abroad and at home; it has no need of sleep, and does not grow weary with sitting up. It is a master that does not fail you when you need him and does not stop teaching you when you stop paying him. If you fall from grace it continues to obey you, and if the wind sets fair for your enemies it does not turn against you.

–Jahiz (“Jahiz was a noted bibliomaniac. He used to pay the owners of bookshops to be locked up in their premises at night so that he could read the stock. It is reported that he was killed when an avalanche of books collapsed on top of him.”)

weirdest dentist appt. ever

Has anyone ever had a dentist’s appointment where they do your x-rays, have the dentist check things out to make sure you’re ok, and then schedule a cleaning for two months in the future? I want my teeth cleaned, dammit.

myspace vs. friendster

This is a brilliant, brilliant essay by Danah Boyd about Friendster vs. MySpace, and about burgeoning “super publics”:

Online communities are more like nation-states than technological tools. There is a master behind the architecture, a master who controls the walls of the system and can wage war on her/his people at any point. People know this. They have to trust that the creators have their best intentions in mind. They invest a lot of time and energy into creating an identity in the system – they want to believe that it is worth it.


Portability of identity doesn’t matter. Easy-to-use interfaces don’t matter. Visual coherence doesn’t matter. Simple navigation doesn’t matter. Bugs don’t matter. Fancy new technologies don’t matter. Simple personalization doesn’t matter.

Before you scream “but it does to me!” let me acknowledge that you’re right. It does matter to you. The question is whether it matters to the masses. And it doesn’t. Especially for teens.


“Coolness” is about structural barriers, about the lack of universal accessibility or parsability. Structural hurdles mean people put in more effort to participate. It’s kinda like the adventure of tracking down the right parking lot to get the bus to go to the rave. The effort matters. Sure, it weeds some people out, but it makes those who participate feel all the more validated. Finding the easter egg, the cool little feature that no one knows about is exciting. Learning all of the nooks and crannies in a complex system is exhilarating. Figuring out how to hack things, having the “inside knowledge” is fabu.

Often, people don’t need simplicity – they want to feel proud of themselves for figuring something out; they want to feel the joy of exploration. This is the difference between tasks that people are required to do and social life. Social life isn’t about the easy way to do something – it’s about making meaning out of practice, about finding your own way.

Bugs make technologies seem alive, particularly if they’re acknowledged and fixed. They give texture to the environment and people are impressively patient with it if they feel like the architects are on it. It makes the architects look vulnerable which brings them back down to earth, making them real and fallible, but giving them the opportunity to do good. They let the benevolent dictator really serve the people.

With Daylight Savings time, and working 2nd shift today (and probably tomorrow too), the Internet time warp that I’ve experienced has now bled into my normal, daily life. What day is it?

I’ve picked up The Recognitions again. That Otto, he’s a funny guy.

I didn’t mean to go off too much on my last post. I think writing like that strikes a nerve with me that has more to do with some weird unconscious trigger than anything else. Stuff gets slapped up on the web, and then it’s like–hmm, maybe put a fresh coat of paint over the fresh coat of paint…