So, what's going on in the Internet?Urban75 turns on, boots up, logs on, and er...points its collective browser into cyberspace with its virtual bullshit detector on 'full'...
It's sad but it's true. Everyone is talking about the bloody Internet. Flip open the crappiest, blandest magazine and you'll see it peppered with references to the wonders of the 'Net, while even the dullest corporates scramble to get involved, desperate to conquer the new electronic territories by 'setting up an on line web presence' and enhancing their 'global profile'. All across the UK, even the likes of arse-dull supermarkets and DIY Superstores are joining the stampede, hungry to get their virtual cash tills ringing with the lucrative soon-come prospect of on-line shopping.
You can't even get away from it in the pub. One minute you'll be chatting away cheerfully to 'normal' friends, next thing you know you're drawn into a heated debate with a set of blokes (for it is virtually always blokes) about servers, download times and compression ratios.
N E T F E V E R
And it's not just adults that are being drawn into Net Fever - switch on Kids TV and you'll be sure to find some toothy presenter squeaking excitedly as she blathers out e-mail and web page addresses to the tuned-in on-line kiddy generation, while Daddy looks on baffled.
What you'll rarely hear them talking about however - at least not in public - is the fun to be had in the newsgroups. For those who are still 'newbies' to the 'Net, these are discussion groups that act as global bulletin boards, where you can discuss just about anything you fancy with like-minded friends/freaks/perverts/oddballs. They aren't as immediate as web pages with all their pretty icons and funky animations, but scratch the surface and you'll find that all human (and in some rather bizarre groups, human and animal) life is here. Here is a place for considered discussion, lively debate, information exchange, frothing arguments, intellectual intercourse and of course, liberal free trading of personal insults across the wires.
It's also a great forum for letting rip at the world in a post pub alcoholic fury (although be wary that your drunken words will come back to haunt you in the cold blue light of your monitor next day ).
In most newsgroups, you can write whatever you want, adding as many swear words as takes your childish pleasure, although you might find some of the stuffier newsgroups are 'moderated'.
This means that some puritanical wankers with far too much time on their hands will read every contribution and censor accordingly. Or banish you forever. All CompuServe newsgroups suffer this fate, so unless you're after some friendly advice as to how to recalibrate the sprocket drive on your motherboard delivered in Vicar's English, I'd give 'em a miss.
As the Internet is still heavily dominated by Americans, you can be sure to find a heavy US viewpoint being represented - which at times can be a depressing prospect. Egged on by a telephone system that dishes out free online time, America seems to have embraced Internet culture with open arms, unleashing the collective thoughts of Uncle Sam on an unsuspecting world.
R O C K R O O O L Z ! ! !
This often serves to highlight the vast cultural differences between us, sometimes manifesting itself in simple misunderstandings, other times in all-out xenophobia. Subscribers to 'America On-Line' seem to be quickly acquiring a reputation of hosting the most mindless of contributors, whose regular insights appear on wholly inappropriate newsgroups such as 'uk.music.rave' in the shape of simple offerings along the lines of 'rave sucks!' and the perennial 'rock roolz!'
This short, sharp statement has an uncanny ability to effortlessly adapt to its environment, so if you happen to be participating in a discussion about, say, the civil rights of gays in Europe, don't be surprised if you find a plaintive 'Faggots suck!' bursting on to the thread. Or maybe you're entrenched in a deep and lively debate concerning the Anglo-Irish problem or perhaps contributing to a thoughtful reflection on last year's Glastonbury, when you suddenly find an influx of 'Macs Rule!!!' and 'PC's suck!!' filling up the newsgroup. Which brings us to one of the worst aspects of the Net...
P C R O O O L Z ! ! !
From alt.religion to alt.sex.bestiality to alt.flowers.pressing you can guarantee there is one thread that will rear its head with monotonous regularity and turn any peaceful forum into all-out conflict. This is the thread that seems blessed with the twin powers of indestructibility and immortality. Yes, meet the omnipotent, 'My Computer is Better That Yours' thread. This monumental thread cascades perpetually around the system, dredging up a flotilla of ancient facts, miserable in-depth diagnoses and computer performance comparisons of infinitesimally small interest in its wake.
Despite there not being a single piece of information in the thread that hasn't been discussed elsewhere ad nauseum, this bloated monster of an argument soon dominates the newsgroup, destroying friendships and relationships before quietly slipping off to haunt another newsgroup, its devilish work done. The really sad thing is that I'll readily admit to being a veteran of several of these truly pointless arguments. I know it's pathetic, but it's just one of those things that you find yourself being drawn into, no matter how hard you try to resist. I mean, the last thing you need after sinking several thousand pounds into your shiny new system is to have some smart arse from across the pond telling you that you've just bought a bag o' shite.
S T A I R W A Y T O H E A V E N !
I figure it like this - maybe it's just one of those things you do as a sort of 'passage of rites' initiation. A part of growing up that you'll look back on one day and laugh about. Just like every kid who's bought a guitar instinctively feels compelled to waste long hours trying to learn the abysmal 'Stairway To Heaven', every new Internet person feels equally compelled to join in with this dreary thread whenever and wherever it surfaces. It's just as meaningless and equally painful to witness, and will unfortunately probably outlive just about every other relevent topic on the newsgroup.
One of my favourite newsgroups is uk.misc, set up to discuss just about anything and everything that even remotely refers to the UK. This has recently been infested with hysterical gun-loving Americans who seem hell bent on convincing the UK into a state of 'armed defense' (apparently, we're all 'State certified defenceless' and 'cowardly serfs' who live in constant fear of 'predators').
Singularly failing to comprehend our disgust with gun culture since the events at Hungerford and Dunblane, these clueless fuckwits endlessly prattle on about the right to defend themselves against every unlikely and arcane form of attack, oblivious to the thousands shot to pieces in their own country every year.
R E L I G I O N
Of course you can't mention America and the Internet without bringing up that dreaded word 'religion'. You can be sure that the various self-righteous religious sects haven't missed an opportunity to spread the 'word', no matter how inappropriate the newsgroup or context.
One minute you'll be happily talking about who scored the winning goal in the 1974 Cup Final, next thing you'll have some God Squad mail asking you if you've 'ever thought about letting God into your life?' The dreaded Church of Scientology have also been disturbingly active, using all sorts of underhand tactics to harass their critics and silence those who are trying to expose their tactics. Be careful if you try and wind them up too much as you might end up with a mail box full of binaries and some strange knockings on your door......
S E X ! ! !
Government's all across the word are beginning to feel more and more uneasy about the uncontrolled access to information that the Internet is providing, and are happy to play their part in fuelling up the media with scare-mongering tales of cyberspace being some sort of perverse dystopia with infinite corrupting powers.
You couldn't blame the average tabloid reader for concluding that you'd only have to switch the computer on to instantly find yourself deluged with pornographic images of scoutmasters buggering badgers, while your mailbox quickly fills with offers to join perverted sex rings (if only...!).
According to some media reports (most lamentably in The Observer), you'd think that the Internet's prime function is to act as a free photographic delivery service for salivating paedophiles with the implication being that all subscribers must surely share and endorse these dark and twisted perversions too.
The truth is slightly different of course. Children generally don't accidentally type in 'alt.sex.lots.of.rude.bits' by accident, neither do they stumble across graphic pictures of advanced sexual acts bundled into their favourite 'alt.enid.blyton' newsgroup - although this would indeed become more likely if the proposed banning of the alt.sex* newsgroup hierarchy took place.
P O L I C E ! ! !
Conveniently forgetting all notion of the parents actually bothering to make the effort to supervise their own children when they're on line, the calls for censorship are getting louder, while pressures are being applied to commercial servers, exemplified by the long list of 'unsuitable' newsgroups recently sent out to all UK servers by the Police a while back.
The truth is that the Internet merely reflects all human life, warts and all. It can be as exciting, as depraved, as dull, or as perverted as you want it to be.
Let's hope it stays that way....
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