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Title: NetWorld! - What People Are Really Doing on the Internet and What It Means to You
Author: Rothman, David H.
Language: English
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                          Transcriber’s Note:

This version of the text cannot represent certain typographical effects.
Italics are delimited with the ‘_’ character as _italic_.

Each chapter heading featured graphical components that are not readily
rendered here. See the note for an example.

Footnotes appeared in a separate section at the end of the text, with
the note number restarting for each chapter. In this version, those
numbers are retained, but are prefixed with the chapter number, e.g.,
1.1, 2.5, 6.7, etc.

There are blocks of text with dotted boundaries, sometime spanning
pages, which are inserted into the main text. These have been moved to
avoid falling on paragraph breaks, and sometimes joined where page
breaks occur. They are given here within a dashed border, in order to
call out their separate nature.

Minor errors, attributable to the printer, have been corrected. Please
see the transcriber’s note at the end of this text for details regarding
the handling of any textual issues encountered during its preparation.

There are many URLs in the text, given the topic, but it is unlikely
that any are still extant, given the publication date in 1995.



                                        what people are
                                                   on the
                                                    and what
                                                    it means
                                                     to you


          “A considerable achievement.”—William F. Buckley, Jr.

                                                 Current Events/Internet

          “A considerable achievement. You find yourself wanting to read
          _NetWorld!_ even if you have no thought of baptism into the
          great new scene.” —William F. Buckley, Jr.

    “David H. Rothman has done the best job yet of illustrating exactly
    how and why the Internet will change the texture of daily life. Most
    discussion of the information age is full of airy generalizations.
    _NetWorld!_ is full of specific, amusing, often racy illustrations
    of how people around the world have already put the Net’s
    possibilities to work. This is a very useful and entertaining book.”
    —James Fallows Washington editor of the _Atlantic Monthly_

Exploring Life on the Net

Praised by the _New York Times_ For his entertaining style, David H.
Rothman has written a lively, revealing, and sharp-eyed account of life
on the Net. Read how a handsome young librarian in Adelaide, Australia,
got engaged to a Kansas City woman he’d never met——except online.
Discover why net.censors and other interlopers could eventually cost
America billions of dollars. Learn how an Anglican priest uses the
Internet to “hear” confessions and help keep in touch with his flock.
From electronic libraries to the digitized cadaver of an executed
killer, _NetWorld!_ covers everything that’s happening on the Net.

Whether you surf nightly or know the Net only secondhand, _NetWorld!_
will shed new light on the cultural phenomenon that is engrossing
millions around the world.

Prima Publishing



                              What People
                              Are =Really=
                        Doing on the =Internet=,
                          and What It Means to

    _David H. Rothman_



                          _With 88s to Carly,
                           my dearest company
                       in life and on the ’Bahn._

© 1996 by David H. Rothman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or
retrieval system, without written permission from Prima Publishing,
except for the inclusion of quotations in a review.

PRIMA PUBLISHING and colophon are trademarks of Prima Communications,

Cover design by the Dunlavey Studio

           Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rothman, David H.
  Networld!: what people are really doing on the Internet, and what it
means to you/David H. Rothman.
    p. cm.
  Includes index.
  ISBN O-7615-0013-8
  1. Internet (Computer network) I. Title.
TK5105.875.I57R69 1995


95 96 97 98 99 AA 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America

How to Order:

Single copies may be ordered from Prima Publishing, P.O. Box 1260BK,
Rocklin, CA 95677; telephone (916) 632-4400. Quantity discounts are also
available. On your letterhead, include information concerning the
intended use of the books and the number of books you wish to purchase.


  _A Note to Visitors (and Natives)_                               _v_

  _Acknowledgments_                                              _vii_

  1    The Terrain                                                   1

  2    Business on the Net:
       From White Rabbit Toys to “Intel Inside”                     27

  3    EntertaiNet: A Few Musings on Net.Rock,
       Leonardo da Vinci and Bill Gates,
       Bianca’s Smut Shack, and David Letterman
       in Cyberspace                                                80

  4    Pulped Wood versus Electrons:
       Can the Print World Learn to Love the Net?                  105

  5    Wired Knowledge:
       When They Let a Murderer Loose on the Internet              172

  6    Governments and the Net:
       Making Sure Orwell Was Wrong                                208

  7    The Electronic Matchmaker                                   291

  _Notes_                                                        _327_

  _Index_                                                        _335_

                           A Note to Visitors
                             (and Natives)

Everyone in _NetWorld!_ is real, even me. Chapter 1 tells how to reach
some good people who let their electronic addresses go on the Web site
for this book.

In a few cases—most notably “Sue” and “Greg” in Chapter 7—I’ve guarded
my subjects’ privacy with aliases and changes of identifying details.
Asterisks show up after the first occurrences of their revised names.

Please note, too, that I’ve smoothed out people’s informal online prose
to accommodate the printed page. A “smiley” on the Net is a good quick
way to show a smile or frown; but I couldn’t think of anything uglier in
print than a series of symbols such as :-). So even in quotes, I’ve used
them sparingly.

I wish Mark Twain were alive and cruising the Internet at 28.8 kilobits
per second; I’d love to see how he’d have handled net.dialect.

                                                  David Rothman,
                                                  Alexandria, Virginia


Alison, step to the front! Alison Andrukow, a graduate student at
Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, served as my chief researcher
on this project—discovering a number of goodies ranging from Bianca’s
Smut Shack to arcane, Net-related policy studies.

Jennifer Basye Sander, my editor at Prima Publishing, working with
associate acquisitions editor Alice Anderson and the project editor,
Steven Martin, provided many suggestions, as did the publisher, Ben
Dominitz. The latter promoted this book, so to speak, from _Digital
America_ to _Digital World_, and in time the title _NetWorld!_ also came
from Ben. Surprise, you guys! You thought you were getting a general
book on computer technology, but wisely you let me get caught up in the
Net. _Thanks!_

Bill Adler and Lisa Swayne of Adler and Robin Books, joined by Nick
Anis, agented this book. Nancy Daisywheel Breckenridge was the

Finally, I want to thank the many people who gave their time by way of
e-mail or otherwise. Lest I forget some important ones here, I won’t
list any names. But by way of the references in the book itself, readers
will learn the identities of many.


    The Terrain

A color photo lights up my computer screen when I hit the return key,
and, in big, bold Times Roman letters, I see the latest from the

  _Playboy Is Traveling the Info Highway
  Looking for Women for a Special
  “Girls of the Net” Pictorial_

Sitting atop a pile of books, a most ungeekish model looks flawlessly
nubile, as if part of a virtual reality tableau conjured up for Hugh
Hefner himself. _Playboy’s_ message is clear: What counts isn’t mastery
of Telnet, Gopher, Lynx, or other Net voodoo. Candidates should mail or
e-mail “a recent full-length body photo in a two-piece bathing suit or
less and a clear face shot.”

The same day a famous hacker named Cliff Stoll goes on a Washington
radio station to promote his book _Silicon Snake Oil_, which says the
Internet steals too much time from true learning and life.

For better or worse—mostly better in my opinion, egalitarian that I
am—the Internet has Arrived.

A quarter-century ago scientists dreamed up a predecessor of the network
to let computers jabber to each other across the United States, even
after a nuclear attack. Fearless professors followed with electronic
talk on topics ranging from biology to poetry.

Now it’s as if _everyone_ is on the Internet—not just _Playboy_ but
_Penthouse_, some Arizona lawyers who love to inflict junk ads on the
innocent, a Florida manicurist, Democratic and Republican stalwarts,
thousands of college freshmen, punk teenagers, and elementary schoolers
in London, Singapore, Minnesota, Nova Scotia—you name it. In one way or
other, the Net ties in to smaller networks ranging from local, bulletin
board-style systems to America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, Delphi,
GEnie, Bitnet, Bix, eWorld, and MCI Mail.

Fans of David Letterman and Jay Leno, the world’s most famous talk-show
rivals, are even duking it out online. The cyberspace section of
_Newsweek_ regularly lists the hottest attractions of the Internet—for
example, the best sites on the World Wide Web, the multimedia area where
you can see pictures and hear sound.

Hollywood is gambling on a movie called _The Net_, and _Time_ and
_Newsweek_ have done several cover stories. Could the _Time_ curse be at
work here? Is everything else downhill, now that the Net has landed on
The Cover? Not if you go by the stats. Internet demographers love to
squabble about the exact number of people on the Internet, but at the
very least, some 25-30 million can reach it by way of electronic mail;
and in a few years, if the braver prophets are right, hundreds of
millions may be wired in. For the snobs, of course, the old cachet is
gone. A humor columnist says the Net is like citizens band radio with

Is the Internet, then, about to become a 500,000-channel wasteland? Just
what are all these millions _really_ doing on the Net? Some politicians
would have you think that a disturbing number of Netfolks are busy
corrupting the morals of minors, and shouldn’t we ban smut from the
public areas of cyberspace? And if you believe some American security
bureaucrats, the Net might turn out to be a haven for spies and dope
dealers. “Shouldn’t Washington,” they more or less ask, “be able to
snoop on pervs and subversives who scramble their messages?”

The counterrevolution has begun, and I feel grouchy.

Everyone is trying to reinvent the Internet in his or her own image,
even if, with these changes, the Net would no longer be the Net. What’s
really pathetic is the ignorance of the would-be meddlers. Censoring the
Net would be about as successful as trying to dam the Pacific. The same
decentralization that made the Net more nuke-resistant, in the Cold War
days, makes it harder to control. And how can Washington sell the Net on
Fed-friendly chips for coded messages when scores of powerful encryption
products are on sale in Russia and the rest of Europe?

At the same time, certain writers are now attacking the Internet as Cold
and Heartless, or for other sins; some are even Pulling the Plug, at
least temporarily, to protect their delicate brains against Information

“Don’t make me go back!” J. C. Hertz recalls telling her editors when
they wanted her to log back on the Net to wind down a book called
_Surfing the Internet_. “Please, don’t make me go back there.” Stephen
L. Talbott, a computer editor and author of _The Future Does Not
Compute_, proclaims that he “immediately felt very good” when he
Unplugged. Bill Henderson of the Push Cart Press says he’ll publish a
book with “cries from the heart about what electronics has done to

Perhaps a new literary genre is aborning—that of the Snubbites, the new
Luddites[1.2] who feel all Netted Up. The definition might go something
like this:

    _Snubbite:—n. One who, partly out of snobbery, partly out of
    boredom, partly out of sheer contrariness, snubs the computer
    technology that could help millions of others._

A typical Snubbite is upper-middle class and very possibly Ivy League.
Snubbites could afford computer and Internet connections—or more likely
enjoyed them at others’ expense—years before average people were even
allowed on the Net. Often Snubbites live near large libraries or can
catch up with books easily enough in other ways. Snubbites may have
already used the Net to help stock up on their quota of friends and
professional contacts. Most Snubbites are harmless and even charmingly
eccentric; they worry me only when they start confusing their own needs
and non-needs with those of society at large.

Cliff Stoll himself is very much on the Internet (“I still love my
networked community”) even now; to this day, I suspect, he truly enjoys
seeing people home-brew their own machines. But in stretches of his book
he could almost be mistaken for a Snubbite anyway, based on sheer
fervor. “It is an overpromoted, hollow world, devoid of warmth and human
kindness,” Stoll writes of cyberspace, and goes on to say that nets
address “few social needs or business concerns” and threaten “precious
parts of our society, including schools, libraries, and social
institutions.” He complains, “No birds sing.”

Have I been hallucinating? The Internet isn’t Woodstock, the Vatican, or
an aviary, but it is bringing together people for religion, education,
business, love, and suicide prevention. Just what is Stoll writing
about? Does the Net have an evil twin? Jews, Moslems, Lutherans, and
Catholics—they are all using the Net to exchange prayers or electronic
newsletters. Up in Canada an Anglican priest will even take confessions
via e-mail. I doubt he’d agree with the author of _Snake Oil_.

Nor, I suspect, would the members of Walkers in Darkness. Walkers is a
mailing list for people with chronic depression, and each week more than
300 messages whiz across the Net from Australia to Israel, from South
Africa to California. I’m not depressed, but someone close to me is, and
she spends hour after hour with her laptop, gazing at the blue-and-white
on the screen, reading scores of messages, keeping up with the gossip
about people and drugs, wondering what she would do without her Net
connection. Being depressed is like kayaking or hang gliding: You won’t
die immediately if you skip the homework, but in a pinch you’ll stand a
much better chance if you’ve gone far beyond the basics. Walkers is in
the grand tradition of the Net. Its members don’t blindingly trust
authority figures—their own shrinks—and they are reaching out to other
patients and to an online psychiatrist. Tell us, Ivan, some Walkers ask,
is Parnate as good a drug as it’s cracked up to be? What about Nardil?
Can you take it without your body swelling up?

“Ivan” is a well-credentialed psychopharmacologist in New York City who
helps out for free. Dr. Ivan Goldberg doesn’t prescribe drugs for people
online, but he _will_ report his own experiences with them after many
years of practice. He has a knack for coming up with angles that
patients’ own doctors might miss. After months on Prozac, a man found
his work slipping. Ivan Goldberg told him of a new way—successful here,
it turns out—to treat the problem.

Goldberg is online two hours a day “as a way of paying back for the
thirty-plus good years I have had from my work with depressed
people.”[1.3] After several years on the Net helping virtual support
groups, he has won the respect of hundreds and perhaps even thousands.

Still, Walkers compare notes with each other and don’t accept even Ivan
Goldberg’s opinions automatically. Just as if they were talking over the
office watercooler, they weigh the validity of the information
themselves. But what a collection of facts! When a new antidepressant
shows up in Canada or the United Kingdom, Walkers learn about it many
weeks before the news reaches the daily papers in the States, assuming
that word makes their daily newspapers at all.

Many of the best conversations, however, aren’t about drugs or the
merits or perils of electroconvulsive shock treatments. They’re about
other Walkers. Remember the gay Walker in Iowa who was so quick to
welcome newcomers and answer questions? Well, here’s his obit: _Died of
complications from diabetes_. How about the fellow on the East Coast,
the programmer who never logs on with a name? Is he okay, after his last
suicide attempt? Is somebody going to drop by to visit him in the
hospital? What about such-and-such’s cat? How’s your new girlfriend? Is
your landlord being reasonable? The questions and answers fly across the
wires. Walkers may not be as famous a virtual community as The WELL,
Echo, and similar bulletin board systems with Net and media connections,
but it’s hardly as if the luminaries of those places enjoy a monopoly on

Later that morning I hear Cliff Stoll push his book on WAMU radio. It’s
a slaughter; the call-ins run against him by at least five to one. I
even feel a little sorry for him until I remember that the technophobes
at many bookstores may outnumber the technophiles. The full title of the
book is _Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway_,
and it should be just the ticket for Luddites and Snubbites with spare
change. I myself have Second Thoughts about his Second Thoughts. Early
on in his book he says: “I look forward to the time when our Internet
reaches into every town and trailer park.” But his true emphasis comes
through. Just how much of a technopopulist is he in the end when he
claims that networks will “isolate us from one another” and “work
against literacy and creativity?”

What’s really freaky is that a woman from Walkers or a similar
discussion group—out of all the thousands on the Net—calls up _The Diane
Rehm Show_ and ever so politely shreds the arguments that Stoll has made
in _Oil_. A few years ago he wrote _The Cuckoo’s Egg_, a wonderful book
about his battles against errant hackers, and parts of _Snake Oil_ do
ring true, but oh how wrong he is about the more cosmic issues.
Confronted with the Walkers-style example, Stoll acknowledges that, yes,
maybe the Net could be of use to people who need support. After all, the
very anonymity he’s assailed can work in favor of honest dialogue.
Exactly. One of the glories of Walkers, however, is that depressed
people can be as open or nameless as they want. What’s more, they can
even go Face to Face. Several Walkers near me, for example, will spend
hours and hours talking in person with others dogged by this scourge of
Lincoln and Churchill.

Dave Harmon is the man behind the Walkers list. He’s a
twenty-eight-year-old Harvard grad, bearded, bespectacled, and a little
on the heavy side, as he describes it. I learn that he works as a
programmer for a company that writes software to use with mice—the
computer kind. His depression is moderate. Come the middle of the night,
he may wake up in a cold sweat; he can also suffer flagging energy.

Several years ago Harmon was crouched in a Boston bus shelter, enjoying
a break from a crowded but rainy New Year’s Eve celebration, when he
took out a notebook and wrote a poem. “I am the Walker in Darkness,” it
read in part, “I am the bringer of light.” The next day Harmon called
the company that had hooked him into the Internet—he wanted to start a
list for depressed people interested in art and magic. “The thing that
makes the Net so powerful is that you don’t have to get into a big deal
to start a minor newsgroup or a mailing list.” The newsgroups and the
mailing lists can precisely reflect Netfolks’ interests, loves, and
fears—much more closely than, say, CBS or the _New York Times_, or even
niche programs on cable.

Oklahoma City and the
Ban-the-Bomb-Manual Panic

A citation for _The Terrorist’s Handbook_ popped up on my screen a
minute after I started a search of the World Wide Web under the word
“explosives.” I apparently would be able to make “book bombs,”
“lightbulb bombs,” “phone bombs.”

Trying to retrieve the _Handbook_ some weeks later, I read the
following: “Are you sure this resource exists?” Cute. The heat is on.
_Handbook_-style items caught the attention of the U.S. Senate after
sickos blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City and killed 160
people. The response in effect was: “Ban the bomb manuals—from the Net
and otherwise!” and as of this writing, it looked as if such sentiments
might end up as law. Still, a little problem arose in the case of _The
Terrorist’s Handbook_ on the Net. The material was coming to me from
Lysator, a respected academic computer society at Linköping University
in Linköping, _Sweden_. Last I knew, the U.S. Senate did not enjoy
jurisdiction over its counterparts in Stockholm.

The Swedish computer that stored _The Terrorist’s Handbook_, however,
contains megabyte after megabyte of valuable material on computing and
other subjects, and the electronic librarians didn’t want to anger the
university. So out of prudence, they voluntarily removed the bomb manual
after hysterical stories appeared in the press. The _Handbook_ wasn’t
worth the fuss.

Perhaps in other cases Washington will use diplomacy with other
countries to unplug _Handbook_-style items. But no one should count on
this approach working in the end. Inevitably the same material will be
secretly making the rounds of obscure electronic bulletin board systems,
as opposed to the Net itself. As if that isn’t enough, Washington has
unwittingly given out instructions for bomb-makers by way of the
tax-financed _Blaster’s Handbook_ from the Forestry Service in the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Even _The Encyclopedia Britannica_ has
printed material on explosive making.

Most disturbing of all, Constitutional issues arise here. We don’t need
the government to restrain free speech. As writer Brock N. Meeks wrote
in his _CyberWire Dispatch_ newsletter, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s
proposal was “a break in the dike.” It was “the trickle that could
become a river of regulatory hammers meant to turn the rough-and-tumble,
open and free-flowing online discourse into something with all the
appeal and intellectual acumen of tofu.”

Newsgroups are a bit like local bulletin board systems except that some
newsgroups reach hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Mailing lists are more intimate than newsgroups since you usually need
to sign up for them electronically before you receive the messages.

“The funny thing,” Harmon says of freshly created mailing lists, “is
that you never know what will result. What I found was that most
depressed people couldn’t produce that much art and mysticism, but they
were interested in supporting each other, and I looked at that and let
it go on its own.”

A seventy-eight-year-old widow in the American South discovered Harmon’s
list. She was the first in her family, after several generations of
mental illness, to seek psychiatric help. People from Singapore have
popped up, too, reporting how they were stigmatized as lazy by people
unable to understand the energy-sapping qualities of the disease.
Walkers tell of spouses complaining about the loss of sex drive from
depression or medications. Simply put, Harmon’s list has not just helped
people cope with a disease, but it has also helped those who can’t
understand it. And as shown by the Singaporean example, geography has
been inconsequential for the most part. “When you’re depressed,” Harmon
says, “it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you’re still depressed.”

What’s more, Walkers can log on as often or seldom as they want.
Frequently the depressed feel all “peopled up,” so they may flee into
their rooms and close the blinds when visitors approach. But with
Walkers messages, all they need do is press the delete key. The Internet
isn’t just a medium of special benefit to the deaf; it’s also one for
the seriously depressed, many of whom, if made Netless, might try to do
without _any_ company offline.

As with thousands of other Net lists, people come and go, some of them
overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages; Stoll is right to
characterize the Internet as like trying to drink water from a fire
hydrant. But a core of stalwarts remain enthusiastically on Walkers, and
along with Harmon and Goldberg, they’re rather small-townish in
cyberspace in the best of ways. I ask about the East Coast Walker with
suicidal tendencies. Harmon says that by the time the supportive
messages reached the man, the programmer had already called 911 and gone
to the hospital to have his stomach pumped.

But, yes, Harmon says, Walkers has indeed saved lives. “A more usual
situation is that someone is considering suicide and issues an appeal to
Walkers for help. They’ll say something to the effect that ‘It’s not
worth it, and nothing I do ever works, and I’m probably bothering you
with this note.’ People respond to it and sometime call the person by
phone if the number is available.” If the number isn’t, Harmon and other
Netheads will try to use their knowledge of the Internet to track it
down. “We don’t breach privacy unless there really is a suicide threat,
and sometimes people’s accounts may be on services where we can’t find
them. More usually, various people may send their own phone numbers
either privately or to someone or to the list, so that other members can
reach them.

“The Internet,” he cautions, “is _not_ always a fast-rescuer—you may be
lucky to get same-day service. In the programmer’s case his note didn’t
even get _to_ my list for an hour, much less get sent out to all the
members. _I_ found out about his note by getting a midnight phone call!”

Still, Harmon sees the Net as a godsend for ongoing support and as a
crisis aid even if the help isn’t always immediate. Goldberg agrees:
“It’s mobilized people to all kinds of interventions.”[1.4]

“I’m sitting here with a knife in my hand,” wrote a community college
student asking for support from Walkers. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to
kill myself—just hurt myself a little. I just feel as though I deserve
pain.” She went on to tell how she had been in the National Honor
Society in high school, gone on to an honors program at Loyola
University for several years, then had been forced to leave. “I used to
be strong, brilliant, and ambitious and now I am stupid and manic
depressive. It just hurts so much. So I guess that’s why I’m cutting on
my wrists tonight.” She told me when I wrote to ask about her
condition—improved—that “I would be lost without Walkers.”

A near-suicide in Santa Clara, California, aided by the newsgroup
alt.support.depression, recalls: “I was so close it was amazing.”
Medical debts had overwhelmed him. He was a single father and his boss
had put him on probation after child care gobbled up too much work time.
In tears he began his note: “It doesn’t really matter any more.” A New
York woman saw the note and begged people online to help. Hundreds of
messages came over the Net from as far as Japan. Tracked down despite
his unsigned post, the California man received help not only from a
colleague at work but also from police. “Something snapped,” he recalls,
“and I just realized that there were a lot of people there who

Madness, another self-help group on the Net, is a mailing list for
people who suffer drastic mood swings, hear voices, and see visions.
Now, says Sylvia Caras, who runs the list, they can use the Net to carry
on a dialogue with federal mental health officials. The Net offers a
very _real_ voice for those the world might otherwise ignore.

I could go on forever about support groups on the Net. Whether you’re
short or extra tall, anorexic or 300 pounds, a victim of cancer or of
child abuse, the Internet teems with people wanting to share their
experiences with you—a task made much easier through the efficiencies of
the Net, which have brought the cost of electronic mail down so much. I
bristle when I hear people talk about the Internet as worthless unless
big profits await megaconglomerates. The activities of support groups
and other virtual communities may not show up in any country’s gross
domestic product, but in the aggregate they’re just as valuable as
anything to emerge from AT&T or Time Warner.

May I emphasize that the Net is far, far more than a mental health
clinic? It’s a place, too, for political activists, boaters, golfers,
motorcyclists, gun owners, gourmets, football fans, baseball
enthusiasts, parents and teachers, writers and readers of many genres,
pilots, airline passengers, amateur radio operators, and reggae lovers.
All have their own niches, which is just what you’d expect with more
than 12,000 newsgroups.

While the clueless are arguing over whether the Net has value, people
like John Schwartz already know it does. Recently he wondered about
lyrics by a singer and songwriter named Liz Phair. Just how did they go?
Some of the biggest fun came from his hunt online. He tracked down at
least five different Web areas—“digital fan magazines”—devoted to Phair.
“Some had photos, some had biographical information, and a couple had
song lyrics.” And yes, he found the lyrics he wanted, and in their full,
unprintable glory. “Useless? Probably. Satisfying? You bet.” And
Schwartz went on: “Think of all the stuff that you’d find in your public
library if you pulled something off the shelf. A lot of it would be
‘useless’ for your own needs—tons of mediocre fiction, outdated
information, and silly things. But would anybody say that it proves that
libraries are worthless?”[1.6]

Other Net activities also suggest that _Snake Oil_ is self-descriptive.
A Michigan couple has started a virtual toy store complete with pictures
of their staffers as children and service of the kind you’d expect from
L. L. Bean; their first order came from Brazil (see chapter 2: Business
on the Net: From White Rabbit Toys to “Intel Inside”). Out in California
two young techies are giving hundreds of young musicians a break through
a much-needed project called the Internet Underground Music Archives
(chapter 3: EntertaiNet: A Few Musings on Net.Rock, Leonardo da Vinci
and Bill Gates, Bianca’s Smut Shack, and David Letterman in Cyberspace).
Just throw $100 their way and, for a year, you can post a sample of your
music on the Net and perhaps stir up sales of old cassettes and CDs.

At the same time that Stoll grouses that the Internet is unedited,
scores of dailies and weeklies are on the Net to one extent or another
(chapter 4: Pulped Wood versus Electrons: Can the Print World Learn to
Love the Net?). So’s _Time_ magazine. Random House, Macmillan, and Time
Warner are there, too, posting samples from various books, and soon
people at home will be able to send credit card numbers securely over
the Net and dial up the complete texts of bestsellers and other books.
Even now you just might be reading _NetWorld!_ off a screen rather than
from pulped wood.

Meanwhile, a digitized cadaver on the Internet may help revolutionize
the study of anatomy (chapter 5: Wired Knowledge: When They Let a
Murderer Loose on the Internet), and in Canada, leather-jacketed
teenagers are using the Net to develop their reading and writing skills.

A Mini Jargon Guide

• Electronic Mail or e-mail. You can use the Net and other networks to
  send messages to your friends in Peoria or Melbourne—anywhere, in
  fact, where Internet connections go, from Alaska to the South Pole. An
  electronic mailbox is just like the physical equivalent. It’s a little
  storage area where your messages pile up for you to retrieve when you

• File Transfer Protocol, or FTP. It’s a means to send or receive files
  from one computer to another.

• Gopher. This program lets you track down information on the Net. The
  word _Gopher_ also alludes to certain Gopher-style collections of
  computer files. Different Gophers connect to each other through items
  on menus. You might start looking at an article on water pollution
  from a computer in Washington, D.C., see a mention of an African
  river, click on that menu choice with your mouse or otherwise select
  it, and end up at a computer in Johannesburg.

• Internet Relay Chat. It’s like a huge party line except that people
  are typing rather than talking. You can open up private areas, too,
  and reach just one person.

• Mailing Lists. To be a bit simplistic, they’re just like regular
  electronic mail, except that a number of people share messages, to
  which you can typically respond privately or with the entire list.
  Some lists, however, let only the _moderator_ send out messages. Via
  Usenet, some mailing lists appear as newsgroups.

• Newsgroups. These are the bulletin board systems of the Net, in
  effect. Almost anyone can post messages there and potentially reach
  hundreds of thousands of people—far more than on most mailing lists,
  since people can read newsgroups without subscribing. The newsgroups
  are part of a service called Usenet, which reaches BBSs around the
  world, not just the Internet. No one owns this anarchy, and I wouldn’t
  want it any other way.

• Telnet. Without leaving my regular keyboard I can operate a computer
  at Oxford University or the University of California by way of a
  procedure called Telnet. I’m remotely controlling the machines at the
  other end.

• The World Wide Web. It’s the area of the Net that not only lets you
  read text but also see pictures, hear sounds, and even take in short
  clips from movies. Like Gophers, sites on the World Wide Web connect
  with each other. A program that lets you navigate the Web is known as
  a browser. Among the more popular browsers are Mosaic, Netscape, and
  Lynx (the latter, alas, won’t let you instantly enjoy pictures).

Also, the Net, in the opinion of many, is mocking Orwell’s predictions
(chapter 6: Governments and the Net: Making Sure Orwell Was Wrong). Some
serious threats remain—such as the efforts of American bureaucrats to
make the Net more friendly to snoopy cops—but 1995 is a long way from
_1984_. What’s more, the Internet doesn’t offer just sex.

Love, too, can thrive. The persistent may indeed find wives and husbands
on the Net (chapter 7: The Electronic Matchmaker).

This all happens on my Internet—anyway the one I’ll describe here. Let
me offer an inevitable caveat, however: The Net is too vast for one
writer to cover everything. So I won’t bother with Internet Relay Chat,
where you instantly see the other people’s typing. As a temporary
habitué of these regions, J. C. Hertz started to regard the Internet as
“a Sartrean hell—too many people talking at one time.”[1.7] Yes! Net
chat brings Hemingwayesque accounts from witnesses to Japanese
earthquakes or Russian coups, and I’m happy it’s around for the
aficionados, especially net.lovers, who can retreat to their own private
channels; but I myself favor electronic mail and newsgroups, which I can
read on my own terms without parrying incessantly with dyspeptic
strangers half a planet removed. I promise, dear readers: I’ll inflict
nary a chat transcript on you.

Certain omissions, however, really pain me. Given more time, I’d have
loved to cover the growth of the community network movement. For free,
in many cities, you can open up an Internet account and tap into
electronic libraries all over the world or receive electronic mail. Best
of all, “communets” can bring communities together. The Net is one of
the big lures to get people online, but once there, they may be able to
fetch the schedule of their local public radio stations, find out about
local charities, and talk back electronically to officials of city

What’s fascinating is the resemblance between these local nets and the
Net at large. People on both would rather chat with other citizens than
swap e-mail with the politicians or other celebrities. And why not?
Communets are communities, just as the Net, serving so many interests,
is a _series_ of communities. Alas, Stoll does not appreciate the
possibilities here.

Stoll is an astronomer, not just a hacker, and his makes me feel as if
he is using a scratchy pair of binoculars to look for life
on Mars. Fixated on negatives, he has downplayed even the
obvious: the Net equivalent of Martian mountains. Has Stoll
dropped by alt.music.chapel-hill, or rec.arts.dance, or
alt.christnet.christianlife, or the Dallas Virtual Jewish Community
Center Home Page, or the American Ireland Fund, or the Voter Education
Project? And how about the thousands of other Web pages in which
individual Netfolks can share with the world their love of families and
pets, or gardening, or , or old Chevies, or whatever else they enjoy, at
or away from their computers? Item by item, those are tiny, almost
invisible slices of Netlife; but en masse, they rise up as mountains.

Yes, yes, sex _areas_ thrive on the Internet. But it is that way
offline, too; do snack-food stores turn millions each year off Chaucer
or _Playboy_? Of course Chaucer himself could be randy at times, as
could Shakespeare and Joyce and hundreds of other literary greats—an
inconvenient fact for the American ayatollahs who hope to censor the

The biggest irony here is that the Internet can actually promote Family
Values and strengthen real neighborhoods. As George Gilder and others
have noted, the new technology can serve people’s exact needs rather
than just dish out the standard sex and violence so beloved to TV
networks. The Net is Example One in my opinion—especially The Barcroft
School and Civic League page on the World Wide Web. Several thousand
people live in the Barcroft area of Arlington, Virginia, near
Washington, D.C. It’s neither a slum nor a glitzy, status-crazed
neighborhood, just a good place to raise the families that the
ayatollahs love to extol. An old Methodist church has served as a
community house. Now an electronic equivalent is on the Web, complete
with a color photo of the church building; people can catch up with
neighborhood news and learn of ice cream socials.

I’m writing this paragraph just before the Barcroft Fourth of July
parade. The word from the World Wide Web is that Susan O’Hara
Christopher will be the Grand Marshall. People can enjoy Nancy
Tankersley’s watercolors of past parades, or “Jim Lande’s famous tree
trunk sculpture. Games for the kids, no political campaigning, hot dogs
and lemonade, the new Barcroft tee shirts and lots more!” The higher the
percentage of Netfolks among the citizenry, the more Fourth of July
bulletins we’ll see in cyberspace.

Across the Potomac in D.C., the Internet is helping to reduce the number
of hookers and drug pushers plying the Blagden Alley neighborhood. If
the police catch you looking for women or dope, a man named Paul Warren
will put your name on the World Wide Web. Thanks to his “Crimenet,”
residents no longer stand as much a chance of finding a hooker at work
on the sidewalk a few yards from toddlers in living rooms. Not everyone
would approve of the privacy implications here, but I myself love what
Warren is doing. Like thousands of small-town newspapers that print the
names of the arrested, Warren is just spreading around the public
record. A notice reminds readers that “Criminal defendants are presumed
innocent until proven guilty”; and he is willing to post an update for
anyone exonerated. Warren isn’t saying that prostitution should be
illegal everywhere, just that it should not force young families out of
Blagden Alley.

That, in fact, is how I feel about net.sex. If a fifth grader
encountered alt.sex.bestiality whenever he or she flicked on a computer,
why, yes, I’d join the ayatollahs. But the Net is not like the pre-Web
Blagden Alley or daytime television. You normally don’t find sex on the
Net—at least not the truly kinky type—unless you seek it out. And the
computer industry is working on software to reduce the chances of
children accidentally running across alt.sex.bestiality. Even now, of
course, the language in the average area of the Net is much cleaner than
the words in the locker room of the typical high school. Trying to ban
“smut” from the Internet would be like shutting down high school
football because _some_ sixteen-year-old tackles love to cuss at
teammates and gawk at nude pictures.

Granted, the Net has problems, and rather serious ones. A Californian
stole 20,000 credit card numbers from Net users; in New York some young
men met through the Net and figured out ways to order tens of thousands
of dollars in merchandise illegally. Many Netfolks think it’s too risky
to send credit card numbers over the Net itself when ordering
merchandise; better to use the telephone or fax. What’s more, just as
Stoll says, business on the Net is overhyped. Meanwhile the Feds have
reduced subsidies to the Net. Over in Australia there are already
bothersome charges for use according to the amount of material
transmitted, and people fear that the same could happen in the States.

Just as frustratingly, the technology isn’t quite there yet. Pictures
can take centuries to appear on my screen when I fetch material on the
World Wide Web. I hook into the Internet by dialing up ClarkNet, a
company in a barn south of Baltimore. This is one of the _best_
services, but a good part of the time, in recent months, I’ve suffered a
busy signal or worse when I try to dial in. Given the overcrowding of
the Net, electronic mail takes longer to arrive than it once did. I
believe Stoll when he says that in some cases the United States Postal
Service will get mail from one place to the other faster than the Net
will handle e-mail. That’s the exception, but I’m disturbed to see it
happen even part of the time.

I lament, too, the lack of commercial books available on the Net for
free, in the public library tradition. Cliff Stoll is absolutely right
to want better content, and my friend Jim Besser would agree with us.
Jim is a journalist avid for new facts; he regrets that so much of the
information on the Net is wrong or out of date. Beyond that, his
Internet connection sometimes goes south when he is under a deadline.

Cures for the Internet’s problems, however, are or could be on the way.
Technology will make the Net safer to use and more reliable—lo and
behold, the computers in the barn have behaved somewhat better these
past few weeks. Over the long run, too, Netlife will improve. Popular
programs in some cases, even now, are letting customers send credit card
numbers online without the hackers intercepting them. Net businesses
will take off when more people sign on and young hackers get jobs and

The Internet will even survive the reduction of subsidies from
Washington. The price of the technology will just keep going down if
past trends apply, and if the government doesn’t let phone companies
gouge people. Everything is faster and cheaper. Once the experts doubted
that ordinary phone lines could carry signals at 9.6 kilobits, or 9,600
bits, per second. Today, even if I’m not IBM or the phone company, I can
cruise along at around 28.8 kilobits per second, which is enough to
receive a book in a few minutes.

If Cliff Stoll really wants electronic books, then computer networks can
transmit them. When, just when, will Washington be brave enough to work
toward a well-stocked national digital library offering commercial books
for all; why should we replicate online the “savage inequalities” of our
libraries and schools?

Netfolks aren’t the reason why such a library for the Internet is so far
off right now, and why we may well end up with a national digital
bookstore as opposed to a true library offering books at no charge or at
minimal cost. Even technophobic librarians—they exist, even if not in
the same numbers as before—aren’t the true villains here. _Lobbyists_
are at fault. Bill Clinton’s intellectual property czar, Bruce Lehman,
is himself a former lawyer-lobbyist who acts as if he is still fighting
for his old copyright clients. Members of his former law firm have
donated tens of thousands of dollars to influential politicians. And in
a five-year period people with corporate or family ties to a legal
publisher, West Publishing in Minnesota, have given more than $738,000
in political contributions, some of which went to members of Congress
influential on copyright matters.

With less eagerness to please lobbyists pushing for corporate business
plans—rather than for the commonweal—the U.S. government could divert
resources from bureaucracy to knowledge and pay publishers and writers
fairly. How? Suppose Washington would link the national library with a
focused program to buy hardware that schools and local libraries could
lend out. In effect the Feds would prime the private market by
encouraging mass production and by sending a message about priorities.
Small, tablet-shaped computers with extra-sharp screens could eventually
go on sale—much sooner than otherwise—for $99.95 at Kmart. And these
same machines, although designed for reading electronic books, would be
excellent for the Net or for filling out easy electronic forms; we could
save tens of billions in money and time in the private and public
sectors of America’s $6-trillion economy. Needless to say, too, this
affordable hardware could mean more eyes for retail businesses on the

Then high tech wouldn’t pose such a problem to nontechie consumers and
to computerphobic women and minorities. A study out of the Georgia
Institute of Technology showed that 94 percent of the surveyed users on
the Web were male and 87 percent were white. With less-threatening
hardware and proper training of the right people, however, schools and
neighborhood libraries could help bring a much wider segment of society
on the Net. Cliff Stoll is aware of the possibilities here. He knew two
years ago of my TeleRead proposal to improve the content of the Net, get
many more people online, and spread the electronic books around from the
very start. How much easier it must be for him to eulogize old wooden
card catalogues and avoid a nasty tangle with lobbyist-cowed politicians
and bureaucrats.

               =Touring _NetWorld!_ Yourself—Via the Web=

Webfolk, check out the Internet Underground Music Archive, White Rabbit
Toys, electronic magazines, and many of the other Net delights I’ve
described in this book. Just use your Netscape, Mosaic, or other browser
to go to


You’ll find there a list of various Web sites mentioned here in the
pulped wood _NetWorld!_—and perhaps some informal updates. You can reach
the sites immediately. Just click on the hypertext links. People at the
other end may change the links, but I’ve made them as up-to-date as I

If you would like Net addresses of _some_ of the people mentioned in
this book, go to


Perhaps you’ll also want to see a detailed electronic version of my
TeleRead proposal for a well-stocked, cost-justified national digital
library. It could let ordinary readers dial up the _entire_ texts of
copyrighted books from home for free without cheating publishers and
writers. For more on TeleRead, check out the hyperlinked Net incarnation
of my chapter in a forthcoming book _Scholarly Publishing: The
Electronic Frontier_ (Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.I.T. Press, 1995):


Bashing technology, of course, is hardly new. In 1854 a writer
complained: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph
from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing
important to communicate.” He said that “We are eager to tunnel under
the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but
perchance the first news that will leak through to the broad, flapping
American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping
cough.”[1.8] Henry David Thoreau was the writer and the words appeared
in _Walden_.

Does their source, however, make them less dubious? Hardly. Imagine
America without the telegraph—without an opportunity to forge lucrative
commercial ties with the Old World, or to strengthen Texas’s ties to
Washington. As it turned out, Texas and the rest of the country had
plenty to say. So did railroad employees talking to each other;
companies could more easily use single tracks to handle traffic in both
directions, knowing that the telegraph was there to handle
scheduling.[1.9] In other fields, such as medicine, the telegraph
undoubtedly hastened progress as well. It also helped friends and
families keep in touch as the country was settled; today the Net does
the same with people in this era of international travel. Technology,
then, while ripe with opportunities for abuse, can do far more than
recruit “Girls of the Net” or spread word of a princess’s whooping

Ironically, if the Cliff Stolls prevail, and if too many white hats
abandon the nets as “devoid of warmth and human kindness,” then his
predictions _will_ come to pass; the greedy will take over, confident
that others won’t mind so much.

Together with millions of other Netfolks, I’ll remember the Great
Spamming of ’94. Laurence A. Canter and Martha S. Siegel,
husband-and-wife partners in an Arizona law firm called Canter and
Siegel, wanted to sell their services as immigration experts. So they
splattered a “Green Card” ad—as if hurling spam against a wall—across
some 6,000 newsgroups on Usenet. They didn’t care if you preferred to
read about baseball or UNIX; they wanted your eyeballs. The Net seethed.
I myself disliked many of the tactics used against Canter and Siegel—was
it really necessary to threaten death or favor them with a slew of
unsought magazine subscriptions?—but clearly they merited some good,
strong, healthy loathing. I complained to the American Bar Association,
which, at the time, was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a
PR campaign to upgrade the image of lawyers. You might say that C & S
set the goodwill account back by several million.

My big regret is that I lacked more time to raise hell against Canter
and his wife online and in other ways. The glory of the Net, this
_series_ of communities, was and is diversity; here C & S were dumbing
it down to the broadcast model where one program served all. But Canter
and Siegel didn’t give a whit about the Net as it existed, about the
outrage that so many unwilling people were bearing the costs of sending
and storing their unwanted messages, about the fact that Usenet couldn’t
survive continued assaults in this vein, about the damage they were
doing to the various forms of Net culture, a phrase that C & S would
undoubtedly have dismissed as an oxymoron.

Canter and Siegel later added to the insult with _How to Make a Fortune
on the Information Superhighway_, the 1990s equivalent of a guide to
exterminating buffalo.[1.10] The book talked of selling to 30 million
people, which was malarkey. Some Net demographers challenged the figure
at the time—reality may finally have caught up—but more important, most
of those 30 million could only send and receive electronic mail as
opposed to using services such as the World Wide Web. And just how many
people wanted to receive junk mail from marketers? Of course C & S might
suggest mailing lists for the receptive—nothing wrong there—but without
access to the right Net services, fewer people would know of the lists
in the first place.

Does this mean that the Internet should be free of commerce? Quite the
opposite. The challenge is simply to avoid letting the hardsellers
overwhelm the Internet. Countless areas of the Net exist where people
not only tolerate ads, they _want_ to read them. Besides, the commercial
and noncommercial can build on each other. When I put my TeleRead
proposal on the World Wide Web—that is, my call for a well-stocked
national digital library with copyrighted books included—I built in
hypertext links[1.11] to Web sites that could be useful. And several
just happened to be commercial. The Minneapolis _Star Tribune_, for
example, had done a Pulitzer-quality expose of the thousands of dollars
that West Publishing had doled out in trips for some Supreme Court
justices who passed judgment on copyright matters. Just why should I
have avoided this superb material when a commercial publication was good
enough to share it with the Net for free?

Electronic cafes, found in San Francisco, Seattle, London, and Hong
Kong, among other locations, are another good example of how the
commercial and noncommercial can strengthen each other. Cafes with
Internet hookups can even help bridge the gap between Net and life. The
Internet Cafe at 1363 4th Avenue in Prince George, British Columbia,
doesn’t just offer a coffee bar. Customers of the local Internet
provider can pick up their e-mail there and wander around the Net, read
“a good, old-fashioned cork bulletin board for community information
exchanges,” learn about local service agencies, watch resident artists
at work, buy crafts from all over the world, and even get advice from a
local psychologist, Russ Winterbotham, who just happens to own the

When Stoll writes about an Ontario bookstore with a water garden and
three cats, it’s easy to appreciate the potential charms of commerce
offline. But clearly the Net itself can spice up a traditional business.
In London, you can drop by the Cyberia cafe at 39 Whitfield Street and
plunk down £1.50 for a large cappuccino and £2.50 for a half-hour on the
Net. The word is that the cafe has drawn “more media coverage than a
small war.” I’m not surprised. Even if prices might be a bit lower by my
standards, Cyberia is meeting a definite need. Of course Stoll would
complain that the customers in the electronic cafes are “surrounded by
people, yet escaping into conversations with distant strangers.” Isn’t
he forgetting something, however: The way many Net aficionados love to
meet the like-minded in person?

I’m also keen, needless to say, on the pioneering work that thousands of
small businesses are doing on the World Wide Web itself—rather than
posting in-your-face ads to nonrelevant newsgroups.

No, Web businesses aren’t charities or consumer service organizations.
But by offering details about their products and services, they are
respecting our intelligence far more than does the huckstery on
television. You wouldn’t want to buy a new Buick or Volvo if you simply
went by statistics and photos on the Web. But you just might learn more
about gas mileage and safety claims than if you relied simply on the
sales rep and brochures in the showroom. The more you shop this way, the
more you’ll encourage manufacturers to improve their products and
services rather than just to shell out megabucks on more Super Bowl ads.
Net business, major limitations notwithstanding, is indeed A Good Thing.

Our first stop in _NetWorld!_, in fact, might well be one of my favorite
stores in cyberspace—White Rabbit Toys.


    Business on the Net:
    From White Rabbit
    Toys to “Intel Inside”

Bob Lilienfeld worked for Procter & Gamble and the outfit behind the
Muppets, and JoAnn Lilienfeld was a buyer at Bloomingdale’s. Nowadays he
consults on solid waste and other environmental issues. His wife, a
neatly coifed woman who looks and dresses like an upscale
schoolteacher,[2.1] has started a toy store called White Rabbit Toys in
honor of the character in _Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland_. Bob enjoys
technology. JoAnn herself is no slouch in that area. They are in their
forties now but relish new marketing wrinkles just as much as when they
were earning their MBAs from Northwestern University.

So Bob and JoAnn Lilienfeld have set up shop on the Internet, where, in
a surprising but logical way that a mathematician like Lewis Carroll
would have loved, their respective business ventures mesh.

Wandering through commercial listings on the Web, I discovered the
virtual White Rabbit just as Christmas shoppers were crowding the
corporeal White Rabbit up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bob was a
technohusband par excellence. He designed the toy store online, claimed
just the right address on the World Wide Web (http://www.toystore.com),
wrestled with the technical issues, and helped take orders from
customers, the first of whom lived in Brazil. JoAnn would pay Bob in his
favorite currency: teddy bears. The big question was: Will they make any
money at it? I electronically hung around their virtual store and
chatted with Bob on the phone as the season progressed.

He and his wife were among the thousands of small business people who
were trying new marketing paradigms on the Net, where the denizens hated
intrusive huckstery but might take to electronic catalogues.

Compared to most other business people on the Internet, the Lilienfelds
were quick studies. You could type an electronic address into your
computer and see a White Rabbit logo and a greeting from the toy store
in several languages. Then you clicked your mouse on the proper area of
your screen and opened up a colorful catalogue with not only blurbs but
also pictures of tops and puzzles and wooden toy trains of the kind your
parents might have bought for you. Most of White Rabbit’s offerings were
classics that you would never see at Toys ᴙ Us.

Bob and JoAnn Lilienfeld wanted their business to stand out. Soon their
electronic forms might let you type in the age of your child,
information about his or her interests, your budget, and other
constraints. You would instantly receive tips on what gifts to buy. Even
now, you could order online without talking to a human—not as heartless
as it might sound, if you simply valued your time and telephone money.
The electronic forms could even calculate the postage.

White Rabbit intrigued me, and others felt the same way. Within a few
weeks of my first visit, they got calls from the _Wall Street Journal_
and the _Detroit Free Press_. Some reporters had caught on to the
obvious: While Hollywood and Washington were off prattling clichés about
the overpriced medium called interactive TV—while Al Gore was cracking
jokes on stage with Lily Tomlin during an entertainment summit disguised
as an “information” one—entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies were
trying ads on the Net. The Internet often narrows differences between
large and small businesses. Even little ones can reach global audiences
and, through well-planned Web areas, look like giants to customers in
Rio or Tokyo. New cybermalls sprout up to get technophobic companies
online by providing both technical and creative services. Corporations
fight over addresses for the Net. Stanley Kaplan, a service that tutors
students for academic examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test,
sued a competitor that stole the name kaplan.com. A writer for _Wired_
magazine mischievously claimed McDonald’s name, which the hamburger
chain hadn’t yet registered. Such oversights, however, were rapidly
becoming the exception in an era when prime Web sites made the pages of

Even electronic hookers (“We go all the way”) were on the Internet—in
fact, operating under the name “Brandy’s Babes.” They plied their trade
from Arizona, the same wild and quirky state from which Canter and
Siegel enraged the Net. And yet, if you cast the usual moral questions
aside, the Babes seemed to be exemplary citizens of cyberspace. Not just
hypesters, they posted specifics like prices, bust, hip, and waist
measurements, and preferences in men. “No beards,” a Babe warned
customers. “Employed men only.”

Unlike the hardsellers, the Babes did not inflict unwanted ads on
thousands of newsgroups. And in line with the two-way traditions of the
Net, they solicited messages from customers—dirty ones that the Babes
might charge good money to answer. You could even dial up Brandy’s and
see a live Babe at her computer with her impressive bosom exposed. The
gig lasted several zany months. Fear of police raids grew, however, even
before the ayatollahs in the U.S. Senate ranted against net.sex. I
finally saw just a blank screen except for a laconic message alluding to
“bad links.”

Separately a condom store was online as well. It offered medical
information, supplied tantalizing odds and ends on such topics as “The
Size of a Man’s Pony,” and wittily answered questions from appreciative
readers. Like Brandy’s, it operated in a nonintrusive way.

The World Wide Web was also a virtual home for thousands of more
conventional businesses such as the manufacturer of a toy gun that shot
Ping-Pong balls, a city’s worth of bookstores, Godiva chocolate, and
Ragu spaghetti. None other than the Home Shopping Network bought out a
Net retailer specializing in computer equipment. Pizza Hut went online.
And the United States was hardly alone in this trend. The Singaporeans
were competing in the cyberpizza race—Shakey’s Pizza was girding to take
orders, via a fax-Net link, from hungry scientists and students at the
National University of Singapore. A large Irish bank advertised on the
Net. So did the Royal Bank of Canada. It mounted a bilingual Web area
for both English- and French-speaking customers who, once past the first
menu, didn’t have to clutter their screens with material in the wrong

Some of the old technical barriers, of course, remained even in rich
countries: most hardware was still rotten for doing home shopping. What
the customers needed, and what Silicon Valley could not yet provide,
happened to be small, affordable, sharp-screened computers that could
colorfully show off the merchandise. The main way to look at the Net was
through Mosaic-style programs. And even at 28.8 kilobits per second—the
highest speed possible through widely available modems—it took too long
to go from page to page of electronic catalogues. The biggest problem
was the software installation, which could be tricky. Although software
such as Internet in a Box simplified the matters, the Net was not yet
TV-easy to use.

Even so, some companies were designing inexpensive gadgets, which could
sell for mere hundreds of dollars, that would allow people to surf the
Internet on their televisions. I hated the idea of anyone reading text
off a blurry television screen. But at least the powers of the computer
world were finally thinking of the Internet as a real, live marketplace.
Just as important, Prodigy, America Online, CompuServe, and rivals were
preparing to let customers reach Web sites from their proprietary

Microsoft was planning point-and-click Internet capabilities for its
Windows 95 operating system. And it had bought stock in a key Internet
provider and would be linking its own network tightly with the Net.
_Advertising Age_ estimated the number of people able to access the Web
itself—the best place for Net advertising—at several million at the
start of 1995.[2.2] And that number might push past 11 million by 1998,
according to a report from a Massachusetts research firm.[2.3] So, even
if Internet merchants aren’t advertising in the most consumer-oriented
of places right now, they might well be awash in new business later on.

The existing denizens of the Internet were more technical than the
people on, say, Prodigy or America Online. Some software companies used
this to their great advantage. A good example was Cyberspace Development
Company, which had created an extraordinarily useful program called The
Internet Adapter, or TIA. Most Net people couldn’t enjoy Mosaic-style
viewers because their network connections did not allow this. But TIA
let even Netfolks with $18-a-month accounts use Mosaic and other
marvels. And to buy TIA, they did not have to go to a retail store.

If technically savvy, they could pick it up on the Internet itself. A
digital key, transmitted via e-mail, allowed only authorized customers
to use the publicly available files. Skeptics could try a test version
of TIA for a few weeks before paying for it by check or credit card.
Because of the low cost of distribution and, in my case, the lack of
need for full consulting services, I spent just $25 on a product that
might have cost a good $50-$75 if sold at the usual store. And by
normally using a basic hookup with my Web software—as opposed to a
deluxe, time-sensitive one—I could save hundreds of dollars a year.

The benefits of the Internet, for the Cyberspace Development Company and
me, didn’t stop there. Via discussion groups, TIA sellers kept us
customers up to date, and just as important, we could share tips among
ourselves. We could also use the World Wide Web to catch up with long
documents; in fact, updated versions of TIA could travel to us over the
Net. All of this, including the elimination of the need to go to the
store, was taking place on commercial networks such as CompuServe. But
the costs would have been greater for Cyberspace and customers alike if
the company had to pay the usual commercial rates for electronic mail.

Among the wares talked up online were upbeat prognostications about the
Net itself. For $3,500 you could buy a report from a California
consulting firm that said annual commerce on the Net and commercials
services such as CompuServe would reach $600 billion by the turn of the
century. I was skeptical. Merchants like JoAnn Lilienfeld would have to
sell warehouse after warehouse of stuffed animals or toys or whatever
the offerings were. In fact, $600 billion was a good 8 percent of
international commerce. On reflection, however, the estimate from Killen
& Associates seemed possible. Through the Net you might find a buyer for
shipload of scrap iron or an office building, not just a stray teddy
bear in need of a child. I phoned Mary Cronin of Boston College, who had
written a well-regarded book called _Doing Business on the Internet_. It
teemed with examples from Digital Equipment Corporation and IBM and many
other computer-oriented firms. And she had researched it before most
business people grasped the importance of the Internet. Yes, she said,
the $600 billion figure sounded credible if you counted
business-to-business transactions.

Daniel Dern, an Internet consultant, had his own opinion on the
statistics. He said the Net was like the highway. Just what did you
count—all the goods that went over the road? The combined salaries of
the people on the way to work? I could see his point.

Whatever the exact numbers, the demographics and technology might be on
the side of the many retail businesses if they stuck it out on the Net
and kept expectations realistic. Scads of people in Generation Net were
about to marry. They would buy houses and cars and whatever else
mattered beyond stereos and Internet-optimized computers. Just in the
late summer and fall of 1994, the number of Net-related businesses on
the Web had doubled, and a good many of the newcomers were not
technical. Could the Net really, then, enrich business people without
technical backgrounds? Was there indeed money in what had once been the
province of cash-strapped college students and dreamy researchers?

Plenty of people thought that the answer lay in the case history of
Grant’s Flowers, which, like White Rabbit Toys, operated out of Ann
Arbor, Michigan. Larry Grant had been a cover boy in an enticing article
on the front page of the business section of the _New York Times_; the
Internet pulsed with chatter about the electronic coups that he
supposedly had achieved for just $28 a month. Excited Netfolks reported
that he did not even have to type to his customers on the Internet; new
orders just poured in on a fax machine with a Net connection. The
California gold rush was almost a century and a half old. And yet,
watching the Grant legend take off, I might as well have been among the
boots and beards at Sutter’s Mill.

So I talked not only to the Lilienfelds but to Larry Grant, the
legendary florist himself. Many in the media were still enchanted with
the Electronic Frontier metaphor, and I remembered the old films about
Davy Crockett, the Tennessee frontiersman who loved corny jokes,
bear-wrestling tales, coonskin hats, and Crockett-friendly news
accounts—the grist for Walt Disney later on. What was next, a movie epic
with a musical tribute to “Larry Grant, king of the Net frontier”?

A market might indeed be ballooning for cyber-retailers, as the
hypesters said. But I still wondered about the present. What counted was
not all the puffery about 30 million Netfolks, many of whom can only
read electronic mail as opposed to _seeing_ roses or toy tops or other
merchandise. No, the real determinant was how often people dial up your
particular site and bought. One well-crafted Web area, which advertised
technically related goods, enjoyed just a handful of visits in six
months without a single sale. This was an issue aside from the total
amount of business done on the Net. Having talked with Mary Cronin and
others, I hadn’t any doubt about those giant commodity transactions and
all the use of the Net by Big Business to automate the paperwork of
commerce. But what about the small fry? Was the excitement about Grant
truly justified? I’ll answer those questions in the pages ahead, where
I’ll return to the Lilienfelds and to Grant, and where I’ll examine the

• MCI, the phone company. It has provided thousands of miles of Net
  connections and now rents out electronic storefronts on the Net. MCI
  offers one of the slickest Web areas—complete with a fictitious
  publishing house (now evolving into a real one) that accepts
  manuscripts from real readers. _Advertising Age_ has hailed the MCI
  site as “unquestionably the best Internet marketing effort to date.”
  Frustratingly, however, while preparing to dispense advice on
  cyberspace, MCI in early 1995 was committing some of the very mistakes
  it should be telling its customers to avoid.

• Federal Express, whose Internet presence shows the potential of the
  Net for business-to-business transactions, not just the consumer
  variety. Ironically the people at FedEx in some ways were
  demonstrating more Net savvy than MCI was at the time, even though the
  Internet was more in the territory of the latter. The old values of
  customer service still reigned above all else. A smaller competitor of
  Federal Express, a shipper called Right-O-Way, was also making
  outstanding use of the Net. In some ways it was even staying ahead of
  the big boys.

• Intel, the chipmaker, which learned the hard way how good the Internet
  was for spreading news of flaws in products. The Net abounds with
  skeptical academics and consumerists with _fast_ typing fingers.

• Other hazards of the Internet for business people. What if you set up
  an electronic storefront like the Lilienfelds’ and then a manufacturer
  decided to cut out the middle people and sell on the Net directly or
  through a larger outlet? Security is another threat. While I was
  writing _NetWorld!_, most commercial areas on the Net lacked a way to
  protect credit card numbers. Hackers broke into General Electric’s Web
  area and stole corporate secrets. Another risk is competitors looking
  over price lists and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of

Those caveats will end the chapter. By far, the Internet is a positive
rather than a negative factor for business and customers alike. Wired
consumers will reward good companies, punish the losers, and spur the
winners to do still better.

Bob and JoAnn Lilienfeld: The Net as a
Way to Promote Small Businesses

Thousands of miles to the south of Ann Arbor, home of White Rabbit Toys,
Luciana Gores was reading a popular mailing list called Net Happenings.
It was a kind of town crier. Each day from North Dakota a man named
Gleason Sackman sent out informative posts on the many new services that
were springing up on the Internet.

Gores worked as a network expert, and she was already used to buying
technical books through the Internet, which offered a far greater
variety than what she would find in her own city, Rio de Janeiro,

She was also the mother of a seven-year-old named Lucas. So when the
mailing list told her of White Rabbit, she checked it out on the Web.

People who visited the virtual store, or at least those with the right
equipment, saw a logo with the rabbit from Lewis Caroll’s imagination.
They also conjured up a color picture of a real toy store with shelf
after shelf of tot pleasers, a tiny table and stool on the floor, and a
look of friendly chaos—in short, a shopper’s delight for children and
parents alike, which in fact the “real” White Rabbit was. The
traditional store, the one at 2611 Plymouth Road, had thrived. Now Bob
and JoAnn Lilienfeld were trying to woo virtual customers such as
Luciana Gores. Their electronic White Rabbit just may have been the
first full-service toy store—as opposed to one-product billboards or
specialty shops—to open up on the Internet.

An ad on the opening screen helped set the tone for Luciana Gores and
other customers of White Rabbit: “We specialize in high-quality toys
that help children to create, learn, imagine, and explore. Our toys come
from all over the world. We offer such international favorites as Brio
(Sweden), Ravensburger (Germany), Primetime Playthings and Creativity
for Kids (United States).”

Suitably equipped customers could actually see pictures of the toys,
including a Ravensburger game called the A-maze-ing Labyrinth. “Travel
the corridors of the enchanted labyrinth in search of treasures,” read
the carnival-like pitch. “But watch out! The walls shift, and the
passages can close, leaving you trapped! For ages eight and older.”
Lucas was a year younger, but did it matter if the child was as bright
as his mother, the network expert? “It seems to be an interesting game,”
Luciana Gores e-mailed me, “and it won a Parent’s Choice award.” And so
she paid her $24.95 and shipping, which, given the light weight of the
toy, was modest.

Thanks to the Internet, the Lilienfelds suddenly had the whole world as
a market, not just customers living near by. The fact that White Rabbit
was in a university town, with graduates all over the planet, could only
help. So could the fact that the Internet was expanding overseas even
more rapidly than in the United States.

White Rabbit also appealed to Stuart Lowry, another promising kind of
customer—the computer jock turned family man. A Maryland resident in his
late twenties, he wouldn’t have made the pulses of marketers quicken
several years ago; he was a grad student then at Johns Hopkins
University and, like many people on the Internet, had more time than
money. But that had changed. Lowry now worked at Computer Science
Corporation, a large defense contractor, pulling down a salary in the
mid-forties. He was married and lived in a townhouse, and four months
ago his wife had given birth to a baby boy. And so, when Lowry was
cruising the Internet from work and spotted a notice announcing White
Rabbit Toys, he favored it with a virtual visit. He ordered a colorful
toy top for $13, the Floor Spinner from Primetime Playthings.

Many people on the Web were young males more interested in pizza or
condoms than in baby toys, but the Lilienfelds were looking ahead a few
years when the same Net people would be parents. “It’s an act of faith,”
Bob Lilienfeld said. “Today’s demographics and selling a lot of toys on
the Net may be out of synch. But today’s college students are tomorrow’s
parents. Tomorrow’s parents aren’t going to consider ordering by
computer any different from getting in a car and going to the shopping

Other trends might work in the Lilienfelds’ favor. More and more
Americans were time-short, with long commutes; Stuart Lowry himself
spent forty-five minutes each way, and that actually was a quick trip
compared to those in cities such as Los Angeles. In northern Virginia I
knew of parents rising at 4 A.M. to go to jobs in Washington some forty
miles away, and not a few of them were high-tech workers who would
sooner or later end up on the Internet.

When I reached Bob and Jo Ann Lilienfeld in the middle of November,
White Rabbit itself had been on the Net maybe a week and had enjoyed
around 1,000 virtual visits in that time. They were hoping that these
numbers would multiply as Christmas neared. It was too soon to tell how
many of these people would actually order. Back in June, though, the
Lilienfelds had grown excited after reading about Larry Grant in the
_New York Times_ and elsewhere.

“I saw this figure of 20 million Net users,” Jo Ann said of the numbers
du jour, “and thought there’s definitely an opportunity here. But I
didn’t want to go about it in a half-baked manner. I thought there had
to be someone who could combine knowledge of the Net with marketing
experience.” She checked out a local cybermall and found it wanting in
the latter area.

That wasn’t surprising, given Jo Ann’s perfectionism and eagerness to
avoid easy but far-from-satisfactory solutions—whether in retail or life
in general. She had grown up in a cash-short household where, more often
than not, the children would get out the oatmeal cartons and
construction paper and scissors and cobble together their own toys. And
the same creativity had carried over to her Bloomies days as one of the
resident experts on Christmas tree trimmings. According to the
Lilienfelds, it was JoAnn who came up with the idea of selling leafless,
white branches. She and Bob had moved to Ann Arbor because he kept
flying off to the Midwest to consult for clients in Midland, and they
felt that married people needed to spend more time together. JoAnn went
about establishing the White Rabbit just as conscientiously.

Not finding the right toys for her own children, she studied the
demographics of Ann Arbor to verify that a toy store could thrive there.
She concluded that in a university community, many would love those
wooden train sets and other classic toys as opposed to the trendier
offerings that were touted on television and sold at Toys ᴙ Us. Ann
Arbor responded well. A local paper told how she blessed her store with
a public bathroom—how she kept diapers and spare wipes around for the
parents of children and emergencies. No need for toilets existed on the
Internet. But even at this early stage, having read up on the Netfolks,
she was attuned to the need to adapt to the culture of cyberspace.

JoAnn finally decided that her best savior, the requisite miracle-worker
with both Net and marketing experience, lived right there in the
Lilienfeld household. Those past few months her husband had been
succeeding off a mix of garbage and the Internet.

To be exact, Bob Lilienfeld was advising clients about _future_ garbage,
the packing materials for consumer products, a major contributor to
landfills. He hadn’t anything against recycling. But thanks to his work
at Procter & Gamble, he had concluded that the best way to cope with
waste was to design packages to avoid it in the first place.
Manufacturers and customers alike would win. Bob would go on to help put
together a network of likeminded consultants, including William Rathje,
a world-famous garbage expert at the University of Arizona who had
co-authored _Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage_. Lilienfeld met Rathje
at a press conference but also found himself relying on another source
of contacts, the Internet. Again and again he had heard about the Net
from professors at the University of Michigan, and he soon was in touch
with other garbage mavens around the planet.

“I started sucking in information,” he recalled. “I found out about
mailing lists and newsgroups, and then I decided I would put my
newsletter up on the Net and see what happened.” The newsletter was a
way to let clients know about his consulting company, the Cygnus Group.
It helped Fortune 500 companies, other businesses, trade associations,
educational groups, and others grow more sensitive to environmental
concerns in activities ranging from packaging to marketing.

Just as JoAnn was careful to befriend Ann Arbor in the right way, Bob
tried to honor the conventions of the Net—avoiding hucksterism in favor
of helpful information. The announcements about the newsletter were
low-key, and response was good. Soon he was sharing his articles with
hundreds of Netfolks who asked such questions as: “I recently saw an
article on compact fluorescent light bulbs in _Consumer Reports_. Why
aren’t more stores and utilities selling them?”

An “Ask Bill and Bob” column, cowritten with William Rathje, revealed
that such lights “take at least eight times more energy to produce than
old-fashioned bulbs. And they’re heavier, so they use more energy during
shipping.” The column also told of an experiment that McDonald’s was
conducting in Albany, New York, with food and paper composting, saving
perhaps 500-700 pounds per week of solid waste. Readers could learn,
too, that a nut seller was moving from glass and plastic bottles to
vacuum bags.

Bob Lilienfeld was hardly an eco-activist by the standards of, say,
Greenpeace; Dow Chemical was among his prime clients, after all. But he
was serving up information for people with many different viewpoints,
and by way of the proper clicks with your mouse, you could travel from
his Web site to areas of the Internet such as the Envirolink Network, or
EcoGopher, or EcoNet.

His newsletter, known as _The ULS Report_ (short for “use less stuff”),
carried an item about CD-ROM disks. It described them as “an
environmentally friendly way to reduce waste and save resources. One
CD-ROM, including packaging, weighs under half a pound. The 22 books
that it replaces weigh 70 pounds.” Knowingly or not, he was helping to
pave the way for the virtual White Rabbit—where the same principles
applied. Via the Internet, White Rabbit could advertise to thousands
without printing up catalogues for them. Oh, they might request
catalogues later, but then they would have prequalified themselves,
reducing the solid waste. Lewis Carroll would have approved of the
reasoning here. What’s more, unlike paper catalogues, Lilienfeld could
update his electronic catalogue to change prices or play up the
fastest-selling merchandise.

The World Wide Web was the main way to put White Rabbit on the Internet.
Once merchants on the Net would have favored a service called Gopher (as
in “go-fer-it”) in honor of the mascot at the University of Minnesota.
Gopher displayed text very well and needed less bandwidth on the Net
than the Web did. But it lacked the pizzazz of the Web-Mosaic
combination; that is, the ability to conjure up pictures and even sound
so easily. Although Bob used Gopher for digging up scholarly works about
the environment, it was like black-and-white television while Web-Mosaic
was color and all the more alluring for commercial purposes.

Getting White Rabbit on the Web was surprisingly cheap in some ways. The
Lilienfelds’ network provider charged JoAnn just $50 a month, plus $2 an
hour for when she was using electronic mail or handling other chores.
That didn’t include Bob’s time, however. He knew at least the basics of
the necessary programming language and didn’t require the services of a
consultant to the extent that others might have.

Net.business, 3D-Style

You can’t _touch_ merchandise on the World Wide Web. But the next best
thing may be in store.

Virtual reality will let you “walk” through Web businesses and see
merchandise in greater detail as you get “closer” to the object on your
screen. You can vary the angles, too. So you could use your mouse to
tour a parking lot of automobiles. You could spot the Volvo or the
Saturn of your dreams, and admire not only the outside but also the

No, the Web will never replace actual shopping in most cases, but
virtual reality will be increasingly good at helping you screen
preliminary choices.

Keep an eye out, then, for WebSpace—the new 3D viewer from Silicon
Graphics, the California company whose technology helped create many of
the special effects in _Jurassic Park_. WebSpace will work as an add-on
with popular Web browsers such as Netscape and Spyglass Enhanced Mosaic.

WebSpace-style technology, needless to say, is far too good to waste on
shopping alone. Virtual reality software for the Web may also help you
tour the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress, or Mount
Kilimanjaro—not to mention Hong Kong or Rio de Janeiro.

3D technology could revolutionize the financial world. Small investors,
not just high-powered stock analysts, could “see” stock market trends.
Your screen might display a “Bulls’ Corner” with a collection of
corporate logos color-coded according to the improvement in the stock
price. You could open up the logos and go on a tour of various
divisions, wandering around them electronically with far more ease than
you could with less advanced software.

Similarly, at the suggestion of your broker, you could tour a Bear’s
Corner and see why you might avoid or sell off certain shares.

Mind you, there are negatives. Corporations—whether stores selling
merchandise or companies seeking investors—may use this slick technology
to fool the public. On the other hand, the Internet is already a godsend
for consumers and small investors. Via Usenet newsgroups and mailing
lists, they can swap information, taking care of course to look for
plants from companies trying to sway grassroots impressions.

Lilienfeld himself put in most of the set-up hours. It took him a few
days of programming to design the Web site and scan in the pictures of
more than two dozen items—the train sets, the puzzles, the tops, the
blocks—and like an old-fashioned art director he had to create within
the limits of the medium. The big problem was photos. If they were too
big to move over the Net quickly, then the peeved readers might give up
and go on to another Web site. If too small, however, the pictures would
lack enough detail to show off the store or the merchandise. In many
cases Bob would let readers click on pictures of bears to see larger
versions of the photos.

He also had to worry about the software the readers used on the
Internet—certain Mosaic-style browsers would show _smaller_ objects
first. Other challenges arose. What if technical standards changed so
that only certain browsers would work with Bob’s site? The real White
Rabbit might be a victim of acts of God such as the ebb and flow of
automobile traffic, and the virtual Rabbit needed to worry about
patterns of Net traffic, but it also could be subject to Jehovah in the
form of macho software firms who wanted everyone on the Net to use their

Companies such as Netscape Communications Corporation actually gave away
Mosaic-style products to us Netfolk for free, hoping to make fortunes
instead off the software that merchants and others denizens on the Web
would run. Netscape was the champ in late 1994, the one that let you go
from page to page faster than any competitor did. Many people feared
Netscape would be to the Web what Microsoft was to software; suppose
Netscape used technical prowess and marketing skill to trample
competitors, and maybe overcharge the customers.

A green monster named Mozilla came up on one of Netscape’s welcoming
screens, and pessimists wondered if the company itself might someday
play the part. Marc Andreessen, the top software designer at Netscape,
had led the team that came up with the original Mosaic at the University
of Illinois. And then he had left Illinois to join a new company that,
from the ground up, had designed the speedier Netscape product. The Web
community mightily hoped that Mozilla and keepers would behave
themselves. Suppose that Netscape joined Microsoft or credit card
companies to build in special, billing-related features that users of
other browsers couldn’t use?

Netscape, however, seemed benign so far, and the browser’s technical
wizardry was winning many friends. With a click of the mouse, for
example, you could scoot smoothly from the Web to the usual newsgroups,
and Bob Lilienfeld took advantage of this. He set up his computer system
so that customers with the proper software could whiz directly from
White Rabbit to child-related newsgroups.

One moment you could be shopping for toys; the next, exchanging tips
with a New Zealander or Norwegian on how to cope with tantrum-prone
babies. You could zip to misc.kids (“A great place to swap parenting war
stories”), misc.kids.consumers (“Help with purchasing decisions”), or
misc.kids.computer (“Enough said!”). Or you or your children could read
odds and ends about wombats, Forester kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, fish,
lions, dinosaurs, and other creatures at WombatNet; print out drawings
of the human heart or the stars or hear a thunderbolt by way of the
Franklin Institute Virtual Science Museum; and learn the population of
Uganda or Afghanistan via _The CIA World Factbook_, a guide assembled by
the real-life Central Intelligence Agency.

Fighting the companies such as AT&T and the big cable interests, many
activists likened the Internet to a series of communities with
opportunities for small merchants and citizen-to-citizen communications
as opposed to couch potato offerings from the Fortune 500. Merchants
such as the Lilienfelds were acting out the very models about which the
activists waxed so enthusiastically.

Bob Lilienfeld understood that just as storekeepers in a small town
would do well to join the Kiwanis Club, virtual storefronts should be
part of Net life. JoAnn would soon go to a toy convention, and at some
point, she might well share her impressions with the denizens of
misc.kids and similar newsgroups, as opposed simply to touting her
products. At the same time, yes, by way of a signature at the bottom of
her posts, people on the Net could find out about the toy store. She
might even start a mailing list for the receptive. Bob had already shown
the success of this model by way of the list and other tools used to
promote his consulting activities.

A toy-oriented list could be much more than ads. “Going shopping isn’t
just spending money,” Lilienfeld observed, “it’s a social phenomenon.
It’s seeing people you know, it’s being part of a crowd.” And it’s also
picking up gossip and maybe even solid information. “Ultimately the toy
store will be bigger than just a toy store,” he said. “We might be
providing information on child development, of the appropriateness of
certain toys or coloring books. If you’re a model train hobbyist, we
might be able to help you hook up with model train users groups.”

In fact, by way of the mouse-activated links from White Rabbit to
newsgroups and other Web sites, he was already offering much more than
just a store. The line between merchants and information providers was
blurring in the case of Bob and JoAnn; the higher the quality of the
information at White Rabbit, the more it would be a virtual gathering
place for people on the World Wide Web. I wasn’t surprised to hear some
people say that librarians might be the star sales reps of the future.
It wasn’t hype. Information, not just prices and selection of
merchandise, would be what drew Netfolks to sites such as the
Lilienfeldss’ . Of course Bob Lilienfeld might want to be choosy about
what links he listed. If he listed too many of the mediocre ones, then
he would simply be replicating the function of the powerful search
programs on the Web and adding to people’s “information overload,” to
use an ever-popular phrase.

Software already let sophisticated Netfolks zero in on items of
interest. Merely by typing in the word “toys,” for example, I could find
scads of listings—from mentions of adult sex toys to the Web site
advertising the gun that fired Ping-Pong balls. And these programs would
soon be simple enough for even technoklutzes to use. So the Lilienfelds
had better offer something that the software could not supply: Their
judgments about which Web sites, newsgroups, and mailing lists were the
most fun or most informative.

All through the Christmas season, JoAnn kept refining her Net-related
plans. “We need to ask, ‘Have we chosen the right items?’” she said.
“The draw of our toy store is, it’s an exciting place to shop. We have
to do the same on the Internet. If we add more items, it will approach a
catalogue more. Right now our competition is mail-order catalogues, and
we have a lot of items that they’re not offering. Maybe we’ll be
reaching people not on the traditional catalogue list. They could be
more occasional toy buyers than frequent toy buyers.”

Thanks to a computerized inventory system, JoAnn’s corporeal store
carried more than 6,500 items. Bob made a mental note: He might want to
put more of them on the Net so customers would enjoy a wider selection.
JoAnn talked about her suppliers: “My goal was really getting this up
and going for Christmas. When I get to the toy fair I’ll discuss this
with the national sales managers and see if I can’t get discounts for
advertising to so many people, and then we’re working probably toward
next Christmas. We’ll be working toward fourth quarter of ’95.”

That was a healthy attitude. Even toward the end of the season the
number of visits didn’t go past 2,000 a week, and only a handful of
actual sales resulted. The only customers were Luciana Gores; Stuart
Lowry, the computer jock turned family man; Michael Wolfe, a West
Virginia professor studying Internet commerce, who ordered half a dozen
stuffed toy caterpillars; a second academic, in the Midwest, who bought
a Ravensburger Snail’s Pace Race game; a Massachusetts woman sending
three customizable dolls to her sister (“I’m testing business on the
Net—aren’t you lucky?”); and David Fry, the operator of a cybermall
nearby who was curious about the White Rabbit, and who bought First

Not that the Lilienfelds had completely wasted their time. As of
Christmas, a _Wall Street Journal_ story hadn’t appeared, but the
Detroit paper and others had gone ahead with articles, and customers
poured onto the floor of the real White Rabbit, one even buying the
giant polar bear that Bob had been hoping to give his nine-year-old son.
The publicity may have brought in some $20,000-$25,000 in extra sales by
Bob’s estimates, on which the Lilienfelds may have netted around
$2,000—compared to $750 gross and $75 net from Net orders. Bob told me
that other merchants on the Web were also reporting a low number of
sales. The week before Christmas the number of visits to White Rabbit
itself actually declined; many of the prospective customers had been
logging on from school or work, and now they had partly emptied the Web
along with their dorm rooms and offices.

From a get-rich-quick perspective, then, the virtual White Rabbit had
been a zero. Bob and JoAnn were smart marketers with MBAs from a Big Ten
business school, and he had a real feel for the Internet, which he had
successfully used to expand his consulting business. But even the
Lilienfelds could not score right away. Oh, how tantalizing the
gargantuan numbers had been—the tens of millions of users said to exist;
the million by which the Net was supposed to be growing each month. And
yet in the end, when the time came for customers to key in the credit
card numbers, the market had vanished like the Cheshire cat. That didn’t
mean the Lilienfelds were foolish; just a week or two after Christmas, a
wonderful twist happened. The number of visits to the toy store fell
off. But sales leapt up. By mid-January White Rabbit was moving an
average of a toy a day—not a Kmart volume, but an improvement. Bob
explained the difference. Now White Rabbit’s first screen told customers
that the store could often get toys not mentioned online.

Encouraged, Lilienfeld added yet another improvement, an 800 number. Now
customers could ask their questions the old-fashioned way if they
preferred, and they could also order by voice if they didn’t trust the
Net with their credit card numbers.

With enough tweaks like this, the virtual toy store might eventually
flourish as the number of Web users grew. Just like the characters in
many children’s stories, the White Rabbit would keep on changing—adding
ever-more-intriguing links to newsgroups and other Web sites, putting in
the software to help novice toy shoppers choose just the right ball or
train set, figuring out new ways to use the interplay between the Net
and the traditional media. Sooner or later, the Netheads would
reproduce, and when they went looking for rattles and Lego sets, Bob and
JoAnn would be ready for them. The story of White Rabbit Toys, like that
of the Internet itself, was far from over.

The Electronic Billboard: Grant’s Flowers

Larry Grant just might be doing better at the moment than the
Lilienfelds were. He was selling flowers, and what better merchandise
existed for grad students who were alone at the keyboard in a dark
office at two o’clock, and who had forgotten their girlfriends’

A newsletter publisher named Rosalind Resnick—a former staff reporter
for the _Miami Herald_ and the author of an Internet business guide—was
grossing more than $20,000 a year in subscriptions and expecting to do
much better in 1995.[2.4] And her media-oriented newsletter helped pave
the way for a lucrative consulting business. I also knew of a network
expert named Gordon Cook who was able to jet to a three-week research
expedition in Moscow at his own expense, and who lived satisfactorily on
the revenue from _The Cook Report on Internet_ and related

Grant’s Flowers, however, was more of a typical business. Larry Grant
wasn’t a writer. And his work was not as network-related as that of
Resnick and Cook; unlike the latter, he hadn’t evolved into a
net.personality on some key mailing lists. Instead the word was that
Larry Grant just paid his $28 a month to an electronic mall—a collection
of stores that shared a common subarea of the Net—and sat back and
watched his fax machine spew out orders. Grant might not be Davy
Crockett in terms of action, but certainly in terms of fame he was
coming along. He had appeared as a success story, after all, on the
front page of the _New York Times_ business section.

As I wended my way through the Net to Grant’s Flowers, I passed through
an area called Branch Mall. A logo with a tree branch greeted me. I saw
listings for enterprises ranging from cosmetic sellers to H & H Logging
and Timber Company. Under “Flowers, Gifts, Foods,” I didn’t see just
Grant’s listing. I saw White Dove Flower and Gift Shop, Flowers on
Lexington, Exotic Flowers of Hawaii, Bonsai Boy of New York, and half a
dozen others. Bob Lilienfeld was skeptical about cybermalls, and right
now I could see why. With all this competition, could Grant’s make money
off the Internet?

Lilienfeld had reminded me that traditional malls and the cyber variety
were different, and I understood. If I wanted to shop for books, I could
brave traffic to reach Springfield Mall, a large collection of shops
maybe ten miles from me in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Springfield
would be worth the drive. I could visit four stores right within a
five-minute walk of each other—Brentano’s, B. Dalton, Walden, and Crown.

The Net, however, was also different. I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I
could just use a powerful search engine such as Lycos, key in
“bookstore,” and watch name after name pop up on my screen. Lycos
demanded just a little technical savvy. But easier alternatives would
come along. As if that weren’t enough, Netfolks put together lists of
activities on the Internet, and often they included commercial
categories. I’d found White Rabbit not through advertising but through
the Yahoo list out of Stanford University, on the other side of North
America. Distance just didn’t matter. So could the shopping mall
metaphor truly work out to the benefit of merchants such as Larry Grant?

Branch Mall at the very least had set Grant up in style. The opening
screen was attractive and helpful to buyers, with such basics as:
“Different areas of the country sometimes have different prices or may
be unable to supply certain flowers. For example, New York City has high
rents and costs of doing business, so flowers are more expensive
there....” And then below I saw a list of the offerings—for example,
“One dozen boxed long stem roses. A fragrant classic. $49.95 to $99.95.”
In the virtual version of the White Rabbit toy store you couldn’t rattle
the toys, and in Branch Mall you couldn’t smell the roses, but like the
Lilienfelds, Branch Mall had been generous with pictures of the
merchandise. I loved some little touches. Branch had given Grant a
reminder service into which you could key your spouse’s birthday or some
other date, before which an e-mail note would be sent to jog you to do
your duty.

The selection was varied. You could order everything from the roses to
“a get well soup cup containing button mums, daisies, mini carnations,
standard carnations, monte casino, statice, and a package of chicken
soup. $26.” All in all, I felt that this area was even better laid out
than White Rabbit Toys, where the opening page, though far, far above
average, didn’t communicate quite as much information as I’d have liked.
As with White Rabbit, you could order online by filling out an
electronic form.

Missing from the virtual version of Grant’s flower shop, however, were
the customized links that helped give the White Rabbit Toys its
personality and made it a true part of the Net. If Larry Grant had been
as at home in cyberspace as Rob Lilienfeld was, he could have added
links to love-oriented discussion areas or to poetry—perhaps even the
Shakespearean variety.

But instead this Web page was serving just as an electronic billboard
with an ordering mechanism. I didn’t even see a photograph of the store.
When the _New York Times_ published a photo of a Mosaic screen, it had
superimposed a picture of Grant amid his flowers and dressed in an apron
with an FTD insignia. Couldn’t a similar photo have adorned his Web

For that matter, the store didn’t even offer an electronic mail address,
just a phone number for customers with questions. This isn’t to
criticize Larry Grant. He was not an honorary techie as Bob Lilienfeld
was. Like Lilienfeld, however, Grant was an intelligent, diligent
Midwest businessman who saw the Net as an opportunity.

Wild talk _about_ Grant notwithstanding, he wasn’t a braggart—simply a
proud family entrepreneur. I learned that Grant’s Flowers was actually
part of a mini local conglomerate. “We’ve been here since 1947,” he
said, “and my folks started farming and selling produce by the side of
the road off a kitchen table. We’re now a million-dollar business and
have many facets. We have a flower and gift shop, and the front of the
building is beer and foods. We farm 131 acres.” Two brothers were in the
business, and so was his eighty-year-old mother. “She runs the flower
and gift section, and I run the rest of the retail sales and my brothers
do all the growing and production. We’ve got two acres of greenhouses
growing plants for spring sale or gardeners. It’s a very diversified

Grant clearly wasn’t making a living off the Internet alone, despite a
good start. “We got online in February just before Valentine’s Day and
we received forty orders that week. In the first ten days we had over
2,900 look in on our electronic storefront. Then it dropped to one or
two orders a day, and then we got to Mother’s Day and had a high of
forty in one day. Currently we’ve increased from one or two to six, in
that range.”

When I asked what his current Net-related gross would be per year, he
roughly estimated it at perhaps $15,000 or $20,000. That was enough to
make the Web area well worth his time, but this was hardly a tale of
instant riches. I remembered a magazine ad—for would-be providers of
Internet services—that showed a mustached man beside a Rolls or
Mercedes. Larry Grant was a Web merchant, not someone hooking people up
with the Net. But I wished that the get-rich-quickers of all stripes
could see Larry Grant as a realistic example of the Net’s promise. The
gold might come eventually, and it was worthwhile to chase after it by
going online, but, for most people, the big money wasn’t there yet.

What’s more, costs for newer customers of Branch Mall were higher. Grant
had been the first merchant there and enjoyed a break. Now Branch was
charging thousands a year for Web areas that included elaborate
programming and creative work.[2.6]

Larry Grant, in any event, believed in the Net and in the Mall itself.
His virtual operation wasn’t costing him _that_ much, and I suspected
that even with somewhat higher expenses, other tenants might do fine in
the end if they were in the right business. “Number one,” Grant said,
“we don’t have to take and buy more inventory. Number two, we don’t have
to have a bigger facility. And number three, we don’t need a sales
staff. We can do with the staff we have in handling these orders. It’s a
neat way to find new business. I don’t have to handle any of the
products directly. The customer does all the ordering through the
company in his area and it’s shipped from the company to them, and I get
my commission check at the end of the month.” He liked the concept so
much that he started a Fuller Brush franchise on the Net. The same key
principles applied: No inventory to worry about and no sales staff, just
some dealings with Branch and orders emerging from a fax machine.

Merchants like Bob Lilienfeld might fare well without a cybermall
involved—they knew how to spread word about themselves on the Net by way
of newsgroups and mailing lists—but I could also see the possibilities
for people such as Larry Grant as long as they kept their expectations
to a reasonable level. Grant himself didn’t view the other flower shops
at Branch Mall as direct competitors; he depicted himself as more of a
general florist than the others, what with their specialties in Hawaiian
flowers and the like. Certainly a good cybermall, like the
brick-and-concrete version, needed a good tenant mix—with a toy store
not appearing on the same screen as, say, a _sex_ toy shop.

If that right mix wasn’t around, why have the mall in the first place?
While it was true that the Net shrank distances, it did take time to
move from screen to screen at typical modem speeds. And yet, reflecting,
I could indeed see a future for malls. Even when search engines were
easier to use, people might still not avail themselves of
them—preferring to browse instead. So the mall concept might well endure
to the advantage of people like Larry Grant.

All kinds of people itched for their percentages of the cybermall
business. Jon Zeeff, the mall operator who had set up Larry Grant with
his electronic billboard, had once written medical software. David Fry
was a Harvard Ph.D. in computer science, came from a family in the
printing business, and ran an offshoot called Fry Multimedia. Ann Arbor
wasn’t Silicon Valley, but just in that one university town, at least
three local business people were on the Web in a serious way, if you
included Bob Lilienfeld. Like him, Fry wisely thought in the long term.
Drumming up business from well-known brands such as Ragu spaghetti
sauce, he did not promise an instant audience in the millions. He urged
companies to go on the Web, experiment with interactive advertising, and
make their mistakes _before_ the Net became a truly mass medium for
Madison Avenue.

Some get-rich-quickers, of course, also were jostling for virtual
tenants; even Canter and Siegel showed up by way of an area called
Cybersell, and I enjoyed the irony. C & S had carpet bombed thousands of
newsgroups with the same message—while encouraging other merchants to
ignore conventional Netiquette—and yet now they were also relying on the
more focused approach of a Web area.

Phone companies, too, wanted to run malls on the World Wide Web. And
that created problems for some. While the Net might use their phone
lines, many of these corporations felt out of place in an anarchistic
environment over which they had far less than the accustomed amount of
control. In the mall business they would be competing against nimble
entrepreneurs like Zeeff and Fry. Still, phone companies could take
advantage of their existing networks to one extent or another, and if
the Yellow Pages were going online in a new incarnation, then the Baby
Bells and AT&T wanted their share of the business. Of all the
mall-related efforts in early 1995, the most ambitious may have been
from a phone company, MCI. It exemplified—as I soon discovered in the
most direct of ways—both the best and the worst of Big Business on the

MCI’s Giant Cybermall and the
Search For Darlene

MCI and the Internet had A History. The Net used phone lines from many
companies, but MCI had long been one of the major players here; some 40
percent of the Internet traffic in the United States passed over its
cables, and nowadays the senior vice-president of data architecture was
none other than Vint Cerf. As much as anyone he was Mr. Net, one of the
founding fathers. MCI also employed the head of a standard-setting body
called the Internet Engineering Task Force. Unsurprisingly, MCI
marketers were coming out with statements in the vein of: _When you
think Internet, we want you to think of us._

I asked a product manager how much of the Net-related commerce he could
envision involving an electronic marketplace from MCI. Well, he said,
MCI had around one-fifth of the long-distance business in the U.S.—and
why not the same share on the Internet?

Clearly, however, if MCI wanted to woo the Larry Grants of this world,
it faced a major marketing problem. Just like Jon Zeeff, it would have
to sell business people on the Net as a vehicle for their messages; and
that meant _lots_ of education, not just hype. MCI, moreover, was
offering a range of services far, far broader than Zeeff’s. In an
MCI-perfect world, you would advertise your business by way of
marketplaceMCI. Prospective customers on the Net could browse through a
giant online directory and follow a link to your electronic storefront.
MCI would cleverly lure them to its area. People would be able to
retrieve voice phone numbers in far-off cities and enjoy other
information services for free.

On MCI’s planet, you’d of course use internetMCI for your electronic
mail and your Web browsing. You also could hold video conferences during
which people saw not only each other but the same contract or
spreadsheet, which they could jointly modify even if they were thousands
of miles apart. You could even receive updates on your pet news topic by
way of MCI—just the ticket for keeping up with competitors or with a
favorite athletic team.

Not all of MCI’s new services related to the Internet. But like
marketplaceMCI, many did. And even with 30 million people hooked in by
way of e-mail if nothing else, public ignorance was massive. Larry
Magid, a computer columnist, observed that even a single TV show such as
_Home Improvement_ could attract greater numbers. If MCI wanted to enjoy
volume befitting a phone company, then, it had better prepare for some
major evangelizing—about both the Net and non-Net services. MCI tried
the broadcast model in the most traditional of ways. Splashy commercials
aired on national television. They starred a fictitious publishing
company, Gramercy Press, whose president, Peter Hoffman, had a _big_
crush on MCI. Whether the service was video conferencing or electronic
mail, Hoffman was itching to open his wallet for it.

Darlene Davis was the character with the most air time, the hip young
receptionist who was waging a valiant battle to get Martin Banks, the
resident technophobe, online. If this portly old crank of an editor
wanted to read the latest memos from Darlene, then he had better plug in
his computer. Curtiss Bruno was the sales manager with his heart on his
quotas and Darlene. MCI’s electronic services could allow him to achieve
at least the former goal. Nowadays Darlene happily used e-mail to help
stay out of flirting distance with him. Ellen deRosset was the resident
intellectual snob and a Net browser. Reginald Gales used MCI’s news
feature to keep Martin up on cricket scores. Marta Dragelov was an info
junky in keeping with her duties as a fact checker.

In a country where fantasy and reality often turned into one big mush,
where O. J. Simpson movies could go into production before the end of
the murder trial, where legions of commercials aped news programs, where
the Speaker of the House would soon be hosting a cable TV showing of
_Boys Town_ after having touted orphanages as a major solution to the
welfare problem—in a nation like this, it was as inevitable as a $1
million book deal for O.J. that the mythical Darlene would draw job
offers and marriage proposals from people wanting to be part of the fun.

“These were breakout and breakaway characters that took on a life of
their own,” said Mark Pettit, the MCI public relations man who was
handling Gramercy matters. What’s more, the company’s advertising
agency, MVBMS, hadn’t just tried to make Gramercy real in the real
world; the agency people had also made the characters real in the
_video_ world by way of an introductory commercial that looked like a
preview of a new fall series.

Having conquered TV, then, and with the Internet a main focus of the ad
campaign, how could MCI _not_ have opened up a Web area to ballyhoo the
same services that Darlene was pushing on the tube? The commercials had
whetted interest in the characters. And now MCI would see if it could
satisfy this curiosity while also passing on more details about its new
line of services. “People wanted more than thirty seconds of
information,” Pettit said, “and it can be hard to give them more on TV.
What if we turned this into a real place that they could go visit? And
that’s how it came to life.” By MCI’s own estimate, more than a million
people visited the “real place” in the first six weeks or so. Even Bob
Lilienfeld dropped by. He was an MCI stockholder and wanted to keep an
open mind despite his skepticism about the mall concept—maybe he could
do business with pros like MCI’s. Lilienfeld filled out a form that
offered a two-month trial of Net-related services, and waited.

I first visited the Gramercy Press around the same time that Lilienfeld
did. The site popped up on my screen with color photos of a
perky-looking Darlene and friends. I saw a red logo, too. A small “GP”
appeared between “Gramercy” and “Press,” a nice little touch that a real
publisher might have tried. I wondered what ambitions MCI had. Might it
turn the fictitious GP into a commercial publisher someday? The screen
said Gramercy was “The World’s First Virtual Publishing House,” and
across the top I saw color photos of Darlene and friends, all looking as
real as ever. If I’d been impatient for a hard sell, I could have
clicked immediately on items such as “networkBusiness” or “MCI
Telecommunications, Inc.”

But like the rest of the cosmos, I was more keen on reading some virtual
gossip from virtual humans. In a primitive way, reminiscent of many a
best-seller, a teaser led me on. I learned that the people of Gramercy
were “working on secret projects, curt memos, random thoughts,
Machiavellian power plays,” and that I might “even browse a clandestine
love letter or two about to be sent via e-mail across the corridor.”

So I clicked, with much anticipation, on “Gramercy Press.” Against a
dark, purplish-blue sky I saw a semiornate, low-rise office building,
the same one featured in the TV commercial. Not to leave anything to
chance, a caption told me about tweeds and patches and old pipes _and_
the fact that “every one—from the receptionist to the president
himself—is online via networkMCI Business.” Despite the clichés such as
the stereotypical reference to tweeds, this site was clearly showing far
more imagination than the usual WWW area did.

“Now,” the screen told me, “click on any window and you’ll start to get
a feel of the inside workings of a major New York publishing concern.”

I chose a pane on the top floor and saw Darlene near her keyboard,
smiling away and looking as if I’d caught her in the middle of an
intense gossip session. The screen suggested that I click for audio. I
did and downloaded a short snippet. “I love technology,” she said in a
high-pitched, girlish voice, and giggled a little nervously as if to
tell the world, “Hey, I’m a real person, not an actress taping an ad.”

The text on the screen was credibly self-promotional: “I’m a combination
of a staff psychiatrist, gopher, organizer, coffee maker,
ruffled-feather soother, astrologer, party organizer, invitation sender,
flower orderer, delivered-lunch acceptor, and philosopher. Oh yes, I
also disseminate messages. A job made infinitely easier thanks to
e-mailMCI. I threw out those little pink message pads. e-mailMCI is so
much more efficient. I just click on my computer and the message gets to
the right person instantly. Whether they call back is up to them. Hey, I
can’t be their conscience, mother, and etiquette professor too. I wear
enough hats. And I have many aptitudes. For instance, I was college
skiing champ. You didn’t know that about me. Nor did you know I have a
master’s degree in medieval literature. Or that Ellen deRosset is going
to need an editorial assistant. Of course, she doesn’t know it yet

I moved on to Darlene’s e-mail by clicking on, yes, her monitor. And
suddenly I was getting another pitch from MCI in the cleverest of ways—I
saw a screen shot of a menu from e-mailMCI, complete with such commands
as “Compose,” “Forward,” and “Reply.”

Beneath the menu appeared a message list:

          E. deRosset          Short Story Submissions
          C. Bruno             Excellent Proposition
          R. Gales             Cover Art Submissions
          M. Dragelov          Interesting Facts
          P. Hoffman           Free at Last

I opened the e-mail. Ellen deRosset was complaining that “My office has
more manuscripts than the Library of Alexandria—I’m running out of room
for me. Could people submit their stories over the Internet instead of
through the mail?” Reginald Gales wrote that he’d sent out a fax to
computer artists, asking for submissions; and in fact MCI was offering
to post the works of electronic artists, not just writers. Under the
subject line “Excellent Proposition,” Curtiss Bruno asked: “Hey Darlene,
want to come by and check out the romance section of our newest
catalog?” Funny. The TV commercials had led me to believe he might be
tiring of the chase. Marta Dragelov passed on some funny trivia from a
book she was researching. Peter Hoffman announced that he would be out
of the office the next week but would be keeping in touch with
electronic mail.

So, yes, I could read the same e-mail as Darlene could. But that still
wasn’t full interactivity. I wanted a two-way, and the “Compose” command
intrigued me; perhaps I could e-mail the crew behind the Darlene
character. I wrote that I was a real writer, working on a real book, for
a real publisher; could they please tell me what kind of responses the
people at Gramercy Press were getting over the Internet? _And how about

“What’s she like?” I was thinking. “How’d those people choose her? Does
she enjoy computers? Has she been on the Net?” Once I established
contact with the virtual Darlene’s keepers, perhaps I could find out.

Having already snooped at Darlene’s e-mail, I went on to the offices of
the other characters. Ellen deRosset, a dark-haired woman dressed in
black, confided that she had corrected her seventh-grade teacher’s
grammar. “I read _War and Peace_ when I was fifteen. The complete works
of Balzac before I was twenty-five. I think you get the picture. So I am
not happy that I was given the assignment to edit this ‘women in sports’
book. I dislike sports rather intensely. The only sport I know anything
about, really, is fencing. But one must be flexible these days, and the
MCI Business software makes this assignment easier to handle, if not
more palatable.”

Reginald Gales told me how MCI’s e-mail and conferencing services came
in handy. One of his authors lived on a caboose in Wyoming, while
another wrote from a houseboat in Florida; “he once had a shark bite off
his TV antenna.”

Marta Dragelov, the fact checker, was an avid user of MCI’s news-flash
service, which crammed her computer with such items as, “India Asks
Phone Firms to Set Up Local Factories”—actual news stories that I could
see while clicking on them. Peter Hoffman was away at home and working
in his pajamas. Martin Banks, the technophobic editor, said he was
“being tutored on the wonders of MCI electronic office ephemera by none
other than Miss Ellen deRosset.” He hoped that she would notice his new
pair of wing tips.

The real payoff for readers was in Curtiss Bruno’s office. Wearing a
striped shirt and a tie and looking like an incurable office politician,
he nevertheless held a hand over his mouth as if to say: “Maybe I’d
better shut up before I spill too much.” Oh, Curtiss, why bother? I
could tour an electronic version of the not-quite-completed winter
catalogue—with listings of fiction, visual arts, poetry, and nonfiction.

All categories carried dates older than the Web area itself—MCI was
apparently relying on imaginary contributors to prime the pumps. “Ivana
diTommaso’s” background just seemed too _New Yorker_-ish. She had “grown
up in Bologna, Italy, and Grosse Pointe, Michigan” and had “developed
from a quiet film student” to “one of America’s fine short story
writers.” If she existed, the electronic catalogue at the Library of
Congress had yet to note it when I made a short detour by way of my
software’s task-switching capability. Not that I trusted the catalogue.
A branch of Random House had published my first book, _The Silicon
Jungle_, yet it was missing from the LC catalogue that day; and for all
I knew, maybe the librarians had also neglected the accomplished Ms.
diTommaso. I charitably allowed for the fact that she just might exist.

Her story, “The Legend of Wendell County,” told how a county records
keeper had become a community grandmother who, not content to record
births, deaths, and divorces, tried her hand at marriage counseling and
other social workish pursuits—until one day she lost her way in winter
and turned into something else, a ghost. The bottom of the page carried
an authentic-looking “© 1994 Ivana diTommaso.”

I moved on. “The Tree House” was a story from Katy Rudder, a member of
“the first Peace Corps class ever assigned to China, where she is
teaching English at Leshan Teachers College in the Sichuan Province.”
Based on what I was reading, MCI’s artistic tastes—or its ad
agency’s—were corporately wholesome. And so were its contributors. I
doubted that Gramercy would have been the best place for the young
Burroughs or Kerouac.

Perhaps this would change, maybe Gramercy would grow more adventurous
with time, but right now I wasn’t sanguine in that regard. The
nonfiction area was a real loss with just one title, of a harmless,
theological type. I doubted that this would be the place for, say,
Seymour Hersh or Robert Caro. Like the writing, the art looked competent
and maybe much better, but, again, safely within corporate parameters.

The most cautious contributors were MCI’s lawyers, or whoever else had
written the legalese for one Web site. All writers and artists had to
send in releases saying they wouldn’t sue MCI for using accidentally
similar material. The lawyers warned, “All work that is submitted
electronically over the Internet needs to be accompanied by a hard copy
of the release form, sent in separately by postal mail. We will not look
at any work placed on our server until we have received the hard copy of
the release form. All files on the server older than 14 days, for which
we have not received a release, will not be reviewed....” I remembered
the essay on theology. It was uninspired enough for an attorney other
than Scott Turow to have written it, and sure enough, the author’s note
said he was “happy with the practice of law.”

Despite the less-than-striking short stories and the soporific essay, I
loved the sparkle of Gramercy Press as a whole. I recalled an area on
the Web known as Bianca’s Smut Shack. Its creators let you get inside
the head of a virtual woman, let you know what books she read, what
movies she watched, what records she listened to, and you could add your
own opinions. At the time I’d told the Shack crew, “Watch out, folks.
Don’t be surprised if a big company creates characters in an ad where
_everyone_ buys the right products.” Well, it had happened. And MCI and
its advertising agency had done many good things that people with their
resources could more easily accomplish.

Building Notre Dame, thousands of workers had pieced together the stone,
fashioned the gargoyles, assembled the stained-glass windows. And the
MCI Web area, while hardly art, was somewhat like a cathedral. The
area’s masterminds had bungled in some ways, but they had used sheer
staff power to toil over countless details.

I was sorry when Mark Pettit told me that some Real People in Publishing
had hated Gramercy Press. Didn’t they get it? Granted, the publishing
company was stereotypical to the point of being self-satirizing. But so
what? I was no more expecting MCI to be a first-rate publisher than I
was expecting Random House to lay fiber-optic cable.

As a display of the Web’s potential to attract a mass audience, of
course, the Gramercy endeavor had triumphed. For consumer business on
the Net to take off, ads would have to be a complete departure from
those on television, and MCI had done just that—even if it was able to
benefit from characters from the older medium. Many small-timers could
never have discovered an actress as perfectly suited to play Darlene as
Katy Selverstone was. This was a real coup. MCI was brilliantly drawing
in a big crowd through a skillful interplay of television, print, and
the Net.

Selverstone herself had become a living ad for MCI, drawing stare after
stare as she walked down the Manhattan streets. Her Gramercy role was a
real tribute to her acting ability. _Entertainment Weekly_ described her
as not “much of a gadget-head. ‘I’ve got a 12-inch, black-and-white TV
that emits a faint gaseous odor,’ she says. ‘And I have to change
channels with a pair of pliers.’” The word from MCI was that she’d just
bought a computer and would herself be on the Net. Advertisers hired
models today on the basis of looks and I wondered if, in the future,
they would consider the ability to give good chat online.

A major problem, however, arose with this scenario in MCI’s case. While
I hadn’t asked for an interview or e-mail from the real Darlene, I had
yet even to hear from her handlers after six weeks. These people had
wooed me with a first-class Web area and encouraged me to write in, and
yet they had then ignored me except for a little boilerplate from their
Darlene-bot, who said she was busy coping with “emergencies.” The MCI
media crew reinforced my skepticism; only after a series of phone calls
was I able to pry basic information. On a day when Pettit solemnly
promised he’d talked to me, he was off holding a press conference for
the _Wall Street Journal_ and the other usual suspects without alerting
me about the postponement. Clearly this was a big company focused on
other big companies, and I wondered if the small merchants in the Web
area might suffer if they entrusted their fates to MCI. I myself was not
just a writer. I made it clear that I was also a customer of MCI Mail,
an electronic mail service to which I had subscribed for a decade.
Perhaps someday I might even want a Web area through MCI. And this was
the treatment I got?

If MCI slighted me—a writer-customer who spoke out in print and on the
Net, and who had many friends there—how would it treat the Larry Grants
of the future? I thought of the elusive, virtual character who had asked
me to write to her. In a metaphorical sense, small merchants might
futilely spend their days searching for Darlene. Now I wondered about
Bob Lilienfeld. How was he coming along with his own information
request? Was there _any_ chance that White Rabbit might end up in an
electronic mall after all? Lilienfeld, albeit not a mall booster, was in
many ways a good prospect since he was so Net oriented and could
appreciate a good deal. Why, he even owned stock in MCI.

Efficiently, however, MCI had alienated Bob Lilienfeld. Just like me, he
had not heard a peep out of the company, even after filling out a form
for his two months of trial services. He had followed up with three
e-mail notes to an address set aside for prospects like him. I told
MCI’s media people about this mini-debacle and was assured that someone
would contact Lilienfeld. But after several weeks, no one had. MCI was
nicely apologetic, of course. Mark Pettit and colleagues reminded me of
the huge number of people who had replied to the Gramercy Press ad. They
said, too, that MCI technical people were busy at work answering
questions, while creative types handled the correspondence for Darlene.
But they were missing the point. This was a massive advertising
campaign, and they should have planned for success as well as failure.

The issue _should_ not have had anything to do with corporate size. MCI
could have requested zip codes and states and sorted out Darlene’s
e-mail in that way—for area sales reps to answer if her handlers in New
York were swamped. In fact, the form that Lilienfeld filled out did ask
for his postal address. It also inquired, “What interests you?” so that,
during the two-month trial, MCI could mail him news stories through the
new automatic clipping service. “You can choose any topic: your
competition’s advertising, the future of your industry, or southwestern
cooking, anything,” MCI had assured him. And yet, after six weeks, he
hadn’t received a single call or piece of literature.

As if that weren’t enough of an outrage, MCI’s fees might overwhelm many
small business people. MCI wanted to charge some $2,000 a month for
getting them on the World Wide Web—or at least several times what many
independent malls would have billed. Yes, MCI talked about adding value
through its brand name and through customer draws such as directory
services for the Net and for voice. It would even line up copywriters
for the storefronts. But what good would this do merchants whose volumes
simply did not justify such expenditures? Pettit reminded me that a
quarter-page listing in a phone directory cost $2,000. But that wasn’t
true in many areas, and most merchants did not take out that much space
anyway. Even then the typical business person might hire an extra clerk,
and perhaps have money left over for advertising with a smaller
cybermall. That, of course, was projecting into the future. After all,
even Larry Grant wasn’t grossing more than $15,000-20,000 a year at the
time, and the Lilienfelds had a long climb ahead to reach that level.

Perhaps MCI would learn. I still loved the sparkle of the Gramercy
area and hoped that it would thrive in the end. Regardless of my
doubts and frustrations, I hadn’t anything against the people of MCI,
especially Mark Pettit, who, despite his absentmindedness, had
actually been more helpful than the others. MCI wasn’t Canter and
Siegel. It hadn’t disrupted Usenet. As long as it paid its own way and
did not take advantage of its Net connections in ways that stifled
competition—Washington needed to monitor MCI closely—then it could
actually help the average Net user. The greater the volume on the Net,
the greater would be the virtual pipeline and the lower the cost for
everyone. So, far from disliking MCI’s interest in the commercial
promise of the Net, I still saw plenty of potential here. MCI simply
needed to understand the obvious. If its electronic marketplace were
to succeed, then the company must price its services more
realistically and not keep customers searching for Darlene.

Federal Express and Right-O-Way:
Absolutely, Positively on the Net

A FedEx woman called me up and asked what the people in Memphis could do
to retain my business, which had plummeted to almost zero volume.
“You’ve given me great service,” I said, thinking of all the
foot-to-throttle occasions when FedEx had picked up manuscripts on
deadline. “But you see, I’m on the Internet nowadays. _Everything_ for
my current book project goes ever the wire.” I was working on a guide
telling how to lobby for one’s political beliefs online, and the
publisher had even received the book proposal via the Net. Lots of
people were doing the same, not just with the Net but with commercial
services and fax. On legal lists, some lawyers were debating the
validity of electronic mail for business matters, but the new technology
would quiet the discussion soon enough when foolproof, digital
signatures could establish the identity of the sender.

No one needs to weep for FedEx, United Parcel Service, and the rest,
however. The typical computer is a medium-sized box full of parts that
come in much smaller boxes, such as a disk drive or a modem. And, as
shown by the thickness of _Computer Shopper_ and other magazines that
cater to computer users buying from afar, FedEx and similar services are
thriving. That is just one example. High-tech companies, especially the
network kind, want reputations for reliability and fast turnarounds.
They love the FedEx slogan: “When it absolutely, positively, has to be
there overnight.” Courier services are godsends for corporations that
rely on just-in-time delivery to reduce inventories of spare parts. If
nothing else, this principle appeals to manufacturers with slim
inventories. Also, more and more people are working at home. At the same
time, upscale consumer magazines abound with ads touting merchandise via
express, everything from steaks to flowers.

The real question, then, isn’t how to downsize but rather how to cope
with the deluge of business in small packages. And Federal Express views
the Internet as among the more promising of many possibilities.

For years, FedEx used its own network to set up computer links through
which high-volume, Fortune 500 companies could request pickups, track
shipments, and receive invoices. First, FedEx communicated with
mainframes. Then it began supplying some customers with personal
computers; eventually, some companies shipping as few as three packages
a day could qualify. “We started with the biggest customers first and
then extended that service to smaller and smaller companies,” said
Robert Hamilton, a marketer at FedEx dealing with information matters.
The next move was supplying tracking software through which people could
use their own machines to dial up FedEx. Step by step, FedEx was working
to get almost _all_ customers online to its computers—even the operators
of small home businesses.

The Internet could play an important role here because it is the closest
thing to a universal computer network. By the mid-1990s people in the
air freight business caught on to the advantages of the Net over the
proprietary networks in many cases. The Internet reached scores of
countries, no small advantage in an internationally oriented business,
and planners could use the Net’s volume to help slash the costs of
telecommunications _and_ improve service to customers. Right-O-Way, a
freight forwarder in Tustin, California, was among the Net pioneers.
Back in 1992 the company had figured out how to use customers’ personal
computers to print out bar code labels.

With portable radio-frequency scanners linked to the firm’s mainframe,
Right-O-Way’s workers could track shipments for customers—could, in
other words, offer the same services that Ex could. Right-O-Way’s
customers dialed up the company directly rather than through the
Internet. But in 1994, Martin Hubert, vice president of information
systems, hooked Right-O-Way into the Net for customers wanting to use
it. He spent just $1,000 on additional UNIX software, modems, network
setup charges, and programming time, and $350 a month in
Internet-related bills.

“Some customers have tried it already,” Hubert said. “We have sales
people use the Internet to access shipping data. Our advanced overseas
partners can access our computer directly for e-mail, tracking, and
tracing. Customers like BMW, ClothesTime, and Packard Bell access our
computer and save money on long-distance charges from overseas.”[2.7]
Those companies could reach the Right-O-Way computer directly, getting
immediate answers while they were online. Using the Net, they could even
schedule shipments. Right-O-Way told me that it protected account
numbers by requiring customers to use passwords that they received
through sales reps and ways other than the Internet.

What’s more, the company served even customers having only the most
basic of Internet connections. Yes, you could Telnet into the
Right-O-Way computer system on the Internet—could issue commands as if
you were at a keyboard at headquarters. But if you lacked Telnet
capabilities and didn’t mind the delay, you could also send electronic
mail messages in the appropriate format to track shipments or issue
pickup orders.[2.8]

Around the same time, FedEx and other industry giants were gearing up to
do business on the Internet. The Net, of course, wasn’t the only
possibility. Federal Express by then was an old hand at using its own
network, which at the time accounted for more than 50 percent of the
packages shipped. It was also distributing Windows and Mac software to
enable tracking through the FedEx net. Just the same, in December 1994,
after having earlier experimented with the Net for the distribution of
press releases, FedEx turned to the Internet’s World Wide Web as a way
for customers to track packages. Within FedEx’s Web area, they could key
in the number of the package and get the latest information.

I checked out the Web service. At www.fedex.com I saw “FedEx” in big
purple and orange letters, along with a short, easy menu that led me to
electronic forms. A detour offered “Interesting Facts about FedEx!” It
was the “world’s largest express transportation company,” had 1994
revenues of $8.5 billion, employed “more than 505,515 worldwide,” served
191 countries, owned more than 400 aircraft ranging from 32 Fokker F-27s
to 5 Airbuses and 13 McDonnell Douglas MD-11s, operated “more than
32,560 vehicles, and shipped an average of more than 2 million packages
each day.” Another menu item could tell me about pickup availability. If
I typed in the time I would have a shipment ready to go, my zip code,
and the destination code, among other items, then FedEx would tell me
how soon it could deliver the package using Priority Overnight Service
or alternatives.

Right now, however, I wanted to learn the whereabouts of a test
package—containing nothing more than Robert Hamilton’s business
card—that went out under airbill number 50044562. It was a no-brainer. I
chose “Select Track a FedEx Package” and keyed in the number. Almost
immediately I learned when a courier had picked up the package and when
it had left Memphis. And eventually the Web would pass on other facts
such as the name of the driver at the destination, the delivery time,
and who signed for the package. An idea hit me. When you filled out an
express form in the future, perhaps you could give both your recipient’s
e-mail address and your own. Via the Net, a service could tell the other
person that a package was on the way—and after it arrived, you’d
automatically receive a receipt.

Even as the FedEx area existed now, however, it was serving customer
needs well. Yes, I appreciated the flash of MCI’s efforts, and I
understood why Darlene and friends were attracting many more people than
the courier company was right now. But compared to MCI, FedEx left me
feeling _better_. Those modest little electronic forms, the ones that
would let me track packages and check out Ex’s service availability by
location and time, treated the customers as individuals and responded in
seconds. MCI, however, ignored Bob Lilienfeld, who, disgusted, later
sold his stock.

On top of everything else, MCI, which had vastly more programming talent
than FedEx did, had missed out on some major opportunities for
interactive software. I could imagine a small company keying in a
description of its telecommunications and network requirements and
getting a series of at least basic recommendations. On a
package-by-package basis and in the most private of ways, FedEx was
doing this already—since its forms queried you about your shipping needs
of the moment and then told you what services were available. The people
at MCI weren’t dumb. They could turn around their operation in a
flash—they might have done so by the time you read this—but in terms of
customer service FedEx was clearly the winner right now.

“Five years from now,” said Robert Hamilton, “35 or 40 percent of the
customers connected to FedEx could be using the Internet.” His company
stood a good chance of saving millions in annual communications costs
and the expenses of staffing phones. “The big factor is how individuals
are connected today,” he said. “With CompuServe and America Online
galloping in the direction of the Internet, maybe that will happen
sooner rather than later.” FedEx would let customer usage, not official
corporate policy, drive its use of the Net, and that is exactly how it
should be. One way or another the Net would definitely figure in its
plans. The only question was, “How much?”

The big need now, of course, was for customers to be able to key in
their account numbers and get immediate pickups. FedEx did face some
challenges here. FedEx needed to blend the Internet into its existing
network of computers, and this complicated the security issues. FedEx
wanted to make certain that a cyberthief couldn’t go on a joyride with
an illegally obtained account number of a customer. So it was evaluating
security-enhanced software from CommerceNet, a California organization
that helped put businesses on the Net. Meanwhile, we customers could not
use the Net to schedule shipments through Federal Express. FedEx had
offered a temporary solution: we could at least download software that
let us call up the company directly, or we could reach FedEx via America
Online or another commercial network. That would do for the moment.

Mulling over what I’d seen and heard up to now, I could not escape three
conclusions. First, it was clear that computer networks could be a help,
not a threat, to delivery companies that were trying to upgrade service.
No longer would I have to wait for an operator to schedule a pickup or
check on shipments from FedEx. The second conclusion was broader: The
Net often could be good for corporations of _all_ sizes, not just
Fortune 500 firms like FedEx. Right-O-Way had staked out its own place
in cyberspace by going for the simplest solution—Telnet and electronic
mail—rather than worrying first about the World Wide Web. The company
could add the Web later. On the Internet, with its inherent economies
for the Right-O-Ways of this world, “smaller” didn’t have to mean

The third conclusion about these case histories resulted from my
comparisons of MCI and the courier companies, and it transcended the
fact that they were in different industries. Even on the Internet, good
customer service would have to be a company’s first priority and counted
even more than the technology per se. Oh, you could use electronic
forms. But unless you programmed the forms to provide the right
services—rather than simply trying to sell The Product and awe the
customers—you might actually alienate the people you were trying to
befriend. MCI didn’t understand this sufficiently. FedEx and Right-O-Way

Intel: How the Net Helped Turn an
Advertising Sticker into a Warning Label

The Internet, of course, can hurt as well as help business. Well
populated with skeptical academics—whose postings often find their way
onto the screens of equally skeptical journalists—the Net is a good
place to learn about scams. Legitimate companies, of course, needn’t
worry: They will benefit as word of their successful products spreads,
and the Net excels as a conduit for rumor control. Should there ever be
another Tylenol scare, you can bet that publicists will use the Net to
get the truth out. Even legitimate businesses, however, can feel the
wrath of the Net if they err—as Intel, the chip maker, found out in the
ugliest of ways after it released the Pentium chip.

The Pentium chip was the new flagship product, the speedster that would
let PCs impinge on minicomputer territory. But that wasn’t all. Intel
envisioned the Pentium as the perfect chip for computers aimed at the
home market. No longer would Mom, Pop, and The Kids poke along with
computers weaker than those at the office. Thanks to Intel, they would
enjoy glitzy cartoons, educational programs, and other multimedia
offerings in full glory on their machines at home. Intel launched a
major TV campaign and persuaded scores of computer makers to adorn their
boxes and ads with “Intel Inside” stickers. Intel was looking ahead to
millions of dollars of Christmas-related sales. At the time, I suspect,
the Internet didn’t figure that prominently in Intel’s plans. Its Net
area was hardly as dazzling or as ambitious as those of many other
companies. That would change.

The trouble started when a mathematics professor in Virginia found that
under certain conditions, the Pentium chip would make mistakes in
arithmetic. There at Lynchburg College, Dr. Thomas Nicely couldn’t
believe his screen. To his amazement, he was able to verify that the
chip, not the human, was at fault here. In October 1994 the professor’s
“Bug in the Pentium” memo went out over the Internet. It circulated
rapidly from mailing list to mailing list, from newsgroup to newsgroup,
as well as on commercial nets such as CompuServe and Prodigy.

Pentium-hostile messages flew back and forth between scientists,
corporate executives, consultants, and other influential people, who,
thanks to the Internet, could share complaints more efficiently than
ever. Intel tried some damage control via the Net and in press
statements. The heat reached the point where the head of Intel asked a
underling to issue an apology and a technical explanation. The message
betrayed corporate panic, pure and simple. “I am posting from my home
system,” Richard Wirt, Director of Software Technology, prefaced a
weekend note. And then came an “I am truly sorry” message from Andy
Grove, President of Intel. In various statements Intel assured customers
that the average computer user would typically run across the problem
once every 27,000 years. The official line was that nontechnical people
needn’t worry. Intel announced it would replace chips _if_ people could
show that the defect could harm their work.

That still didn’t placate the Net and the media. Netwise reporters at
papers such as the _Washington Post_ and _New York Times_ and at
_Newsday_ warned the thousands of Christmas shoppers who were about to
buy $2,000 Pentium machines. Billions of dollars were at stake here.
Computer makers had already moved millions of Pentium machines, and IBM
came out with a statement saying that it would replace defective
chips—even though Intel kept claiming that the nontechnical need not
worry. It didn’t help when shoppers learned that Intel knew about the
Pentium’s defects as early as June.

What most threatened the Pentium, however, may have been the humor. It
started on the Net and, via mailing lists such as On-Line News, reached
major newspapers. David Letterman started cracking jokes. Politicians
and chips had something in common. If still quite alive when Letterman
ridiculed it, the Pentium was headed toward the emergency room
afterward—given the speed with which the story was traveling around. On
the Net itself, and on the front pages, typical Pentium humor went
something like this:

    Q. “How many Pentium designers does it take to screw in a light

    A. “1.99904274017, but that’s close enough for nontechnical people.”

    Q. “What do you get when you cross a Pentium PC with a research

    A. “A mad scientist.”

    Q. “What’s another name for the “Intel Inside” sticker they put on

    A. “The warning label.”

Maintaining to the end that this was more of a marketing problem than a
technical one, Intel relented. It agreed to replace chips for free
without interrogating the public. What’s more, Intel expanded its
presence on the Net. It now offered a nice area on the World Wide Web
with items ranging from product descriptions to job announcements.
Still, this fiasco aside, Intel had a good reputation for quality
control, and by not shrinking from the Net community, it was responding

Another major lesson should also have sunk in among marketers of all
kinds—beyond the obvious fact that the Internet could spread news of
flawed products. Customers throughout the world could use the same
channels to find out about geographically based price gouges. If a
software firm charged reasonable prices in the United States but boosted
price tags for Europeans, then the Net would spread the word. Software
companies might not appreciate this immediately, but sooner or later
they would. This was especially true of companies sending their products
over the Net. The Internet Adapter, the product that had proven to be so
good to my wallet, would have cost me $25 even if I’d lived in
Antarctica or New Zealand. I wondered how long it would be before the
traditional vendors of shrink-wrapped software would understand this
lesson and stop squeezing customers outside the United States. Even with
the expenses of middle people and translation factored in, the prices of
some American software products were too high in Europe. Consumerism on
the Net just might make the marketplace more sane.

Other Hazards For Business People

Not surprisingly, the old sixties people saw the Internet as a victory
of smallness over big corporations. Little companies could use the Net
in new and imaginative ways and woo prospects thousands of miles away.
Some enthusiasts promoted the Net as a powerful weapon for individuals
who hated life in sluggish, bloated corporations.

Still, the Net might not always be a Nirvana for small entrepreneurs.
Consider the Lilienfelds. What if toy companies decided to sell on the
Net directly, for example? The Lilienfelds themselves could still fare
well since they were working hard to become known for personal service.
For example, if a toy weren’t shown online, Bob might even scan in a
photo from a wholesaler’s catalogue and e-mail it to an interested
buyer. And he and his wife were planning to make themselves a
conspicuous presence in relevant newsgroups, while respecting
netiquette. But not all of the small merchants would be as astute and
dedicated. I suspected that many bankruptcies lay ahead.

Other problems might hit large as well as tiny companies. Many customers
refused to give their credit card numbers online; in fact, many stores
didn’t even _want_ them. The Net wasn’t entirely secure. Theoretically,
snoops in a number of locations could intercept orders and pick up the
MasterCard or VISA numbers with software that looked for common data
associated with credit cards. I regarded this as a temporary problem.
Lilienfeld had dealt with it nicely by letting people—at least those in
the United States—phone in their credit card numbers for free. The
numbers would remain safe in White Rabbit’s computers, ready for future
transactions. Besides, as Lilienfeld pointed out, it wasn’t worth the
trouble for thieves to keep a tab on small stores like his.

Bigger businesses, however, were right to worry, and solutions were on
the way. Popular browsers such as Netscape, for example, were coming
with security features. Customers would be able to effortlessly transmit
their credit card numbers in encoded form.

What about the problem of customers without sufficient funds to pay for
merchandise? Some Web merchants could almost instantly verify that a
customer had enough money in a credit account. The process would be even
easier if companies such as Microsoft followed through with plans to
team up with credit card companies. But that still left another worry
for customers—privacy.

If you use old-fashioned paper money, your transactions aren’t
traceable. With electronic money—or with regular credit or conventional
debit cards—they might be. What if you were a gay woman, lived in a
small Arkansas town, and enjoyed lesbian literature? Or suppose that in
the future you were caught up in a divorce and your wife employed a
cyberdetective to snoop on your spending habits? DigiCash, a company in
Amsterdam, thought it had a solution in the form of anonymous electronic
money that you could spend without being traced. Only your digital
banker would know for sure. The possibility, of course, gave fits to tax
collectors throughout the world. It was one of the reasons why
bureaucrats in the United States had lobbied so hard for industry to
adopt the Clipper chip, which allowed federal snoops to break its codes.
Clearly, however, the Clipper effort could _harm_ U.S. companies.
Suppose foreign governments used a similar approach—making it easier to
steal commercial secrets from American-owned multinationals?

Still another threat to business is from people who might spy on or
change data on corporate systems. Hackers got into General Electric
computers containing secrets. The solution to these electronic thefts,
in many cases, was stronger “firewalls”—electronic gateways between
public and private areas. In some instances, however, the threat was
exaggerated. Yes, in theory, hackers could turn your home phone into a
pay phone or make off with your corporate password or spy on your
electronic mail. And some hated commercial activities on the Net and
were ready to act. But by far, these were exceptions: most of the better
hackers were benign—they saw themselves more as scholars than as snoops
and saboteurs. Indeed, old-timers would not use the word “hackers” to
describe the malevolent; no, they were “crackers.”

Ironically, on the Net, the real worry isn’t hackers but snoopy
competitors, who, without necessarily breaking the law, can find out
information about prices and new products much more efficiently than
before. A rival phone company has paid thousands and thousands of visits
to the MCI area on the Web. This must be going on constantly. Earlier,
Digital Equipment Corporation offered software demonstrations over the
Net and found that its competitors were tying the machines up. More
scrupulously, companies could use powerful searching tools such as the
Lycos on the Web to seek out files mentioning rivals’ products. They
could also send the names of rivals to a computer at Stanford
University. And then whenever a company was mentioned in a major Usenet
newsgroup, an electronic clipping service would send the information
back to them at no charge. A careless engineer or marketer could
jeopardize thousands or millions in investments. The answer, of course,
is to educate people about the risks.

Not so controllable is the risk of companies using the Net to troll for
unfavorable mentions of rivals—grist for negative advertising. There is
only one solution: make better products or give better service.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Of the goods and services discussed here, a major kind is conspicuously
missing so far: entertainment. Some of the best is free. Just ahead
you’ll find a favorite of many Netfolks—the Internet Underground Music
Archive, from which you can download free samples from top hits as well
as surprises from new musicians.


    EntertaiNet: A Few
    Musings on Net.Rock,
    Leonardo da Vinci and
    Bill Gates, Bianca’s
    Smut Shack, and
    David Letterman
    in Cyberspace

Don’t count on the Ugly Mugs pushing Billy Joel off the charts, or even
showing up at your closest record store.

They’re zany, avant-garde musicians whose work is a cross between Frank
Zappa and freakish, carnival rock—not the stuff of the Top 40. But Jeff
Patterson, a thin, pale guitarist with a fondness for old jeans and
green-topped sneakers, can still spread the word about himself and the
other Mugs. Their music is on the Internet. Fans as far off as Turkey
and Japan can dial the Internet Underground Music Archive run by
Patterson and his “co-czar,” Rob Lord. Hundreds of musicians are
suddenly in cyberspace. For just $100 a year they can pay IUMA to post
cuts from their music, complete with information on how you can send
away for the CDs and tapes. In fact, some have even posted complete
songs to the Net for free.

Tens of thousands of Netfolk a week dial up IUMA, making 200,000
page-accesses—perhaps a third of the attention that _Playboy_ gets, but
still one of the best numbers on the Web. That’s no small feat: The
archive more or less started in a tiny room with a bare lightbulb
dangling from the ceiling, and it is still a low-budget operation run by
two information science majors.

IUMA is just one of many delights on the Net for techies and
technophobes alike. Entertainment and culture are taking off in a major
way in cyberspace just when clueless Snubbites are deriding the Net as
artless. I can enjoy gifted but unheralded performers, from reggae
artists to banjo players. The New Zealand Symphony is online with a
digitized rendition of the national anthem down there. Imagine the
possibilities for fans of classical music in the future—the chances to
hear live performances of Tchaikovsky directly from Moscow, or enjoy
classical Chinese music from Peking or Taipei. Net.radio is already
here. WYXC, for example, a station at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, sends rock music into the ether twenty-four hours a day.

Running software called RealAudio, owners of deluxe home computers can
hear top-ten rap from an Internet site in South Korea, astrological
forecasts from England, and selected programs from ABC News, National
Public Radio, the C-SPAN cable network, the radio version of the
_Christian Science Monitor_, the National Press Club, the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation, and a wealth of other draws whenever they
want—even weeks or months after the original broadcasts.

Just a mouse click on the right Web address conjures up a Daniel Schorr
commentary, or a feature about the Illinois reporter whom the mob
supposedly buried in concrete, or scads of other NPR offerings that I
wish I could have enjoyed when they first aired. I don’t have to bother
with tricky downloads of files containing the sound. This happens on its

RealAudio sounds rather muffled right now, at least on my computer, as
if the technology is a throwback to 1920s radio. But sooner or later it
will make FM stereo seem antediluvian.

Consider, too, the diversity of programming from grassroots people who
can broadcast at a fraction of the costs of even peanut-whistle
stations. Thousands of mom-and-pop sites—unencumbered by the Federal
Communications Commission, unless the nanny faction wins out in D.C. and
cracks down on the Net—may be online in the next year or two. What
happens when unpopular political beliefs spread around this way? Will
the Oklahoma City tragedy be invoked to squelch RealAudio and

Cheerier possibilities may arise. Someday you might go hiking in the
middle of the Rockies and be able to tune in performances and talk shows
from all over the world through a net.satellite link; never mind the
limits of the local radio stations.

Even video transmission will be routine over the Net or a successor. And
then what? When Michael Moriarty, a TV actor, appeared in a public Q & A
session on Prodigy, the possibilities made him wonder if network
television would go the way of vinyl records. “Television,” he told the
_New York Times_, “might become the 33-1/3 of the visual arts.”

For the moment, however, the Net is Fan Central for television along
with other media. David Letterman fans and those of Jay Leno debate the
merits of their favorite talk show hosts, while major movie studios
preview their megahits with video clips. Elvis is alive and well in an
area on the Web. And just when we Netfolks are ridiculing the TV moguls’
dream of 500 channels of _Terminator_ movies, Hollywood has used our Net
to ballyhoo _Junior_—a comedy starring the Terminator himself, Arnold
Schwarzenegger. As if that isn’t enough, Hollywood has just released
_The Net_, a thriller with some evil techies; let’s see what the
marketers will post on the Web to push _that_ one. Lower on the show
business hierarchy, you can find model Danielle Ash replying to
questions, in alt.sex.breasts, about her double Fs.

Netfolks with more elevated tastes can dial up the WebMuseum, Paris, or
check out the works of new digital artists from Boston or New York or
dozens of other big cities. Obviously the Net isn’t the same as
beholding a Rembrandt in Holland and gazing into the face of a local man
or woman a few feet away. That’s screamingly clear. Stoll, the near
Snubbite, correctly notes that “Rembrandt painted real people—their
facial features and mannerisms live on today in the Dutch population.
Dressed in period costumes, I’ll bet the security guard with his war
medals and the young woman tour guide would look as if they stepped out
of one of those incredibly detailed paintings.” Moving and true.
Imagine, however, the benefits of the WebMuseum to people without the
Snubbites’ ability to jet to Amsterdam or Paris. What’s more, the Web
brings its own glories to compensate; I can view Artist X’s work, then
call up text about the person or the times; if anything the Web can
provide _more_ context than do the skimpy handouts available at most

Caviling away, Stoll also objects that computers can’t reproduce the art
exactly. But colors and resolution will just keep improving. The
Snubbites who rant about lost details remind me of the foes of
electronic books; incorrectly, given the ease of digitizing everything,
the foes worry that new technology could kill off distinctive
type-faces. But we shouldn’t preserve art and literature just by
attending to the detail work. Culture also needs a place in the public
mind; da Vinci-class art should be free, or close to it, by way of the
Net. That is surely the ethos of Nicholas Pioch. An ex-Microsoft intern
now studying economics in his native France, he is behind the WebMuseum,
Paris, the new name it bears, now that bureaucrats won’t let him say,
“Le WebLouvre.”

Within Le WebLouvre—there, I’ll say it anyway—I saw such da Vincis as
_Mona Lisa_ and _Virgin and Child with the Infant John the Baptist and
St. Anne_. I went on to look at Rembrandts, van Goghs, Cezannes, Dalis,
Klees, and Manets, among others, and to read two warnings. “If you think
the law prevents you from viewing these exhibits, you should stop now
and do something more interesting, such as flying to Paris and touring
live!” Pioch wrote. “Some companies may be trying to get a monopolistic
grab on arts and culture,” he said elsewhere, “developing a pay-per-view
logic, shipping out CD-ROMs while trying to patent stuff which belongs
to each of us: a part of _our_ human civilization and history.”

How right Pioch was. Bill Gates has just bought a notebook of Leonardo
da Vinci, and let’s hope that like some of the old robber barons, Gates
will habitually share his acquisitions with the world. But a major
difference shows up here. Andrew Carnegie and the rest did not make
their money off art and entertainment, part of Gates’ master plan. For
Bill Gates to give away great paintings and manuscripts will be like
Carnegie giving away steel. His motives may be the most ethereal, and
with a $10-billion net worth, he can afford many a donation; but a
conflict will forever arise between Gates the businessman and Gates the
philanthropist. Just which side will prevail when he dies? If not in
life, then in death, by way of his lawyers, will he have the decency to
turn _all_ his old masters loose on the Net for free viewing? No
judgments here. Perhaps that day will come. He has already agreed to
loan the notebook to a museum.

Old masters, of course, are far from the only Culture on the Net, and I
doubt that Bill Gates will be interested in buying some of the other
kind—especially Bianca’s Smut Shack. Don’t ask me if Bianca exists. The
Shack’s “trolls” swear that she does. If so, maybe a good many Netfolks
know her at least slightly. They can click on a picture to flit from
room to room of her virtual apartment on the Web, leave notes on the
walls of her virtual bathroom, enter her virtual music room to take in
the latest jazz or rock, or engage virtually in sex acts with strangers
in Argentina or Brazil or San Francisco or wherever else hormones fuel

Bianca’s proud trolls have not sold out their mascot; the virtual Bianca
lives on the Web for fun, not direct money making. But sooner or later,
elsewhere on the Net, if this has not happened already, an ad agency
will create a fictitious character who buys CDs, foods, books, video
tapes, automobiles, and other products only from hidden “sponsors”—not
open, MCI-style ones (as described in chapter 2). I’ll hope that day is
far off. The FCC has had problems enough regulating children’s TV;
imagine what could happen if supposedly educational areas knuckled under
to Madison Avenue. I’m not sure if laws are the solution here, but it
would behoove Net providers to come up _now_ with rules against that
sort of thing.

In the fun areas of the Net, other dangers lurk for the vulnerable.
Millions of Netfolks enjoy role-playing in imaginary worlds known as
Multi-User Dungeons, where they can be knights or damsels, regardless of
gender—sometimes men assume women’s roles to win more attention. At the
risk of sounding like Stoll and the Snubbites, I have mixed feelings
about the worth of MUD-style diversions.

A real potential exists for cocaine-heavy addiction—far more than just
regular Netsurfing, where you’re not competing to rescue a fair maiden
or dodge alien attacks. Stories circulate of role-players who have
kissed off good grades and careers. Up in Canada, one player got so
wrapped up in his game that my researcher found him amid wall-to-wall
trash as he struggled to balance his schoolwork and role-playing.

Just like online groups for depressed people, however, MUDs and similar
areas can bring shy Netfolks together face to face. I heard of several
romances, in fact, that the games led to. Risks notwithstanding, games
do more good than harm if players just know when to quit. Like it or
not, among millions of Netfolks, MUDs and cousins are as much a part of
the Internet as the Web and @ signs.

Of all the entertainment on the Net, however, the musical and video
kinds could most intrigue the masses as the technology takes off; with
just a modem, a reasonably powerful computer, and a $100 sound card, you
can hear the offerings of IUMA and similar areas. You don’t even need
programs such as Mosaic or Netscape if you know what you’re doing.
People with cheapie dial-up connections and no frills software can
download rock albums and the rest. Granted, the technology as a whole
could be better, and even using IUMA can tax the wallets and patience of
some. In most cases you’ll spend more time downloading the music—from a
remote machine to your own—than you will hearing it. Fidelity on some
setups may be just this side of a tin can. But that’s now. Wait.

Transmissions in the future will zip along through cable TV connections
to the Internet, or through ISDN[3.1] phone connections. Then you’ll
truly be able to use the Net as a jukebox and _hear_ what you click on
with your mouse. What’s more, even now, with the right software, you can
enjoy almost CD-ROM-quality fidelity from areas such as IUMA. Audio was
the next step up after text, of course, and, yes, video is on the way.
Techies already have mounted gigabyte after gigabyte of amateur videos
on the Net. Sooner or later, directors of little films will enjoy a
monster-sized IUMA-style archive. Perhaps Rob Lord and Jeff Patterson,
those co-czars of IUMA, will run _it_, too.

If you think that the $10-billion-a-year recording industry is a little
nervous, you’re right. In early 1994 Lord told the _San Jose Mercury
News_: “We want to kill the record companies.” He and Patterson have
backed off since then; they’ve even helped Warner and other giants set
up Net areas of their own. IUMA’s own 500-act selection is pathetic
compared to those at the largest record stores. Still, think about the
long run: The IUMA model just might jeopardize the seven-digit salaries
of top recording executives. After all, if the Net can advertise music
and even be used to take orders—perhaps with electronic forms—just what
becomes of the big studios? They themselves will sell music directly
over the Net, but with heavy competition.

The bypass-the-middle-man idea could apply in other ways. What about
radio hosts, for example? Suppose they can reach people all over the
world through the Internet, and perhaps ultimately through wireless
connections based on the Net. Will they need CBS or NBC or ABC or
equivalents as much as they do now? I can already download snippets
from, say, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Too, just what will be
the fate of art dealers if so much of art goes digital and people can
discover artists on their own without leaving their living rooms?
Publishers of newspapers, magazines, and books, of course, are in a
quandary—see the next chapter on electronic publishing.

In some ways I don’t envy the big guys. IUMA is clearly wired into the
Internet, while companies such as CBS, at least at this point, are
fumbling in some respects. Many of the amateurs on the Net are actually
coming up with better offerings than are the professionals. When I
dropped by, the official Letterman page on the WWW was far from an
abomination, and yet at the same time it showed the problems here.

The page indeed was full of odds and ends about how to get _Late Show_
tickets, Letterman’s upcoming guests, his top-ten lists (the one for the
April 13th broadcast was on “Ways CBS Can Raise Money,” with number one
being “A two-hour paycheck freeze on Letterman”), and the rest. But
where were the connections with the rest of the Net, especially the many
Letterman fans out there? How about the fans’ Letterman pages? Or
relevant mailing lists or newsgroups? Perhaps they were there but
hidden, but whatever the case the cyberspace Letterman was less hip than
the one on The Box.

To Letterman’s credit, he didn’t fake things. He publicly confessed he
was ignorant of data ways. But in my opinion, his Web people could have
done better.

Moving on to the CBS home page, I saw an offer for me to “Join the EYE
ON THE NET club. That way we can send you more information about CBS and
its programs. You can also take part in special previews and other
interactive events. Fill out the following registration form and we’ll
give you a special CBS screen saver just for joining.” Oh, boy, that was
just why I was on the Internet—to end up on marketers’ lists. I didn’t
blame CBS for trying; some of Letterman’s fans would like the free
software. But surely the network could have done better.

Aaron Barnhart, who put out a good little electronic fan newsletter
called _Late Show News_, defended Dave’s people on the Net. “I think
it’s great,” he said of the official Letterman area. “All of these large
entities are trying their best to integrate with the interactive age. A
lot of e-mail gets passed that you never see, so don’t assume that just
because there aren’t any bulletin boards ... there is no interaction

Perhaps he was being kind to his sources for his newsletter—I hadn’t any
idea. What was clear was that he’d made a second career of Lettermandom.
He devoted twenty to thirty hours a week to Letterman-related
activities. Much of his newsletter was a review of reviews (“Frank Rich
of the _New York Times_ wrote one of his standard pitiless columns last
week on the Oscars broadcast, and we quote, ‘in which the belly-flopping
David Letterman demonstrated just how large a bullet he dodged by not
moving his own show to L.A.’”). Barnhart also served as owner of the Top
10 List (“60,000 subscribers and booming”).

So what was Barnhart in it for? He was freelancing for the _Village
Voice_, and I could see where some attention might do any writer’s
career good, but if Barnhart even wanted to be on _The Late Show_
itself, he did a pretty good job of concealing that. “Attention is
great,” he said, “but it doesn’t pay the rent.” Did he send stuff into
the show? “No.” So why was Letterman so popular on the Net?
“Demographics.” Well-off computer owners just liked that kind of

I checked out the Letterman page maintained by Jason A. Lindquist, an
electronic engineering student at the University of Illinois,
Champaign-Urbana, a self-described “Statistician, Smart-Ass-for-Hire,
and Mac Programmer.” I found references to newsgroup postings on such
items as “Dave instigates the feud with Bryant Gumbel with these words,”
“The great Stevie Nicks controversy of 1986,” “Madonna—Your first choice
to date your son,” and “No inside stuff on the strong guy or the fat guy
here.” And I saw mentions of the newsletter, the Frequently Asked
Questions List, and at least two Letterman-related newsgroups. CBS ought
to hire this guy.

It was time to move on to alt.fans.letterman. I did a search within
Netscape for the word “Leno” in the subject header and found a post from
an apparent Leno fan on the attack: “Everyone knows that Jay Leno is way
better than ugly gap-tooth Dave!”

“Oh,” replied one of the faithful, “you say that Jay Leno is still on
the air? Is it true that they use a wide-angle lens to photograph that
lantern jaw of his? Just wondering.”

“Letterman has more comedy in his little pinkie toe than Leno will have
in his wildest dreams,” said another Davite, “and if Letterman is so
ugly, who has all the models and top actresses flirting with him and
asking him to go out—it certainly isn’t Leno.”

_That_, not the official Letterman area, was the true Net. Just what
might await the world if the inmates actually ran the asylum and
themselves mounted a major entertainment effort rather than trusting the
corporate world. It had happened with the Internet Underground Music
Archives, and I liked the results.


The normal story is that IUMA began when Rob Lord and Jeff Patterson,
the co-czars, met in a newsgroup devoted to supermodels. Both liked Kate
Moss, a waify Calvin Klein woman; strutting down the runways, she was
lost amid the big, bosomy knockouts favored by so many young men on the
Net. It turned out that Lord and Patterson were both from Valencia,
California, a far-north suburb of Los Angeles. They knew each other
slightly from William Hart High School, both had worked in record stores
while teenagers, and both had both been attending the University of
California at Santa Cruz. That’s the story, and it’s true.

IUMA, however, in another way, may have started not on the Net but in
the corporeal United Kingdom.

Thousand and thousands of Brits were dancing to synthesized _bleeps_,
_conks_, _cooonkks_, _clunks_, _bomb-bombs_ and _tssss-tsss-tssses_, and
odds and ends that I could never even come close to reproducing here.
The name of the music was Rave, as in “raving mad,” and by the time Lord
was in high school in the 1980s, the craze had found its way to Los

Middle-class white suburbanites, Latinos, Blacks, they were all
_bleep_ing and _conk_ing together, thousands of them, risking the wrath
of the fire department, overcrowding the halls, going at it from 11 P.M.
on, some dancing twelve hours on into the morning.

“No place in Los Angeles,” Lord said of the Rave halls, “had such a
peaceful coexistence as between these three groups. They didn’t say
anything. They shared the beats and feelings and the technology. And on
the Rave scene, the person in charge is the DJ, and they’re sort of the
cultural funnel. The DJs were in charge of finding these odd records
that would come from Belgium and from the UK and from Chicago, and there
were some made-in-Los Angeles things. They were hard to find, but the
DJs were responsible for scouting them out and bringing the very latest
_bleeps_ and _conks_ together.”

“So,” I asked, thinking of IUMA and Lord’s chance to bring the world to
his listeners, “you liken yourself to those DJs?”

“Yeah, yeah!” Lord said enthusiastically. “I believe IUMA is my personal
implementation of Rave’s calling. I just love working with technology
and all those kinds of things, and what Rave culture espoused was that
there’s a new revolution going on, an information revolution. You know,
one of the biggest stars of Rave music was a band called Dee-Lite. And
one of the first lines was, ‘From New York City in the age of
communication.’ And that means all kinds of communications, a shrinking
world, Internet, it means ideas and the convergence of ideas.”

Returning to the subject of his younger days, Rob Lord told me how
much he hated the Depeche Mode music that was so popular in
upper-middle-class neighborhoods like his—the kind the record stores
were selling. He wanted his music from the clubs, from the 100-copy
pressing, not from the megaconglomerates offering the likes of
Depeche. “The lyrics were terrible, and the emotions were feigned.”
I’m sure Depeche fans might disagree. The point, however, was that
Depeche music was much more readily available at record stores than
Rave was, and Rob grew unhappy with the distribution system.

Jeff Patterson, working at a music store, just like Rob Lord, was
equally disgusted. Patterson and co-workers “would sit there and talk
about who’s making all the money.” CDs cost $15-$17 at Music Plus, his
employer. Elsewhere they were around $12-$13. “And you know, we were
thinking like, ‘Where is that extra $4 being pocketed?’ You know, after
all the costs were taken out, then their manager would get paid, the
record company would get paid, people on the tour would get paid, and
then the band would finally get some money after all that, and it was
usually a very small check. So the artists that were actually continuing
to be artists were the artists that were making money; so it was, like,
this level of superstardom that was consistent and the barriers of entry
were extremely high.”

That was true in all kinds of creative endeavors, especially in writing.
I myself was amused when lobbyists representing industries such as music
and publishing would rant on and on about the need for “creative
incentives.” If business people at the megaconglomerates really
understood incentives, they would cut out their caviar, sell off the
executive jets, and spend more than a modicum on garden-variety
artists—not just the Mailers and Madonnas. When, even as a teenager,
Jeff Patterson started asking where the money was going, he was laying
some of the more important underpinnings for IUMA.

An “A” student who would later graduate near the top of his class,
Patterson wrote a school paper on another major issue: censorship. Back
in the 1980s, Tipper Gore, Al’s wife, had helped start a group called
the Parents Music Resource Center, which wanted to rate music and keep
the more nefarious offerings out of the hands and CD players of young
people. “I was a big fan of Frank Zappa and he was basically taking it
upon himself to challenge the PMRC.” The Senate held hearings. And
Patterson recalled that PMRC deemed a Zappa recording, “Jazz from Hell,”
to be sinful. The album lacked lyrics and the cover just showed Zappa’s
face. “It was obvious,” Patterson said of Tipper’s group, “that they
weren’t actually listening to the content or caring what it was. They
just kind of labeled some artists as being bad, and therefore were
trying to prevent stores from selling many albums.” I asked if that made
Patterson think later on, “Let’s go on the Net so we don’t have those
bozos to worry about.” “Yeah, yeah. That actually had a big part in it.”

From the start, it was clear that Patterson’s own music wouldn’t exactly
please the conventional. In high school he played guitar in speed metal
bands, which are “usually a lot faster, a lot more angry sounding” than
heavy metal. When the Ugly Mugs found each other at William Hart High,
Patterson rejoiced in his friends’ weirdness. The style in this case was
Dada, a form of random art.

“Who cared if anyone liked listening to it,” Patterson said. “We just
wanted to play it. We were using mainly guitar and keyboards and bass.
However, we wouldn’t always play them in the normal standard ways. Like,
we’d use guitar for percussion or something, and we had also used a
vacuum cleaner and things like that. A lot of times we just recorded
sounds of things that were just laying around.” Their big gig was at an
interpretative dancing class at a community college where teacher and
students loved Dada-style mime.

The Ugly Mugs was a life, not just a band. Except for an Egyptian
guitarist, whose hair stubbornly kept turning into an Afro when he let
it grow, all the Mugs sported long locks. In a dark, ratty,
poster-ridden room, they would talk politics and philosophy, standard
teenage fashion.

Lord ended up at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and
Patterson himself went on to the University of California at Berkeley,
where he studied computers, his fallback field. He had made music on
them in high school, and, in fact, at Berkeley. “I started changing my
major to be a combination of music and computers. Two years into it I
really got frustrated with the high pressure and decided to transfer to
U.C. Santa Cruz. It’s right on the beach, a laid-back community.
Everyone drives, like, five miles under the speed limit.” Beyond that,
members of the Ugly Mugs had moved there, and in Patterson’s opinion,
the school itself was “really great.”

David Huffman taught there. In a certain niche of computerdom, Huffman
was famous as the creator of Huffman coding, a compression routine that
software products such as Stacker use to double the space available on
hard drives. Music isn’t exactly a low-bandwidth use of the Net.
Compression routines of one kind or another are de rigueur for the
transmission of high-quality sound—not just because of the space that
the material requires, but also because big files take longer to

At the time Patterson moved to Santa Cruz, he wasn’t using Hoffman
compression on the Net or posting CD-quality sound from hundreds of
musicians through an IUMA-style operation. But like other techies, he
was posting files in the synthesized MIDI format. “The stuff I put up
there, it sounded like a bad Casio keyboard playing our songs. It really
wasn’t very representative at all. I’d just sit there at my computer,
compose ’em on the computer, and upload ’em on the Net. I posted them to
a couple of news groups, like alt.binaries.sound and things like that
and basically got no response at all.”

Jeff Patterson was reading the supermodel newsgroup when he saw a
posting from Rob Lord in favor of Kate Moss, the model that so many of
the regulars considered too bony. Patterson replied. “We were both huge
Kate Moss fans.” Lord sent him some e-mail talking about how Kate Moss
should be the “queen of supermodels.” People on the Net have a custom of
leaving “signatures” at the bottom of messages—places where they may
post their address or phone number, or an I-don’t-speak-for-IBM
disclaimer, or quote somebody to support them or deride them—and
Patterson took quick notice of Lord’s “.sig.” It alluded to “MPEG Audio
Compression, 16 to 1 CD Quality.”

“And,” Patterson recalled, “I was like, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ So I
e-mailed him back talking about getting together some Moss pictures, and
in passing I asked him about MPEG compression.” MPEG stood for Motion
Picture Expert Group—engineers who set standards for audio and video
compression. Growing curious, Patterson downloaded software so he could
play MPEG through his sound card. The results delighted him, and he
spread the news to the other Ugly Mugs. Hey, guys, Patterson said in
effect, what if we put our music on the Internet? “They thought it was a
pretty good idea. So we decided to chip in together and go ahead and buy
the software that we needed to compress MPEG files, because you could
get that player for free, but the compressor cost $100. Rob came over to
my house, and I told him we were putting our band on the Net, and he was
all excited about the whole idea of creating this archive of bands on
the Net.“ But of course! Rave-think could reach cyberspace.

Something was evident here, something obvious to me, but perhaps not to
all the bluenoses and prudish, power-fixated bureaucrats. Patterson and
Lord were proving the old wisdom that hormones could drive technology on
the Net, or at least the applied variety.

The wizardry of MPEG would be useless if people didn’t use it. And it
took a meeting of Patterson and Lord in the supermodel group—not one
devoted to Bible study, or to paeans to Bill Clinton or Al Gore, or to
the mandarins of Singapore—for IUMA to give MPEG one of its biggest
boosts on the Net. Why, horror of horrors, Patterson and Lord just may
have wanted to scan and swap _copyrighted_ photos of Kate Moss. One way
or another MPEG would become important on the Net, but thanks to people
like these two, it was happening far faster than it would have
otherwise. Technology was at odds with the vested interests of record
companies, and they knew it.

At around the same time IUMA was getting under way in fall 1993,
lobbyists for the companies and performing artists were fighting for
laws that could lead to onerous pay-per-listen schemes—while publishers
were trying to lay the basis for pay-per-read. Indeed, business people
and creators should receive fair compensation, especially the creators;
but in the zeal to protect major political contributors from the
entertainment industry, bureaucrats and lawyers could imperil technology
in the most lethal of ways. Bruce Lehman, Bill Clinton’s intellectual
property czar, would prove it later with a stunningly oppressive
proposal called the Green Paper, a technophobic lawyer’s wetdream, a
techie’s nightmare.

The first song the Ugly Mugs put on the Net was called ”_Arbeit Macht
Frei_”—German for “Work will make you free.” A punky carnival song, it
sparked an instant debate on free speech.

Asked about the title, Patterson told me, “It was kind of born out of
our frustration of, ‘In order to have the money to do everything that we
want to do, we have to work, but if we work, we can’t do anything we
want to do.’ So it was kind of like commenting on people’s attitude of,
‘If you work you’ll be able to do what you want to do,’ when actually
you won’t be able to do what you want to, because you’ll be working.
Actually it wasn’t a smart song title. It was a phrase that was over the
gate on the way to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
Unfortunately, people took it to be this Nazi song, which is actually
completely the opposite of what we meant.

“We got responses from people who flamed me because they thought it was
extremely cruel to be using this as a name for a song and taking it all
lighthearted when it actually meant something serious to a lot of
people. Whenever anyone actually wrote to me, I usually sent them back
the lyrics and explained our stance, why it was called that. It
definitely created enough of a stir among the few people who heard it.
You wonder if a label would ever take a chance with something like

On the Net, however, “_Arbeit Macht Frei_” would find its audience. A
man from Turkey asked for a full demo tape—unavailable—and more songs.
Other Netfolks wrote in from Texas, Florida, and elsewhere in the
States, some of whom said more or less: “You know, wow, I’m a Zappa fan
and I can hear the influence. It’s pretty cool.” The Net, in character,
was blurring distinctions between artists and fans and helping the two
groups mix. “We realized we had something,” Patterson told me. “Like,
‘Jeez, we got these responses to a band that had never played anywhere
and didn’t have a tape out.’ So we started grabbing a couple of our
friends’ bands—like my roommate’s. And we put Rob’s roommate’s band up
there, and we just kind of kept grabbing bands to put up. And slowly
everyone was getting one or two responses to what they had posted. And
we needed a place to actually keep all this music. There were like four
bands maybe at that time.”

Patterson, however, quickly filled up all the disk space available to
him at his commercial Internet provider, Netcom; so he and Lord
contacted their university and asked if they could store the music
there. “Well, it turned out that the guy who was in charge of running
the FTP site was a musician—he was in four bands—and he said, ‘Sure, go
for it.’ And we put his four bands up there.”

The technology would have seemed infuriatingly hard to the world at
large. You couldn’t just hook into the World Wide Web, point and click
your way to the IUMA archives, and choose the song you wanted; no, you
had to do FTP, short for File Transfer Protocol, threading your way
through the big hard drives at Santa Cruz, until you reached the
subdirectory with the music. And then, with most software, you had to
type out the file names. Patterson and Lord didn’t even start out with
postings on Gopher (which, to be grossly simplistic, is a more primitive
version of the Web).

Even back then, however, the two were thinking about the Net equivalent
of album covers or of the J cards that record companies used to tout
cassettes. In other words they didn’t just post files of sound alone.
They also pondered the use of files with pictures that music fans could

“At this point,” Patterson said, “it was still just a fun project. We
didn’t think about making it a money-making venture at that point. We
were just like, you know, ‘Let’s put bands up and see what we can do to
mess with the record industry.’ We had this attitude like, ‘We’ll cut
out waste in the industry.’ At that time there was, like, no press about
us, so we weren’t really vocal, but we had those attitudes. We were kind
of like naive and rebellious.”

Then an event happened that was almost as significant to IUMA as was the
discovery of MPEG. Lord discovered the World Wide Web. “None of us,”
Patterson recalled, “had any clue what it was. I think it was in
December of ’93 that we got a hold of a copy of Mosaic.” They tried it
out in a faculty lounge at U.C. Santa Cruz. “There wasn’t really much
content on the Web at all. It was pretty much, like, weather satellites.
We realized from that point on that we could really do something with
taking the music and the pictures and using the World Wide Web as the
way to present everything. People would be able to look at the album
cover, read the text, see ‘play’ buttons. You know, press the play
button, hear the music, and all that sort of thing.

“So,” Patterson said, “we called up the guy we knew from maintaining the
FTP archives at U.C. Santa Cruz, and asked him what he knew about the
World Wide Web.” Overnight he learned how to set IUMA up on the Web. His
name was Jon Luini, and he would become a partner in IUMA, the co-czars’

Meanwhile IUMA’s popularity kept growing, and soon the archives landed
on SunSite UNC, a big digital library sponsored by Sun Micro Systems at
the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. IUMA would even make it
to servers in Europe, so that people there could enjoy the music without
tying up the trans-Atlantic connections. Other big companies, such as
Silicon Graphics, took an interest in IUMA and donated computers and
other gear.

But how were Patterson and Lord—and their musicians—going to make money
off the Internet, where “free” was a religion and where commercial audio
might be pirated? I loved the many legitimately free pleasures of the
Net. It was truly for sharing. IUMA, of course, was offering lots of
music at no charge. Via the World Wide Web, I myself was giving away a
book chapter I’d written for a forthcoming information science
collection; and I hoped that at least some material from _NetWorld!_
would be retrievable without any money changing hands. But what to do
about the darker side of “free?”

Sympathetic to the cash-short but clearly a realist, Lord told how
casually kids copied computer games for each other. “There’s a complete
underground going on,” he said, and he told how young hackers had
secretly turned the IUMA archives into a site for stolen software. The
mischief was hard to spot just by doing the usual check of the storage

“We deleted their stuff,” Lord recalled, “and left a note saying, ‘Leave
us alone, you Rug Rats,’ because it was clear there were 13-year-olds
doing it. Some of the biggest pirates in the world are younger than 15.”

His words rang true. Adolescents in the States were no match for the
best pros abroad, but the teenaged pirates could still be awesomely well
organized. One group of teens might crack the software. Another group
might craft a slick screen telling who had defeated the protection. Lord
told of a 13-year-old making $24,000 a year writing and selling
shareware; and although the business was legitimate, this example showed
the energy and brains out there among the young—in other words, the
difficulty of fighting rip-offs.

Lord and Patterson were thinking about releasing IUMA offerings with
digital identifiers that would make it easier to track down thieves. And
yet another tack could be to design the music files that you could play
only with the right digital keys. IUMA’s owners were of GenNet; they
were more interested in relying on technology than law to thwart

Piracy is one reason why major record companies feel uneasy about the
Internet. Unable to ignore so large a market, they want help in getting
their message across to the strange, young denizens. Warner paid IUMA to
put short samples of music online, along with pictures and information
about the artists. It was similar to what Patterson and Lord were doing

Now, however, like many others, the two were looking ahead to new
business models. Lord had a bunch of possibilities in mind.

One was that people would pay if they liked what they heard, and maybe
even give in advance. Another was that they would receive little
gifts——maybe clay cats?——for making donations.

Patterson, however, offered some models that were more conventional.
Gasp, his comments even sounded like an actual business plan.

First, he said, he and Lord would take orders for CDs and tapes online
for companies such as Tower Records. Then IUMA would go the next step.
It would sell files of music electronically. Fans would be able to use
Web browsers like Netscape to encrypt credit card numbers so hackers
couldn’t intercept them. Eventually IUMA would sell music for instant
listening without customers first having to transfer it to their hard
disks. “There could be some kind of royalty treatment,” Patterson said.
“You might pay two cents every time you listened to a song. Or you could
just buy an album.” Some good possibilities existed here as long as no
one gouged. If people could hear music with just a tiny investment up
front, that might benefit new performers.

More immediately, IUMA was helping fledgling musicians and others by way
of an informal support network. Sue Few, a Santa Cruz woman who’d
formerly worked for record companies, went online with a newsletter
called _Sound Check_ and offered a stream of tips on subjects such as
copyright law, musicians’ unions, royalties, and lining up bookings.
“Booking people aren’t so bad, are they?” she wrote. “If they enjoy your
tape and feel you’ll fit well with their customers, you’ll get
booked—simple as that. So they don’t return your telephone calls—keep
calling until you talk to a live person and still keep calling until you
get an answer and a date from them.”

IUMA itself was a calling card of sorts. Record companies and clubs
could cruise the archives looking for bands to sign up.

Most important of all, however, IUMA helped potential fans and musicians
get together. At the time I toured the IUMA area you could check out
offerings by “Last 15 Bands” just uploaded to the archives, by artist,
by label, by location, and by song title. Or you could click on a
database with a number of options. I myself wanted to know more about
Scott Brookman, who had written “When I Die You Can’t Have My Organs,”
and who, as a result of IUMA, had been on National Public Radio.

A digitized photo showed him to be a bearded man with glasses. Something
white was against his face, though I couldn’t quite discern the shape. I
hoped it wasn’t a stray from an anatomy lab.

Messages on the screen said IUMA would let Netfolks listen to Brookman’s
“Organs” in stereo or mono. I clicked on the latter option and watched
the bottom of my screen as it showed the number of bytes passing over
the wires from a computer in California to my 486DX-class machine.
Within 45 seconds I’d received a 119K file. In size it was equivalent to
maybe 60 double-spaced, typewritten pages even though this was music not

“When I die,” the lyrics wafted out of my stereo hooked to the 486, “you
can’t have my organs, though you think that you will need them ...” If
I’d had the right software on my machine, I could have heard several
minutes’ worth. The song was good even if, with my primitive sound
software, it wasn’t even AM in audio quality. My rather untrained ears
picked up a Loudon Wainwright-ish edge to the music. I made a mental
note to myself. When I was off my book deadline, I’d do what I should
have done in the first place and install the MPEG software whose
existence had helped make IUMA possible. I had heard only a little cut
in another format With MPEG I could have enjoyed three minutes’ worth,
and in better fidelity.

In the IUMA area Brookman said, “Organs” was “from my latest cassette
release, ‘They’ll Nickel and Dime You to Death.’” He thought of his
music “as a bizarre mix of stylistic parody, satire, self-referential,
and meta-songs, full of clever guitar riffs and daring vocal harmonies.
I write about personal heroes, local history, teenage memories, bits of
folklore, and sometimes I make fun of rock music (lovingly, of course).
Usually the result is intentionally funny ...”

Brookman’s inevitable pitch for money was reasonable enough. “I hope you
enjoy the song, and I really think you should get yourself a copy of
‘They’ll Nickel and Dime You to Death.’ Send a check for five bucks (no
charge cards) made payable to Loser Records. That’s a full 60 minutes of
awesome music for only $5. Where else, other than a used record store,
can you find that kind of entertainment bargain? Here’s our address:
Loser Records, P.O. Box 14719, Richmond, Virginia 23221.” Hey, I’d
already enjoyed a bargain, his delightful little fan area. I would
remember the name Brookman.

People could leave feedback and I brought up some. “My colleagues and I
agree—what a scream!!” read a note from Virginia, where Brookman lived.
“I think we’re going to track down your CD. Congrats on a nifty tune!
It’s good to hear a local band ‘make it big.’” An Australian wrote in:
“Heheheheh. Nice sense of humour.” None other than Jon Luini, Raiser of
IUMA, said of “Organs”: “I cannot get this song out of my head! The
sincerity around this song is a great combination with the odd nature of
the lyrics, especially when combined with the folk feel of the music. It
makes me feel like it should be included whenever people first get their
driver’s license.”

Brookman’s electronic mail address was online, of course, together with
those of listeners who had offered feedback. Anyone wanting to start a
fan list focused on him would already have some names and e-mail
addresses handy.

This was what the Net was so good for—not displaying Canteresque spam on
behalf of Green Cards or pitches from CBS to join its fan club.

Small business actually enjoyed an advantage here. To CBS, fan mail must
have been a nice a way of gauging the market. But the Brookmans of this
world could go far beyond that and establish good rapport with fans, one
by one—something for which the people at the CBS site would never have
had time, given its volume. Small worked in other ways for Brookman. He
or Loser Records (were they the same?) could do a short run of CDs and
spread the news with minimum investment. Pressing a thousand CDs costs
less than $2,000 nowadays. Combine that with the Net, and the music
world just might be a little kinder to a young performer than it was in
the days when Lord and Patterson were toiling away in the record stores
back in Valencia.

Granted, a place in the IUMA archives was hardly a guarantee of success.
A musician with the band Black Watch told me that she and her colleagues
normally heard only from a fan or so a week. IUMA would _not_ make a
band instantly rich. On the other hand, she loved the feedback and
encouragement that arrived from all over the world; and, we both
thought, wasn’t that important, too—not just the money? The music was
finding its way to those who loved it. Besides, in the end, all the
small fry might add up. Lord said that instead of one Madonna there
might be fifty—“Maybe it will no longer make sense to have even
one.”[3.2] Perhaps, I hoped, the money instead would reach the Black

Once Lord had predicted that in several years IUMA might be “a one- or
two-digit percentage of the $9 billion music industry.”[3.3] I didn’t
know what would happen. Major record companies would surely be doing
plenty on their own. And when I talked to Lord in April 1995, IUMA’s
annual revenues were still in the low six figures. But that could
change, quickly. No matter what happened, IUMA was brilliant for a
niched world in which millions were rebelling against the
any-color-if-it’s-black mindset.

We want just the right friends and spouse; the right home; the right
coffee; the right newsgroups, now that they existed for all; and, yes,
just the right music.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The same nichization is happening in the world of publishing—the
Internet is home to hundreds if not thousands of electronic
publications. So what’s a hometown paper to do? Just how is _Time_
magazine responding? And in such strange times—normal times, actually,
once they’ve been around long enough—what becomes of books, especially
when you consider the digital piracy issue. In the next chapter I’ll lay
out the problems and even suggest a few solutions.


    Pulped Wood versus
    Electrons: Can the
    Print World Learn to
    Love the Net?

I ran across A. C. Snow on the Internet the other day, and old memories
poured forth.[4.1] A.C. is as low tech as they come. He writes a Tar
Heelish column with jokes and stories about church picnics and football
and beach trips, and yet there he was online with the folksy prose that
I remembered from eons ago. The _Raleigh Times_ is gone now. A.C. works
instead for the bigger _News & Observer_, a sister newspaper that
thudded against my dormitory door when I was in college. Weekday
circulation is around 150,000 nowadays, and many state legislators wake
up each morning to the _N & O_—it just might be the most powerful paper
in North Carolina.

Millions of people on the Net, however, would question the need for the
three-story tan brick building, the fleet of delivery trucks, and the
recent decision to invest $36 million in color presses.

You can’t update the ink on pulped trees the way you can move around
dots on a computer screen. “Aren’t newspapers obsolete?” scads of
techies are asking. Besides, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area has
changed. Thousands of locals swap e-mail addresses at cocktail parties,
while many schoolchildren grow up reading off computer screens as well
as from books. IBM and other Fortune 500 companies are in Research
Triangle Park outside town.

Still, like the Raleigh area, the _N & O_ has evolved. In a nearby
building, a small crew is putting out electronic newspapers on the
Internet and on a bulletin board system. This isn’t just a
pulp-and-ink-era newspaper company. It’s also an Internet provider.
Aided by two phone companies, the _N & O_ gives out free Internet
service to teachers and students to find out what the latter would like
online in the future. It’s offered Netfolks a colorful, multimedia tour
of the state. Tens of thousands drop by the _N & O_ area each week. “The
Internet is like the real world—unorganized, unruly, and filled with
more happenings than any one person can possibly track,” says Frank
Daniels III, the paper’s executive editor. “It’s growing at a fantastic
speed, and its citizens are literate. An opportunity for editors!”[4.2]

Not everyone on the print side feels as he does. When a _Washington
Post_ writer did a gossipy little item on Cliff Stoll’s net.exposé, the
journalist said book editors were looking forward to reviewing _Silicon
Snake Oil_ as “confirmation of what they hoped was true all along.”[4.3]
That may or may not have been a joke. Whatever the case, a war is going
on between pulped wood and electrons. Can commercial publications, from
newspapers to book publishers, learn to love the Internet, and what does
this mean to us readers?

“There is no doubt in my mind that the Net will force a transformation
of newspapers,” says Peter Lewis, a cyberspace writer for the _New York
Times_, “but demise? That’s what they said about radio and television as
well.”[4.4] Just the same, a headline in _Wired_ magazine said online
newspapers “still suck.” Many newspapers are too enamored with the
traditional models where editors and writers inflict whatever they want
on the unsuspecting public. They don’t give their readers enough of a
chance to speak back online or communicate with each other. Still, the
best electronic publications can indeed be two way. And more and more of
them will be packaged for the medium. You’ll be able to read summaries
of stories, for example, and then summon up longer versions with a click
of the mouse.

Even ads may improve. “Think of the typical print tire ad,” says Teresa
Martin, an online expert with the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain.
“_Yawn._ But what if touching each tire bought up detailed specs about
it, or the sizes in which the store currently has it in stock—or even
some really cool car careening around a racetrack with the voice-over
‘speed rated?’ The ad can be like a window to a store, enticing the
reader in to look for information.”

I know—computers are too hard for many technophobes to learn, too big to
use in bed, and often too blurry or flickery to read off of; and
batteries are forever eager for their next charge. But life will get
better. It will happen faster if governments worry less about smartening
up TV sets and more about smartening up schoolchildren with programs
that drive down the cost of book-friendly computers. Much, however, is
already going on. Xerox, for example, has experimented with a computer
screen whose output is as sharp as printing on paper. It’s a power hog,
but less hungry screens are coming. Writing in _Digital Media_, Martin
says the right hardware could be a mere six years away.[4.5] I myself
think—based on my monitoring of technical publications—that her estimate
is conservative.

Besides, even now, electronic texts can at least complement the paper
kind. For example, they can increase the variety of newspapers, books,
and magazines available. After U.S. Senator Jesse Helms joked that Bill
Clinton would need a bodyguard to protect him from angry service people
who resented his military policies, I did not rely just on the
_Washington Post_ for details. I called up the story directly from the
_News & Observer_ hundreds of miles away. What’s more, it’s easy to
wander from one electronic publication to others when you are after
facts on the same topic, or to search back issues of newspapers and
magazines. Even novelists are discovering the possibilities of the new
media. Readers can choose their own endings or pass on suggestions to
the authors of works in progress.

Adventurous media people are trying to adapt to this online world as
gracefully as they can, and the Internet is oh so enticing to many. The
cost of the technology has fallen to the point where a bare-bones
newspaper can go on the World Wide Web by investing as little as
$5,000-$10,000 up front. Publishers needn’t divvy up revenue with a
commercial online service, such as America Online or CompuServe.

Compared to pulped wood, the Net looks better and better—the price of
paper shot up some 30 percent between the fall of 1994 and the spring of
1995. Environmental regulators are forcing the pulp mills to quit
sullying the air and the water, and new mills can cost half a billion
dollars each to build. “Like the rest of us,” writes Jonathan Seybold,
publisher of _Digital Media_, “the paper company executives read all of
the press stuff about the Information Highway, the rise of online
services, and the decline of paper-based publishing.” And he says they
are now asking, “Why should we invest in a new paper mill?” The result?
Newsprint shortages and higher prices. “The fear,” Seybold says,
“creates its own reality.”[4.6]

More than 100 newspapers either are on the Internet or are planning to
be there. The _New York Times_, for example, has used the World Wide Web
to transmit a fax edition condensed from the normal paper. A full-grown
_Times_ may be on the Net now. The _San Jose Mercury News_ in California
not only is online, it offers a service called News Hound. For just $10
a month, the Hound will automatically scan a massive database from
Knight-Ridder papers and additional dailies, then e-mail you the latest
articles on the cover girls of _Sports Illustrated_, on Afghanistan, on
the Chicago Bears, on Bill Clinton, or on any other topic that quickens
your pulse or makes you reach for your Valium. From the _Halifax Daily
News_ to Poland’s _Gazeta Wyborcza_, newspapers are trying the Net. Even
a strike paper, published by reporters of the San Francisco _Examiner_
and _Chronicle_, made it into cyberspace.

Some Netfolks preferred the strike daily to the electronic spin-offs of
the regular ones, and I wasn’t surprised. What applies to business
applies to newspapers: The Net is a great equalizer in some ways; a
small newspaper can reach as far-flung a readership as an international
daily. In fact, the first paper on the World Wide Web just might have
been the _Palo Alto Weekly_ from Silicon Valley. South Africa’s _Mail &
Guardian_, a 30,000-circulation weekly, finds the Internet a much
cheaper way to reach people overseas than air-mail. Devoted to Russian
news, the _St. Petersburg Press_ uses the Internet to serve an
English-speaking audience throughout the world. The _London Telegraph_
has shown up on the Net with some striking graphics. No longer is the
Internet just for little magazines published by techies and smart young
English majors.

Time Warner has put _Time_, _People_, _Entertainment Weekly_, and a
shelf full of other magazines in a colorful, well-done area of the World
Wide Web. Readers can praise and flame the editors and each other.
Hearst magazines have their own area. _PC Magazine_, one of the giants
of the Ziff-Davis chain, enraged many Netfolks with clueless articles
suggesting a rather thorough ignorance of the Internet and its reasons
for existence. But guess what. Now Ziff-Davis has a wonderful Web area
with generous samples from its magazines, including _PC_. The German
newsmagazine _Der Spiegel_ is on the World Wide Web, too, complete with
some news in English; from Japan, specialized publications serve Net
audiences ranging from gays to office workers.

I learned of the most dramatic use of cyberspace by a magazine just as I
was finishing this book. _Omni_, the popular science publication, said
it would forsake monthly paper editions in favor of a version on America
Online, augmented by just four print editions, one each quarter. It
expected to save some $4 million a year. The newsletter _Interactive
Week Publishing Alert_ raised some valid questions—copies of back
articles from _Omni_ were too hard to locate—but even if the grand
experiment failed, the model was out there. A major publication was more
or less forsaking pulped wood in favor of computer networks.

Book publishers are catching up with newspapers and magazines. Time
Warner, Random House, Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill use the Internet for
promotion, and they will distribute more and more of their books this
way. Free classics like _A Tale of Two Cities_ have been a staple of the
Net for years, thanks to voluntary efforts such as Doctrine Publishing Corporation.
And now you can pay a few dollars to download a short story by Stephen
King or works by many others.

Meanwhile, however, some old-fogey publishers view the Internet as an
unfathomable virus transmitted via cable. That’s especially true of the
book business. People in it fear a massive bootlegging of their wares.
Using the Net, you can even pirate paper books; there is no technical
reason why machines cannot scan the latest from Philip Roth or Tom
Clancy, convert their novels to bits and bytes, and zap them to your
friends in Juneau. Software-based copy protection could help safeguard
electronic books. But I myself think there are other solutions as
well—for example, a national library fund to make free or low-cost books
practical and reduce the incentive for bootlegging.

Paper publishers also complain that if electronic books are cheaper to
create and distribute, manuscripts will receive less editing. With a
good library system in effect, however, a way would exist to highlight
works of merit—marketers would enjoy less clout and we’d see fewer
best-sellers on astrology and more on history. And without the
distribution costs, more money could go to writers and editors.

Other obstacles also exist in the minds of publishers eyeing the
Internet. Some worry about finding a market for text offered through a
global network. And certain people in the book industry also dread the
competition from the many gigabytes of free material that the Internet
offers. Didn’t Samuel Johnson know best?—No one but a blockhead ever
wrote except for money. If nothing else, many word people are captives
of their senses. They hate reading off computer screens; they want to
hear a newspaper thunk against their doors, hold Section A in their
hands, hear it rattle, sniff the ink.

Going in the other direction, many people on the Internet love to bash
the print world as benighted and even a little worthless. Who needs
publishers when you can post your own books and little magazines for the
world to read on the Net? That’s simplistic in many cases; I’ve got a
little more faith in the editors at Knopf or Viking than I do in the
proofreading gang from the Department of Chemistry or Joe’s Literary

People on the Net, however, are right to criticize the print media’s
ignorance of electronic publishing and computer networks. If nothing
else, many traditional publishers fail to grasp the potential here.
Looking at the old, underpowered machines that clutter their offices,
they may believe that computers won’t progress from there. An
intelligent staffer with a publishers group—someone I respected on other
matters—didn’t understand the promise of computers for reading e-books.
I shared this story with Robin Peek of Simmons College, who coedited a
book on electronic publishing for the American Society for Information
Science and the M.I.T. Press. She told me that many book publishers just
hoped that computers wouldn’t improve until the publishers died or
retired. Computers keep stubbornly getting better, though; blurry
screens and fragile hard disks won’t always be the order of day.

More amazingly, a popular magazine misinformed some of us Netfolks that
we were “netgods.” Didn’t our Internet addresses end with a prestigious
“.net” rather than “.com” (the designation for a commercial site) or
“.edu” (for a school site)? Strange. Anyone can pay $14 a month to
ClarkNet or many other services and automatically get an address like
rothman@clark.net. So much for my godliness.

Zeuslike, however, I’ll hurl thunderbolts at HarperCollins and
Doubleday. The former published the book that the immigration lawyers in
Arizona used to justify the off-topic ads that they had inflicted on
thousands of newsgroups. The Canter and Siegel guide was in the same
class as astrology books. It talked about spending just $.0333 per
thousand users per month to reach 30 million people on the Net. Most of
the people, however, can only use e-mail and aren’t on Usenet or the
Web. Doubleday erred in other ways. It let Cliff Stoll smear cyberspace
as “devoid of warmth and human kindness.” Devoid? A rather
all-encompassing word. In both cases the paper publishers were entering
an unknown world.

To give another example, a _New Yorker_ article lamented the destruction
of library catalogues without really telling how electronic libraries
could do the job better. The article went on about the handwritten
annotations on the cards, and I could see the point here. Couldn’t a
card for a Civil War book include an informal recommendation for a book
on Antietam or Gettysburg? Must all cross-references be official? So I
could appreciate writer Nicholson Baker’s worry about the fate of those
beautiful wooden cabinets. What he played down, however, is that
technology can let electronic librarians create quick paths from one
work to another.[4.7]

Far from being exotic nowadays, this technology is the essence of the
World Wide Web. So if you looked up a general item on the Civil War, you
might see some annotated references to an item on Antietam, and go there
instantly with a click of the mouse.

Just as wrongly, an article in the _Atlantic Monthly_ of September 1994
said future electronic books could perish because they used many disk
formats. “The End of the Book?” asked the headline over T. J. Max’s
doomsaying. But CD-ROMs and books on floppy disk are just transitions.
Unless legislators interfere in the most ham-handed of ways, computer
networks should be the natural homes for electronic books. They could
reach us more cheaply, and in greater varieties, without the bottleneck
of physical bookstores. So disk standards should be just plain
irrelevant in the end. The true raison d’etre for the Internet is its
ability to let many kinds of machines share information without the
least worry about floppies or magnetic tape. Most of the time I don’t
know if my no-name IBM clone is talking to a Mac or a $5-million
mainframe. Besides, we mustn’t preserve books just physically; in a
videocentric era we also need to help them survive in the minds of
readers, particularly those outside the elite. We should spread books
far and wide, then, and make the technology as friendly to words as

But tell that to Max. In his eagerness to put down electronic text, Max
depicted the _print_ version of _Wired_ magazine as hypocritical. He

_Although_ Wired _communicates extensively by e-mail with its readers,
conducts forums, and makes back issues available on-line, its
much-repeated goal of creating a magazine—currently called_
HotWired—_that is especially designed to exist electronically remains
fuzzy. For the moment this is no open democracy, and_ Wired _is no
computer screen—its bright graphics would make a fashion magazine
envious_. Wired _celebrates what doesn’t yet exist by exploiting a
format that does: it’s as if a scribe copied out a manuscript extolling
the beauty that would one day be print_.

Strange. Just what’s so odd about using old technology to spread word of
alternatives, especially the dazzling e-magazines that already enliven
the Web? When Nicholas Negroponte published _Being Digital_ (New York:
Knopf, 1995), a bestselling collection of his lively _Wired_ essays,
some Generation Xers bought it not for themselves but for their
parents—which was exactly what Negroponte wanted.

Max is especially off target about _HotWired_. Today, just months after
he wrote of the publishers’ “fuzzy” goal, the magazine is one of the
most successful on the Net with far more than 100,000 readers. It makes
massive use of hyperlinks—the technology I described by way of the Civil
War example. Within discussion areas, readers can create links from
their posts to text, pictures, and sound elsewhere in the World Wide
Web, including their own electronic pages—they needn’t confine
themselves to tiny letters to the editor. Simply put, _HotWired_ both
praises and exemplifies the new medium.

I couldn’t care less, moreover, if this electronic magazine runs long
articles that have come out in print or could have—just so _HotWired_
also gives me new material. Not everyone on the Internet reads the
printed _Wired_. One of joys of the Net, moreover, is the ability to
offer greater levels of detail for those wanting it. What a grouch Max
is. He might as well be a monk lecturing Gutenberg about the glories of

Even _PC Magazine_, one of my favorites, at times can be all wet about
the Internet and related topics. A columnist suggested that most people
on the Net be forced to pay for each letter sent out; supposedly,
Netfolks were too quick to e-mail each other. Excuse me. Such an
approach could kill off many of the mailing lists through which
academics and nonacademics swap ideas and research notes en masse. A
very small fee based on actual costs and Net congestion? Maybe. But not
one designed to minimize use. To the columnist, however, the Net’s role
as a petri dish may count less than its promise as a corporate mailman.
He misses a major point. The Internet is one of the planet’s cheapest
ways to transmit knowledge, including the kind that might cure cancer or
give us a 150-mpg automobile. While commerce on the Net is laudable, we
need those mailing lists as well—and not just for professors but public
schools, libraries, charities, psychological support groups, and
activists of all ideologies, to name just a few of the better examples.
The economics of the Net will make this possible, especially as
bandwidths increase to accommodate greater use of audio and video—text
just won’t cost that much. Alas, the columnist in this instance failed
to understand the Internet and its possibilities.

I myself won’t claim omniscience about the Net. Once I saw a message on
a mailing list from someone pushing for a huge National Knowledge
Foundation to benefit educators, librarians, journalists, and
investigators. The post mentioned international topics, among others,
and flares went off in my head. I posted some sharply critical,
journalistic questions, wondering if the post had come from a CIA type.
Some people on the list cheered me on while I pressed for public
answers. It turned out that the post _was_ from a former Company man,
and as I persisted in querying Robert David Steele about his funding and
motives, he sent me a colorfully worded note that might have made a
Paris Island drill instructor envious. I quoted his e-mail, as I would
have done if writing this up for a magazine. What a way to justify my
fears of the intelligence establishment playing too powerful a role in
determining the content of material online. I remembered the valuable
exposés that the press had done of the CIA years ago; we need to
separate U.S. journalists from spies, lest impartiality of the news
media suffer. This debate I would win.

But I didn’t. In fact, I suffered a major debacle; flame after flame
from bystanders assailed _me_. Even though I told Robert Steele I wanted
public answers, people felt that I had violated the traditional
prohibition against quoting private posts in public, at least with names
attached. Some of the bluntest Anglo-Saxonisms came from luminaries on
the Internet. People wanted perfect freedom to speak their minds in
messages deemed private, just as professors and students in class would
want to be free to say outrageous things without ending up on the front
pages of the local paper. I, on the other hand, had applied journalistic
expectations to the Net. A reporter might end up with a better story if
a celebrity exploded during an interview and this fact came out in
print. But on the Internet, the freedom to be outrageous in private
mattered more than the freedom to quote, even with advanced warning.
Yes, I had questions about this custom. What if people took advantage of
this Netiquette to engage in sexual or racial abuse, or just abuse,
period? Should rules really be hard and fast? Just the same, in Net
terms, I was the loser here because I wore my Writer Hat at the wrong

Luckily the story ended happily. Robert Steele and I, while disagreeing,
made our peace. I went to one of his conferences and shook his hand.
Later I happily discovered that he shared my hatred of the Clipper chip,
the loathsome White House scheme to make it easier to snoop on citizens’
communications. He was far more openminded than I’d originally expected.
Even without that consideration, however, a feud just didn’t make sense
here. Canter and Siegel may claim you can reach 30 million people in one
swoop, but as I say repeatedly, the Net is a _series_ of communities,
some of them rather small-townish. Within our somewhat overlapping
circles, it would have been mutually harmful for Robert Steele and me to
squander time and reputations on a protracted flame war.

Other kinds of clashes take place between Internet culture and that of
traditional media types; in the eyes of many people on the Net, print
people are not the only villains. _Dateline NBC_ ran a story about
children using computer connections to locate recipes for making bombs.
The children, however, could have done the same at bookstores or public
libraries. _Dateline_’s episode reminded one Netizen of the time NBC
secretly used a hidden ignition system to show that an automobile could
explode. Just as bizarrely, in print and on the air, some journalists
love stories about the Internet as a playground for child molesters. If
we on the Net were a religious or ethnic group, we could start an
antidefamation league and keep it forever busy.

By Net standards, the media bumble in yet other ways. If you’re a
newspaper or magazine journalist, you may have been reared to neuter
yourself about The News; no opinions online, please. On the Net,
however, many people are suspicious if you do _not_ join the crowd and
speak out. They dislike net-thropologists; that is, media people and
others who study the Net rather than contribute to it. Among some
journalists the standard modus operandi is to post questions for an
article, then vanish without sharing anything with the Netfolks.

Happily, this is changing somewhat. In fact, you can find a few
journalists from the _New York Times_, _Wall Street Journal_,
_Washington Post_, and other major papers speaking up online about
matters dear to them. Recently a reader flamed the _Post_ for its
Internet coverage (“what those idiots at the _Post_ write isn’t worth
minimum wage”). Alluding to software that can screen out messages from
offensive people, reporter John Schwartz punched right back: “It’s bozo
filter time.” He had been using online services for years, and here, it
showed. The old stereotype, in which all members of the major media are
clueless, just doesn’t fly any more. Not too long ago somebody shared a
_New York Times_ article—discussing some other people’s proposal for a
national digital library—with hundreds of a members of a list devoted to
law in cyberspace. He did not ask permission from the _Times_. A pithy
reference to copyright law then emanated from none other than Peter
Lewis, who had written the article and was a regular on the list.

So how are Netfolks treating Lewis nowadays? He e-mailed back an answer
in prose worthy of a discussion group on the Internet itself:

    _It took me a while to get used to being flamed by pencil-dicked
    geeks who hide behind their terminals, saying things I’m sure
    they’d never dream of saying to my face. But now I’ve become
    something of a connoisseur of flamage, and while I regret that
    it is widespread on the Net, I regret more that the quality of
    flaming is almost uniformly weak. I now savor good flames and
    ignore the rest. On the other hand, it took me almost as long to
    get used to having instant feedback, often pointed and critical
    and right-on, to my writing. While there is a danger of a
    “chilling effect” from flamage, perhaps subtly influencing
    reporters to back off a subject in anticipation of a flood of
    “Dear Clueless” letters, I think the overall benefit of instant
    and widespread reader feedback is a Good Thing. Perhaps all
    rookie reporters should be required to write a Net story just to
    let them know that they do not write in a vacuum, whether their
    beat is the Internet or the police station or sports._

Like the police beat, the Internet comes with its set of rules—as my
experience with the CIA alum vividly showed. Some on the Net attach a
statement to every post saying it’s copyrighted. Others just worry that
the wrong set of people may read and quote their more outspoken
messages. Lewis considers list and newsgroup posts to be public: “My
mother once advised me, long before she knew I would be a journalist,
‘Never put anything on paper that you wouldn’t want to see on the front
page of the _New York Times_.’”

Still, Lewis normally catches up with the writers of posts he plans to
quote. “However, the reason has more to do with verification than with
netiquette. In cyberland as well as in the real world, as you know, the
fact that someone’s name and address appear in a letter does not
guarantee the identity of the writer.” Lewis reminded me that “half a
century ago some newspapers forbade reporters from quoting sources
contacted by telephone on the same rationale: How do you really know
that was Mr. Doe on the phone if you didn’t see him? In cyberville, not
only can we not see our sources, but neither can we hear them.” And then
a few sentences later came the electronic signature, “Pete (at least,
you _think_ it’s Pete) Lewis.”[4.8]

Other challenges exist online. When reporters use e-mail for interviews,
they take away the element of surprise—often the surest route to the
best answer. “Also,” says Jordan Green, a Canadian freelancer who relies
heavily on e-mail, “there is no body language or voice intonation in
e-mail. We do have our various symbols to >>>highlight<<< and
_emphasize_ WORDS and feelings :-) but there is far more which cannot be
picked up.”

In the end, however, computer networks will make the press better
informed, not worse. Via Lycos, for example, a searching tool on the
Web, I can track down files written by just the right person to
interview or find background information that someone archived from the
relevant newsgroup. Besides, who says that all interviews are
confrontational? Often e-mail is just right, and I can always use the
telephone to fill in gaps. “I used to ask, ‘What’s your fax number?’ at
the end of a phone interview,” says a magazine writer named Peggy
Noonan.[4.9] “Now I also ask, ‘What’s your e-mail address’ because it’s
often much faster to post a question or send a draft for approval via
e-mail than by another means.” Some journalists might object to showing
drafts to sources. But Noonan clearly sees the networks as a godsend for
other purposes as well.

Another believer is Arik Hesseldahl, a young reporter with the _Idaho
State Journal_ in Pocatello who, like many journalists of his
generation, grew accustomed to the technology in college. “Remember that
flesh-eating bug scare a few months ago?” he said. “I got in touch with
a doctor in England who debunked all the rumors and media hype, which is
what it was—hype. Just today I am looking for an expert on nuclear fuel
reprocessing equipment who is untainted by the Department of Energy and
the rest of the federal nuke bureaucracy. Already I’ve gotten five
suggestions for experts.”

I myself see other advantages for people in the pulped-wood world; via
the Net I don’t just approach editors—I hear from them out of the blue
when they like my postings. Other freelancers have also benefited.
Steven Sander Ross, a professor at Columbia University, uses the Net to
communicate with European magazines that pay better than those in the
States. Just as the Net creates global markets for florists and sellers
of teddy bears, it multiplies opportunities for the best writers. That
is true for newspaper and magazine writers now and will be increasingly
true for authors of books. Mind you, there is a downside, too. The Net
may actually _hurt_ the worst writers as they face more competition,
whether from professionals across the planet or from the free material
that Netfolks share with each other.

Here are three case histories that should be of interest to writers,
editors, publishers, and the rest of the cosmos:

• Case History 1. The _News & Observer_ has used the Internet not only
  to reach the denizens but also to get existing readers and advertisers
  on the Net. In an era when so many greedsters hope to charge
  outrageous fees to consumers for online information, the _N & O_ is
  hoping that ads will pay much or even most of the freight.

• Case History 2. Time Warner, as noted, is putting magazines and book
  excerpts on the Internet, and it’s doing so in ways befitting the
  medium. Many of the same concepts carry over from online newspapers,
  which is why this section and the next will be much shorter than Case
  History 1. In fact, so far, an _N & O_-style business model seems to
  be influencing Time at least somewhat.

• Case History 3. Laura Fillmore runs an online bookstore that not only
  sells books but _gives them away_ on the Internet. She even used the
  Net to promote a pulped-wood book that has sold hundreds of thousands
  of copies. Fillmore’s ideas are significant because she is working
  hard to reconcile publishers’ needs with those of society at large,
  and I commend one of her business models as an alternative to
  pay-per-read gouges. The ultimate answer, in my own opinion, is a
  national digital library and a program to drive down the cost of
  book-friendly hardware. Using this approach—a mix of editorial and
  technical wizardry to add to the value of plain text—good publishers
  would flourish. Readers and writers would come out ahead, too.

Finally, I’ll offer an update on the _N & O_ and other publications on
the Internet. When Frank Daniels described the Net as “unorganized” and
“unruly,” he might also have been talking about certain trends in his
own industry. A surprising twist unfolded in the story of the _N & O_.

Newspapers on the Net:
The Raleigh Experiment

More than two decades ago in a scuffy-floored room at the University of
North Carolina, not that far from the _N & O_, I heard Professor Walter
Spearman expound on the prickly question of uppity letters to the
editor. What if a reader taunted, “You’ll never print this?” The crux of
Walt Spearman’s wisdom was this: _Don’t go for the bait. If you don’t
want to print it, don’t._[4.10] He was teaching me to be, in modern
parlance, a “gatekeeper”—to decide which news and opinions made it into
print and which didn’t. Only so many column inches existed on the
editorial page, and we journalists were to watch over this space as if
it were the Mona Lisa. Without the slightest apology, we should tell the
public what to read, and besides lording over the editorial pages, we
should inflict the same front page stories on everyone. The notion that
each reader could write regularly for other readers, or that he or she
could see wire service stories online, was as sacrilegious as it was
science fiction-like.

By the end of the 1970s, however, at Duke, UNC, and N.C. State, hackers
were paving the way for Usenet, a series of discussion areas on the
Internet and on bulletin board systems that let _everyone_ have a
say—from Nazis to Maoists. Together with talk radio and with other forms
of computer communications, Usenet could help Americans bypass the
gatekeepers. Readers wouldn’t see on their screens an appealing
combination of headlines and Times Roman type. But no blue pencils would
be around to scratch out the heresies of nonjournalists.

Usenet in the end wouldn’t just carry alt.activism or comp.general or
alt.sex; it would also be home to a nice little electronic newspaper
called ClariNet, which in 1995 enjoyed 100,000-plus readers, and which
each day let readers choose from among hundreds of dispatches from
Reuters, the Associated Press, and more specialized services. My friend
Jim Besser covered Washington for a string of Jewish newspapers. He
could dial up ClariNet, other sections of Usenet, and the Internet at
large and see material that might take days and days to wend its way
into the _Washington Post_, assuming it ever got there at all. Usenet in
the end was more of a wire service than a newspaper; that just may have
been its real triumph. Some old print people hated ClariNet, seeing it
as a threat to their gatekeeping. For a while, ClariNet sent out the
columns of Dave Barry, the quirky but popular humorist enjoyed by
thousands of Netheads. Then, however, his syndicate pulled him off the
service. Illegal copies had wafted all over the Internet, and the
bootlegging had surely outraged client newspapers—the main reason; but a
second, minor one may have existed as well—the hostility between the Net
and many members of the print media.

The Internet was partly why Michael Crichton, the author of the novel
_Jurassic Park_, could shrug off newspapers and some other mass media as
“tomorrow’s fossil fuel.” The Cable News Network and radio talk shows
are not the only threats to the hegemony of the old-time gatekeepers. So
are the Internet, CompuServe, America Online, GEnie, Delphi, and, of
course, the more than 50,000 bulletin board systems run by hobbyists and
others. “Newspapers,” wrote the media critic Jon Katz, “have been
foundering for decades, their readers aging, their revenues declining,
their circulations sinking, their sense of mission fragmented in a world
where the fate of presidents is slugged out on MTV, _Donahue_, and
_Larry King Live_.”

I was fascinated, then, to learn that the old _News & Observer_ was on
the Net now. Was the _N & O_ serving readers better? With the above in
mind I spent several weeks talking to the Raleigh people on the phone
and via e-mail, and studying the electronic versions of the newspaper,
both the free samples on the Net and the version for paying customers.

My conclusions were positive, though not entirely. Katz, the author of
the “Still Suck” article in _Wired_, would have disliked some aspects of
the _N & O_’s electronic efforts. _Wired_ had asked, “How can an
industry which regularly pulls Doonesbury strips for being too
controversial possibly hope to survive online?” And, sure enough, if you
were on the Internet by way of the _N & O_’s service in fall 1994, you
couldn’t subscribe to the alt.sex string of newsgroups. Moreover, unlike
the _Time_ areas online, the _N & O_’s BBS had not sprouted hundreds of
messages from free-spirited readers and editors. Truly controversial
postings were rare. And yet the editors were clearly moving away from
the traditional gatekeeping role. Meanwhile, the _N & O_ was enriching
the Internet by way of well-written news stories and features—many
available for free. Flaws aside, this was a fine example of how the
print media could befriend the Net and the young people who favored
computer screens over pulped wood.

Frank Daniels III, the executive editor, tinkered with computers himself
in high school two decades ago, and as early as the late 1980s he was
using Macs to shuffle around stories on the pages of a magazine that his
family owned in Charlotte, North Carolina. Working with a stock analyst,
Daniels created a computerized database of the top fifty companies in
the Charlotte area, and that, in turn, led to a newsletter. So early on,
Daniels saw how high tech could spawn lucrative opportunities. He also
saw the negatives. The owners of the _Los Angeles Times_, Knight-Ridder,
and other organizations were experimenting with Videotext, which allowed
news stories to scroll across television screens.

Such endeavors were brave. They were also premature. Videotext at the
time cost the customers too much, and just as the Prodigy service would
err later on in the same way, the newspapers failed to appreciate the
fondness of many customers for typing to each other. Reading news
stories and shopping from home weren’t enough.

Many U.S. dailies would go on to flounder even on pulped wood. Whether
Americans were watching video-cassettes or hang gliding, millions had
other uses for their time, especially baby boomers. Some 60 percent of
the households in Wake County had once subscribed to the _N & O_; by the
late 1980s, just 40 percent did. Newspapers kissed off much of the
market, jacked up their prices, and began seeing themselves as a way for
advertisers to reach at least the Oldsmobile set if not the BMW set. And
yet, even by those criteria, the _N & O_ was a slacker. Back then, as it
does today, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area boasted one of the
highest concentrations of Ph.D.s in the country. Some 40 percent of the
households now own computers, more than 10 percent can go online, and
the average home price is well on the way to equaling that of some major
metropolitan areas. Even five years ago, and long before, high tech was
enriching the Research Triangle.

But would the _N & O_ adapt to this new market, a harbinger for many
other areas in the United States and elsewhere? Frank Daniels saw the
newspaper as a change-proof antique, and he was ready to dump his _N &
O_ stock and sink the money into an online service.

Then Daniels got some journalistic religion at a newspaper seminar, the
secular equivalent of a good Baptist soaking. To hear him tell it, he
suddenly understood that “the relationship between a newspaper and a
community has such a richness and history that communities shouldn’t
lose that.” And he felt that online services could take advantage of
those relationships with readers and advertisers. Today the _N & O_ goes
by this philosophy, not entirely but to a great extent. Readers can
e-mail many of their favorite writers, while long-time advertisers can
buy _X_ number of column inches in the paper editions and receive
exposure in the electronic editions.

Something else, however, may have bound Frank Daniels to his paper as
well—old family stories and the memories they stirred. The first Daniels
landed in North Carolina several hundred years ago, and the family
reunions continue to this day. Frank III’s great-grandfather, Josephus
Daniels, purchased the _N & O_ at a bankruptcy auction in 1894. He
carried on as one of the state’s more colorful and outspoken publishers,
with a strong populist streak, and took time off in Washington to serve
as secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson. I ran across Josephus on
the Internet, just as serendipitously as I had found A. C. Snow. Through
the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress, I could _hear_
Josephus honor two naval heroes with a speech called “There Is No Rank
in Sacrifice.” I passed on word of my discovery to Bruce Siceloff, an
online editor, and he played another Daniels’ speech for the clan while
showing off the paper’s marvels of technology. Frank Jr., publisher of
the _N & O_, tapped the arm of a cousin who had just walked into the
room. “That’s your grandfather,” he said as the spooky old wax recording
crackled away in its new electronic incarnation.[4.11]

Josephus, though his racial views softened, reflected the separatism of
many Carolinians in the first half of the twentieth century. The paper
itself changed. It eventually hired Claude Sitton, a Pulitzer winner
notable for his civil rights reporting in his days with the _New York
Times_. The _N & O_ in some ways became the _Times South_. Reporters
fought racial injustices. Frank III portrayed the paper of that era as
never having met a cause it didn’t like. What’s more, he said the _N &
O_, although exposing politicians on the take, was too quick to
editorialize for local programs that raised local tax rates. I myself
favored the crusading kind of newspaper—in fact, one risk of a high-tech
orientation was that it could turn a newspaper into an uncritical
cheerleader for business if editors were not careful—but I could
understand Daniels’ concern over government spending. At any rate some
felt that the _N & O_ was losing touch with many readers, and so Frank
Jr. and the others on the board of directors agreed to let Frank III
serve as executive editor in the wake of Sitton’s retirement.

The contrast between the old and new editors couldn’t have been more
stark. Sitton was a formal man who insisted that his reporters wear
suits and ties. Frank III relaxed the dress code. In place of a sign
with his editorial title, he stuck up one that said simply, “Frat Man.”
Old-timers groaned that this young Duke alum lacked enough journalistic
experience. The man had been the newspaper’s _operations manager_.
Wasn’t it apparent? For each year of experience on the State side of
newspapering, you could subtract two years of experience with the

Even under Sitton, the reporters typed away on a modern publishing
system for newspapers. But that was more or less all they did—write.
Many could just as well have been pounding away on old Smith Coronas.
They hadn’t any desire to learn the technology, not when there were
doors to knock on, vote counts to check, political corruption to
chronicle, Ku Klux Klan rallies to report, and courthouse records to
search the old-fashioned way. Young Daniels set to work changing all
that, and with the most surpassing of allies. The news librarians almost
instantly grasped the potential of computerized databases. So did Pat
Stith, the senior investigative reporter. The _N & O_ would go on to
collect state records showing traffic or hunting violations, or others,
and then seek out patterns. “We analyzed all the speeding tickets,” said
Daniels, “and found out what percentage of tickets were given at each
mile-per-hour level. It turns out that if you go 63 miles per hour in a
55-mile-per-hour zone, you have less than a 1 percent chance of getting
a ticket.” Via the same quantitative techniques, the _N & O_ could
evaluate the programs of local government. By the time Daniels had
effected his transformation, he had squeezed dozens of personal
computers into an already-crowded newsroom.

A year or so after Frank Daniels III became executive editor, he first
beheld the Internet over at North Carolina State. “An engineering
student said, ‘Have you seen this?’ and he showed me Usenet. And about
forty-five minutes later, while I was thirty minutes late for a meeting,
I was speechless. I walked out. I was just buzzing with the
possibilities.” Daniels saw some engineering newsgroups and, yes, some
sexually related ones. “I couldn’t believe how many people I saw talking
together, just following each other’s conversations. The letters to the
editor at the time were the only connection the _News & Observer_ had
with its readers.

“Our business is connecting people. Here was a whole world that existed
without our knowledge. It was a small world and an elitist world, but it
confirmed my earlier belief that computers were going to be ubiquitous.”

Effortlessly Daniels understood that Usenet wasn’t Videotext—people
_wanted_ you to talk back. So the Internet was at least on his mind as a
possibility for the time when the numbers were right. Daniels for the
moment pushed into less exotic areas; for example, he started a useful,
lively, but expensive fax newsletter for the elite, _The Insider_, which
covered North Carolina politics with a commitment to detail missing from
the daily press. The _N & O_ also offered sophisticated research
services, using the databases it was amassing. And the paper let readers
dial up stories over the telephone through a technology known as

The electronic action, however, really took off after Daniels hired
George Schlukbier, a computer-oriented librarian who had worked wonders
at the _Sacramento Bee_. Like Daniels the frat boy, Schlukbier flaunted
a few eccentricities within bounds. An electronic signature at the
bottom of his Internet messages identified him as “Chief Bull Goose
Looney,” a tribute to the giant Indian who terrorized Nurse Ratched in
_One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest_, the Ken Kesey novel. Some, of course,
might argue that the Internet is itself a virtual asylum with the
inmates in charge.

Schlukbier and Daniels checked out Prodigy and America Online to see
about getting on those networks and decided that the numbers stank. Yes,
Prodigy-style services already had their networks in place, and the _Los
Angeles Times_ and papers in George, New York and elsewhere would go on
to sign up. But the _N & O_ concluded—rightly, in my opinion—that the
online services would need the newspapers more than the newspapers would
need the online services. Newspapers were the best source of steady,
detailed news about local communities. Each year the _N & O_ spent $12
million covering mainly local and state news, an amount that even a
giant like Prodigy could not replicate everywhere. “They’ve got their
view of the world that’s defined by whatever technology they adopted at
the time they started their service,” Daniels would later say. “We got
uncomfortable with the fact we’d be living their rules, and the
customers would be their customers.”[4.12]

Some other newspapers felt happy with Prodigy. “No,” said Mike Gordon,
an editor with Cox Newspapers in Atlanta, “Prodigy isn’t taking most of
the money.” What’s more, his online edition could enjoy revenue from
online ads. Still, more and more publishers were turning to the Internet
rather than Prodigy-type alternatives, and the balance of power changed.
When Microsoft started a new online service later, it offered newspapers
as much as 80 percent of revenue—at least several times the amount that
Prodigy had offered the _N & O_. (The Atlanta papers would themselves
end up on the Internet eventually, not just on Prodigy.)

Instead of relying on a Prodigy-style service, Schlukbier started a
locally oriented BBS with an Internet connection and a strong emphasis
on schoolchildren, not just the adult readers of today. This orientation
may have baffled many. Some newspaper publishers were too myopic to see
past the next quarter, especially if they worked for the big chains.
Exceptions did exist, of course. Knight-Ridder, for example, regardless
of its public ownership and its Videotext flop, was still pouring
millions into the new technology. As a family-owned newspaper, however,
without security analysts breathing down its corporate neck, the _N & O_
was especially free to experiment. Schlukbier believed that a decade
would pass before 40 or 50 percent of the homes in Raleigh were online,
and by then the children would be of customer age.

“By focusing on third-graders,” Schlukbier said, “I’ve got ten years to
learn from them what information they really need and want.”[4.13] What
they hoped for, in many ways, didn’t seem like a newspaper at all.
Rather they wanted their own tools. The bulletin board blossomed with
imaginary worlds in which, for example, Frank Daniels was the owner of a
fictitious newsstand. Children could wend their ways through cyberspace
by using written descriptions and computer commands to tell where they
were and what they were doing. George Schlukbier’s young son, Shane,
designed a mythical camp online with danger-ridden woods. Some may have
wondered how this applied to _newspapers_; I myself did. And then it
dawned: if newspapers would be increasingly two-way in the future, just
like the Net, then didn’t it make sense to see how the children
interacted with each other, as they did in role-playing games? The
children could change as they grew older, or moved away from the area
when their parents packed up for another job with IBM, but the
journalists could still observe the basic patterns.

The _N & O_ put more than 6,000 children and 700 teachers online for
free. NandOLand was the name of the educational service designed with
children in mind; a mouse click on a cloud, for example, would take
children to a NASA area on the Net. The students could send electronic
mail to each other or type to each other instantly. “I have seen
children who never cared what they wrote turn to a dictionary rather
than send a letter to a key pal with misspelled words,” said a teacher
named Stephanie Toney. “I have seen a child with a severe reading
disability sit for hours and concentrate on e-mail to another person on
the other side of the world. His English teacher would have given her
right arm to interest him in reading and writing for this period of

Granted, NandOLand wasn’t the entire solution to the needs of children.
Many couldn’t spend much time on a machine at school and lacked one at
home. But the program was much better than the alternative: expensive
school connections to the Net or no Internet at all.

Like the children, the _N & O_ itself was learning—about the local
schools and other institutions and the Net itself. “How many newspaper
editors and reporters get to talk with students, parents, and teachers
any time they want to without making a big deal of it?” asked
Daniels.[4.14] And so the educational coverage was better. Rosalind
Resnick, publisher of _Interactive Publishing Alert_, wrote that the _N
& O_ was “at the head of the pack when it comes to promoting
interactivity between its readers and reporters.” By the summer of 1995
every staff member, including those in circulation and advertising,
would be able to go on the Net from their desks. Daniels’ own Net
address showed up on the paper’s editorial page each day. The _N & O_
was publishing a dozen or two Internet items each month, complete with a
column called “Net Rider.” How different the paper was from a rival in
nearby Durham: “We don’t print many Internet stories,” a staffer there
said when I asked to speak to whoever covered the Net. The words were
spoken almost in a way to suggest that “Internet” was synonymous with
“_N & O_.”

Not everyone was happy with the _N & O_’s Internet service. Around 700
people had subscribed commercially by fall 1994, paying $20 a month, and
some rightly complained about the look and feel of the BBS and the busy
phone lines they had encountered during the summer. When I posted a
query on the Internet, at least half of the replies were hostile to the
online _N & O_. Some showed a knee-jerk hatred because they disagreed
with the paper’s politics. But others were right on target. The BBS
incarnation of NandO.Net, the name for the commercial part of the online
endeavors, was more of a rutted dirt road than an eight-lane information
highway. Customers for some months had trouble dialing up the service’s
modems for want of enough phone lines. Other glitches arose. The service
prided itself on the ability to whip people back and forth between the
local board and the Internet-related services without any effort. And
yet in making the transitions, customers suffered delays and software
glitches that they might not encounter with a more polished service.
Schoolchildren and BBS junkies were the best kinds of people to enjoy
the wild ride and the scenery.

The online _N & O_ responded with some technical improvements; the paper
added many more phone lines and gave customers the ability to use Mosaic
to point and click their way through the Web. Mosaic had a much smoother
feel than the BBS software. By late 1994 the _N & O_ was offering the
public an electronic newspaper and the Internet at the competitive rate
of $20 a month while helping to subsidize the educational side. And it
was serving people with different levels of equipment. The BBS was
designed to work especially well with less powerful machines and
snailish modems that were far too slow for Mosaic.

On the Net, the people who answered my queries had another major
complaint—the inability of NandO.Net to make alt.sex-style groups
conveniently available. Frank Daniels made no apologies. However liberal
towns like Chapel Hill might be, the state as a whole was of the
opposite bent. And that included more than a few church-goers in
Raleigh. “The community standards of our community don’t mix with some
of the sexual parts of Usenet,” Daniels said, “so we edit them out.” In
addition, most subscribers were children. “I have a seven year old,” he
said, “and I don’t want him delving into alt.sex.bestiality or those
other places.” Many of the Netheads would have said that one person’s
“editing” was another’s “censorship.” I myself, however, understood
Daniel’s worries. At least two other Net services were available in the
same area, so it wasn’t as if he were gatekeeping for the entire town;
what’s more, he said that when the software allowed, the sex-related
newsgroups would be available as an option. Just the same, the issue
epitomized the clash between the gatekeeping ethos and that of the

More serious than the lack of alt.sex, to my mind, was Daniels’ failure
to appreciate sufficiently the political freedom of Usenet, the same
service that had attracted him to the Internet in the first place. I
complained to him that his own BBS included far, far less in the way of
political discussion than I’d have wanted, and I contrasted this to the
robust debates of Usenet. “To be honest, David,” he said, “I think one
of the least useful pieces of the Internet so far is their political
discussions. They’re not very good ones. There’s a lot of flaming. The
political discussions aren’t very productive. I follow mainly the local
ones here. These people discuss national issues and never have a
policymaker looking in there. So why discuss it if it isn’t going to
have an impact on policy?”

While Daniels was worlds ahead of newspaper editors at large, he was
showing the vestiges of the gatekeeping mindset that the new technology
had made obsolete. I myself disliked unmitigated flaming. And yet there
were times when harsh words were called for. The _N & O_ didn’t wimp out
when the editorial board attacked the Ku Klux Klan or the more
outrageous statements of Jesse Helms, the right-wing senator. Why should
people online be any different? And although it might be nice for a
policymaker to read my public messages as soon as I sent them out—and,
yes, I could recall hearing out of the blue from the White House after
one such posting—that was hardly necessary. Democracy isn’t just a
citizen writing to a congressman. It is also citizens communicating with
citizens, educating, proselytizing; and with the economies of Usenet,
more citizens could reach their peers for greater enlightenment. And
then, if a consensus were reached, political action might ensue, such as
letters to Congress. So why must politicians be involved from Day One?
Daniels was out of touch here, and I hoped he’d catch on.

Admittedly NandO.Netters could hook up with the Usenet political areas,
even if the _N & O_ played them down; but the newspaper didn’t really
promote political debates on the BBS itself. And it was not just because
Daniels believed that the readers disliked flaming and extremism—it was
also because he felt that real, live politicians were not ready for
online appearances yet. “When we can get commitment from the politicians
and policymakers, then we’ll make a push at it. But not until it becomes
something where our community can have really productive discussions. I
don’t want to train them not to like them. What happens is that the
people on the Net are trained not to like them. Extremists and flamers
love them.” I supposed there were a lot of us undesirables, however; for
alt.activism and similar areas were among the more popular newsgroups on
the Net—no match for alt.sex, but certainly not small time.

If Daniels had had a complete set of Net values, he would have
understood the benefits of debate online, and not just the political
action but the _education_. I myself was liberal. And yet when
discussing information policy, I could learn at times from the most
zealous of Libertarians and Objectivists. Some were among the most
advanced of the technologists. In fact, their technical backgrounds may
have led to their hatred of regulation—they loathed the bureaucrats who
could not fathom the direction in which computers and communications
were headed.

To his credit, Daniels at least was not calling for censorship of
Usenet; he was merely saying that he wanted his own service to be
different. What’s more, technology and marketing forces, the great
deciders of cyberspace, might change his mind for him.

Just as he had assumed in the first place, people on the Net wanted to
_talk_—not just to the _N & O_ but to each other about all kinds of
topics, including material in the paper itself. And the more comfortable
the readers grew with the online world, the more spirited, the more
Usenet-like, would be the discussions. No, the meek would not suddenly
turn into flamers. But the thrill of technology would be less of a
distraction, and they would pay more heed to what they had to say and
grow more adventurous about it. On the _N & O_’s present BBS, with its
often awkward commands, many people were not even leaving messages for
each other. Instead they typically used the system at a more primitive
level to type out their thoughts with the other person online at the
same time. I hated this approach. It brought to mind Dave Barry’s crack
that the Internet was like CB radio with typing.

Even if Daniels still did not enjoy the political debates on the Net
itself, he was living up to the old tradition of sharing material with
the rest of the world. In that sense his newspaper was exemplary. The _N
& O_ didn’t just offer news, discussion areas, and games for its
subscribers: Sample news and features were free to anyone who wanted to
read them. That was how I’d first run across A.C. Snow. I’d seen the _N
& O_’s name on a list of newspapers, and A.C. had caught my eye as I was
wandering through the Gopher that stored sample news stories and columns
from the paper. The World Wide Web, however, was the best way to try out
the electronic _N & O_. When I dialed up the main page for NandO.Net, I
could see a colorful, bluish logo and enjoy a newsstandish atmosphere,
with scads of goodies to explore. The _N & O_ differed from many
electronic newspapers. It didn’t just inflict on readers a digest of
generic news, with only the most cursory helping of original material.

I read samples from the regular _N & O_ and specialized publications
such as the _Insider_; enjoyed brief but regularly updated electronic
news intended for the Net itself; wandered through a little bookstore
with cover shots from books by Snow and other columnists; wended my way
through tens of thousands of words from a journalism seminar at Harvard;
soaked up long, multimedia features; dialed up samples of rock music;
and ventured into the sports area—the _N & O_’s most popular material on
the Web.

The sports area was the baby of a bearded, forty-something editor named
Eric Harris who had turned into a Nethead, and who like Schlukbier came
with a nickname: “Zonker.” A child, seeing the beard and taking in the
personality, had compared him to the Doonesbury character. That was a
little unfair. Zonker of the comics is a goof-off, while Zonker of the
Net is a workaholic whose messages might bear 4 A.M. time stamps. Harris
is Webmaster—the man with the daily responsibility for the content of
the Web area in general—but his true love was sports. He packed the
server with game schedules. During the ’94 baseball strike the _N & O_
indulged fans with whimsy such as “Cybersox Take the World
Series”—reportage of mythical games. “Need something to do while we wait
for the owners and players to resolve their differences?” the Web area
asked on another electronic page. “Well, the Baseball Server is doing
its part. Download the above images, tack them onto the wall, and buy a
set of darts. Then, every time you feel a twinge of baseball withdrawal,
grab a dart, think a ‘warm’ thought about one of the participants, and
let the fun begin.” And sure enough, Netfolks could print out pictures
of the villains, each of whom had a superimposed picture of a dartboard
and the wonderful caption: “The only losers are the fans.”

The _N & O_ also shared with the Net a variety of other material, of
which my favorite was North Carolina Discoveries. A lively feature
writer named Julie Ann Powers sought out offbeat places. In Lake Norman,
for example, she found that “houses and hangars ring the airstrip and
each lot comes with a grass taxiway to the paved and lighted runway.” In
Orient, a hamburger-and-hot-dog cook named Red Lee claimed that at
twenty-five cents each, his offerings were the cheapest in the country.
And in Tryon, the publishers of the _Daily Bulletin_ said that at 8 by
11 inches, their newspaper might be the smallest in the world. Powers
drove from town to town in a Ford Explorer that she had nicknamed
Barlowe after Arthur Barlowe—one of the first Europeans to behold the
state of North Carolina. Barlowe was a gadgeteer’s heaven on wheels,
full of audio and video equipment. People on the Web didn’t just enjoy
gloriously descriptive stories from Powers: with Mosaic-style software
they could _see_ a picture of her wearing a sun hat on a beach or gaze
at sand dunes or waterfalls or whatever she happened to be writing about
at the time. If they owned a sound card, they could _hear_, too. She
walked around carrying a microphone so large that it resembled a
folded-up umbrella.

Powers might well be one of the first multimedia reporters to work for a
Net-oriented daily newspaper. I asked her to share a few trade secrets.
She said she interviewed people twice. The first time she gathered the
basics for her regular story; the second time they spoke while tape
rolled. Powers said she never knew which sounds would work out and which
wouldn’t. A recording of a glorious waterfall ended up sounding like a
toilet flushing.

I asked about the challenge of balancing her traditional duties as a
reporter with those as an audio-oriented interviewer. Some old hands in
the _N & O_ newsroom saw the gadgetry as a threat. It was all too
remindful of the days when computers were replacing typewriters in the
newsroom, and many reporters and editors balked at being typesetters.
But Powers turned the new technology to her advantage. The microphone
and electronic camera—a photographer followed her around—made her more
aware of her surroundings and sensitive to new story angles. Once she
did a story on Ten Commandment Mountain. It was part of a Biblical theme
park, a peak in western North Carolina with God’s words spelled out in
“concrete letters each measuring five feet high and four feet wide.” A
roar from a giant lawn mower kept drowning out the voice of the man she
was interviewing. “They always ask,” he volunteered, “how do you mow
that mountain?” Presto, she had the magic quote to use near the lead. “A
special mower with a low center of gravity,” she revealed, “tilts and
leans up and down the steep planes.”

Whether reading about twenty-five-cent hamburgers or godly peaks, I
could scoot easily between pictures and words. The _N & O_ had a “North
Carolina Discoveries” logo at the top of one page, a picture of Powers
in the same area, and then a list of the Discoveries stories that she
had done. By clicking my mouse on a list of story headlines in blue
letters, I could immediately go to the stories. When I chose “Home Sweet
Hangar,” I sped to the same headline atop a color photo of an aviation
buff inspecting “his Cessna 172 after rolling it out of the hangar at
his house in Lake Norman Airpark.” Yes, the caption was there too. And
then I saw the story lead with an apt quote (“It’s like being an avid
golfer and living on the golf course”) followed by a list of other
items. I could choose “Audio: Talking about life on the flight line” if
I wanted to hear an interview. What’s more, if I’d set up my software, I
could even have picked “Video” and gone on to a list of short movies. I
also saw background items such as a list of “Triangle-area flight
schools” and “FAA regulations: How to get your pilot’s license.” The
beauty of this arrangement was that the _N & O_ could provide all kinds
of wonderful details for the interested without inflicting them on
others. Unless they mouse-clicked the appropriate words in blue letters
(or whatever the special color), they would never see the material.

The _N & O_ used the same approach on news stories. When North Carolina
was about to gas a man named David Lawson, readers could click on the
item “The Lawson Execution.” They could see a schedule of the events
ahead—from Lawson’s removal from his cell to the EKG examination that
would help certify his death. After the Associated Press reported the
execution, readers could click on a headline and read the details. They
could even summon up “Preparing for the execution” or “How the gas
chamber works.”

The Lawson story was a just a sample—the _N & O_ at the time wasn’t
constantly doing multimedia on breaking news—but it was easy to envision
the future for American newspapers using the Web. Imagine the blessings
for journalists who wanted to write on neat little odds and ends without
getting in the way of their main articles. They could merely add “links”
to offshoot stories. Perhaps the reader could even click and summon up a
collateral audio report or even a video. At first it might be hard to do
all this on deadline, but links would be a cinch as software improved.
What’s more, newspaper writers might evolve into true personalities just
like their counterparts on television. After all, if a reporter’s byline
were in blue letters, you could click your mouse to see a photo and
maybe even a bio featuring credentials—you could find out, for example,
if the legal reporter held a law degree. You could also quickly locate
copies of earlier work or a list of his or her favorite books.

Granted, electronic newspapers posed new challenges. Not all stories
lent themselves to multimedia, for example. What if newspapers played
down those that didn’t? “If you tried to do that with a lot of news
stories,” Julie Powers told me, “you would end up serving the video
masters rather than the news functions.” Still, in the end, the reader
would enjoy far more choices than before.

The Web, as I saw it, held out yet other possibilities for local papers
such as the _N & O_. Suppose you lived in Chapel Hill and wanted to see
what news had happened there in the past 24 hours; you could click on a
map of the Raleigh area and behold a story list from your town.
Neighborhood-level submaps could show still more. You could read the
most minor tidbits—for example, new requests for zoning changes or items
from neighborhood newsletters. Even more helpful, you could find old
stories and other background information. Let’s say you were shopping
for a condo on a certain street. You might think the neighborhood was
safe—Chapel Hill is a university town, remember—but learn that many
crimes had occurred nearby. Furthermore, you could adjust the _kind_ of
information that you summoned from the Web. For example, you could see
lists of houses for sale in a neighborhood and then retrieve their
photos along with audio sales presentations. Moving on to another
information category, you could uncover lists of nearby stores or see
test scores from the closest elementary school. And you might even see
ads from nearby restaurants and click on them to order.

The food-related examples weren’t entirely hypothetical; Zonker Harris
pointed me toward me some mock ads from Hardee’s and a chain called
Little Caesar’s Pizza. The same business principles I discussed in
chapter 2 applied here. Rather than planning to inflict vast quantities
of material on the unwilling, the _N & O_ made the ads useful and
entertaining. Elsewhere in the _N & O_ area I saw an ad for a computer
dealer, among others, but the real triumph was the area from Mammoth
Records—with home pages for bands, promo photos, discographies, tour
dates, album covers, and more, including a catalogue and, yes, free

But what about the economics of all this? Via an electronic edition the
_N & O_ wouldn’t collect the fifty cents it charged per hard copy issue,
but it wouldn’t have to buy newsprint and distribution services. _That_
was how George Schlukbier hoped the newspaper would turn a profit
eventually. The electronic activities, although not yet profitable as a
whole, were coming along. People on the Net, for example, were calling
up the pages within the _N & O_’s area several hundred thousand times a
week. A page was what you saw when you clicked the mouse to call up an
item, and each page could be just a few lines of information, or go on
for a number of screens. Zonker Harris expected that by the end of 1994
as many people would be dialing up the _N & O_ as called up SunSite UNC,
the popular collection of files at the University of North Carolina.
Readers retrieved Mammoth Record’s pages some 35,000 times a week. That
didn’t mean 35,000 people—there was plenty of repeat business, and of
course the same people looked at more than one page—but the numbers
looked good as a start.

Just who, however, was reading the Web areas of the _N & O_ and other
Internet publications? The _Washington Post_ and many other dailies had
chosen to avoid the Net for the moment because they thought that the
right people weren’t there. And some marketers and journalists tried to
reinforce such arguments by citing a study of 4,777 Web readers by
researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Ninety-four percent
were men, and 56 percent were 21-30 years old—almost half were students
or faculty members or had other university ties. “These are hardly the
type of people to make large consumer or business purchases,” a _San
Francisco Chronicle_ story observed. The experience of JoAnn and Bob
Lilienfeld, as recounted in chapter 2, showed that riches would not
automatically come to merchants on the Web. And yet the potential was
there. The Web readers uncovered by the institute weren’t charity
cases—just yups. Studying the readers of the Baseball server, the _N &
O_ found they were a long way from poverty. Twenty percent of these
Netfolks, for example, earned $35,000-$50,000 a year, 18 percent earned
$50,000-$75,000, and 4 percent earned more than $75,000. And, of course,
many of these Netfolks were young people who would carry their Net habit
over to their jobs and their personal lives. Not surprisingly,
Schlukbier claimed keen interest from representatives of companies such
as J.C. Penney and Radio Shack, and, of course, from fast-food chains,
which, in so many cases, targeted their ads at the young.

Cleverly the _N & O_ built on existing relationships with advertisers.
If you were already on the paper and bought _X_ number of lines, then
you could get the Net as a bonus. North Carolina businesses paid as
little as $50 a month in basic fees to be in the _N & O_’s area on the
Net, not including add-ons such as design services. Big national firms
would pay well into the thousands. Given the newness of the medium, this
would scare off many—unless, like the _N & O_ itself, they saw the Net
as an investment in the future. Then the experiment might work. In my
mind, however, there was one other variable: What about _national_
publications competing with local papers for the same _national_
advertisers? Already Time Warner and the _N & O_ were watching each
other carefully.

Magazines: Time Warner

Typing away on Macintoshes on the fortieth floor of the Time Life
Building in Manhattan, ten floors above _People_ magazine, a small team
started an area of the Web known as Pathfinder. It offered electronic
versions of Time Warner’s vast stable of magazines. Zonker Harris at the
_N & O_ had a slogan, “May the best server win.” The Durham newspapers
might not be in the game so far, but _Time_ and brethren were.

Zonker was justifiably proud of the 300,000 or so accesses a week that
the _N & O_’s Web area was enjoying after several months on the Web. But
just within a week of start-up in fall 1994, the Time Warner area was
drawing more than 80,000 accesses a _day_. That didn’t mean that the _N
& O_’s efforts were doomed—hardly. But despite all the talk about the
Net being nirvana for smaller companies, Fortune 500 corporations
arrived with some advantages of their own. Once readers grew comfortable
with a certain area of the Web, they might spend less time on other
parts of the Net. This wasn’t so much a pattern at the time, but as mass
audiences descended on the Net, corporate logos might count far more.
Beyond that, Time Warner already offered a daily version of _Time_—a
_newspaper_ in effect. It was just one service among a rackfull of
publications. Readers could read up on foreign policy or the latest
_Star Trek_ film in _Time_, take in reviews from _Entertainment Weekly_,
keep up with Ice-T and other hip-hop musicians in _Vibe_, or fire off
questions to authors of best-sellers from Warner Books.

An even greater threat to the _N & O_, in the long run, was the fact
that Time Warner didn’t just own magazines and book publishers. It also
owned _pipes_, including a cable operation in the Raleigh area. And
someday it might use cable TV lines to send the Net into homes there,
competing with the _N & O_, which had already been providing Internet
services. If no antitrust or other legal boundaries existed, then Time
Warner would be remiss in its duties to its stockholders if it did not
explore this route. Think what this would mean to users of the World
Wide Web. If an article came with fancy photos, they might have to wait
several minutes for the whole works to reach them at a speed of 14.4
kilobits per second. But suppose Time Warner used cable TV to bring the
Internet to them. Their televisions would still work with cable the
usual way. But their computers could share the cable and retrieve Web
articles and other material in a fraction of the time. Cable modems sold
for hundreds of dollars. But pilot projects were going on with other
companies, and the cost could soon drop to a fraction of that amount.
More important, big, well-financed corporations might be willing to
modify the old cable for these new capabilities.[4.15] What did this
mean for local, _N & O_-sized companies? Just as high tech had blurred
the difference between telephones and televisions, the Net itself was
blurring the barriers between local and national. It was unclear whether
the public would win or lose.

For better or worse, Time Warner’s area on the Net was part of an
evolution in cyberspace. The process had begun with the small academic
magazines and hobbyist publications that turned to the Net as a cheap
way to find readers. Many if not most still relied on plain text without
graphics; they were little more than archived dispatches to mailing
lists—which was fine because the words mattered above all. One of the
best of these was Adam Engst’s _Tidbits_. Written for Apple owners, it
also appeared on the World Wide Web and bulletin board systems, and
Engst claimed more than 100,000 readers—no small feat for a
kitchen-table-style publisher. Nonconglomerates still provided most of
the magazines on the net, and not all were for techies or sci-fi buffs.
_International Teletimes_ was edited by Ian Wojtowicz, a gifted high
school student who lived in Vancouver, British Columbia. _Teletimes_
went out over the Web with fetching art, not just text, and some of the
prose could have graced _Harper’s_ or the _Atlantic_. Recounting a
winter trip by train, a college student named Paul Gribble wrote: “Every
now and then we pass a lake, completely frozen over, flat and white,
smooth as a skating rink. I’d love to walk to the center of a big frozen
lake like that and just sit there for a while. I’d feel like the first
blot of paint on a fresh silk canvas.”

Many steps up from _Teletimes_, in business terms, was _Global Net
Navigator_. Like the _N & O_ in North Carolina, _GNN_ was trying to use
advertising to support its activities, and you could see ads from
companies as large as Digital Equipment Corporation. _GNN_ was not just
technical. It posted informative, brightly written articles on topics
ranging from money to food and travel. _Wired_ magazine was on the Net,
too, with an offshoot called _HotWired_, which itself wandered far from
technical topics and attracted lucrative ads from the likes of Volvo and
AT&T. None of these publications, of course, happened to be a Household
Name like Time Warner’s _Time_ or _People_. Many experts felt that as a
profitable medium for big-time magazines—and let’s not confuse size with
quality or lack thereof—the Internet had a long way to go.

Jeffrey Dearth offered at least an interim answer. Teaming up with a
small corporation with the grand name of the Internet Company, Dearth
offered the Electronic Newsstand. Like the Pathfinder or _N & O_’s Net
edition, the Newsstand was a godsend to browsers. You could wander
through sample articles from _Business Week_; _Field & Stream_; _The
Economist_; _The New Yorker_; _National Review_; _Maclean’s_, Canada’s
largest newsweekly; or The _New Republic_, of which Dearth himself was
publisher. The Time Warner experiment notwithstanding, most of the Names
were far behind. Dearth offered them the equivalent of a catch-up course
or at least some solid remedial instruction. They could test the waters
of the Net to see how much interest their articles drew, before deciding
whether to set up their own areas there. Via the Newsstand, magazines
could accept subscription orders.

But order taking was a long way from fancier “interactivity”—to use a
pet term of media people—and this was where Time Warner’s Pathfinder
area would shine. The area didn’t just recycle magazines on the Net, it
also offered powerful tools to find old articles by typing in search
words or the names of topics. From the start, the searching capability
was among the more popular services. Soon Pathfinder would include
hypertext links that let you go from an article on a certain topic to an
ongoing discussion. Already Time Warner provided special services such
as one for gardeners. They could type in their general wishes about
flowers and supply their location and other odds and ends, and then Time
would offer tips on what to grow. It also allowed inquirers find out how
their congressman or senator had voted on certain key issues. And many
more applications like this were on the way. What’s more, people could
talk back to Time Warner writers and others by way of an advanced
bulletin board system designed for the Web. It was _much_ easier to use
than the _N & O_’s.

Not everyone liked the Web area. One woman hated the “overstuffed”
artwork—others said it gobbled up too much downloading time. She also
chided _Time_ for putting out the online version of _Sunset_ magazine
“for Northern Californians still living in their ’50s ranch houses.” I
myself, however, enjoyed the kitsch and flashy, busy look of the Web
area as a whole. That was the way the _real_ magazines came across; this
was pop culture, not the _Kenyon Review_.

Almost immediately the _Time_ board teemed with lively talk on issues
ranging from Clintonian stupidities to, yes, the future of the
electronic medium. I felt much more comfortable here than in the message
area of the _N & O_; people on the _Time_ board spoke their minds more
freely. Some amusing posts showed up. Amazingly, the software let people
key in their own identities, and the late Henry Luce, cofounder of
_Time_, arose from the grave as luce@pastmytime.com. One message
appeared, truthfully or not, with the name of a staffer at _U.S. News &
World Report_. He promised that _U.S. News_ would set up an outpost on
the Net soon, and someone at _Time_ twitted him for not answering e-mail
promptly. Despite my fondness for the reporting in _U.S. News_, I had to
agree. Researching a Net guide for political activists, I’d written
_U.S. News_ six months ago and had yet to receive an answer.

Time Warner also showed network savvy by following the example of _GNN_
and similar publications and providing some hypertext pointers to the
rest of the Internet, rather than expecting readers to stay within its
own area. Time Warner even enlisted some of its household names in the
cause. The electronic version of _Entertainment Weekly_, for example,
did not just review Madonna or Springsteen or the latest Hollywood
films; it also directed people to popular, entertainment-oriented sites
on the Net itself by way of hypertext links. I still wanted to see many,
many more links—a strength of _GNN_. But I suspected that would come in

Planning the Pathfinder service, Time Warner had even consulted with the
publisher of _Wired_. “They’re providing real news, not just PR blather
or sales areas for their products,” said Chip Bayers, the managing
editor of _HotWired_, the _Wired_ offshoot on the Web. And he was right.

I myself was no cheerleader for Time Warner in some ways—I worried about
media concentrations.[4.16] But here the Suits deserved their due.
_HotWired_ offered avant-garde graphics on the Web along with services
such as bulletin boards and free archives; I was pleased, yet hardly
surprised. _Wired_, after all, was still a bit of an upstart despite
heavy investment from a corporate arm of the powerful Newhouse
family.[4.17] But Time Warner was different—the epitome of the
journalistic and Hollywood establishments, a company with many benefits
from the status quo. I recalled the upbeat stories that _Time_ had run
about the world of 500-channel television. Such articles betrayed far
more tolerance of the “one to many” broadcast model, as opposed to the
newer, more anarchistic model of the Net. Many in the Time Life tower,
especially on the entertainment side, might still harbor these less
adventurous visions. And yet the company was now spreading its bets
around. That seemed sensible enough, given the chilliness that some test
markets had shown interactive TV.

A _Time_ writer named Philip Elmer-DeWitt had grown more and more
attuned to the potential of the Net. He was a regular on The WELL, the
bulletin board system frequented by many of the elite journalists on the
Internet. Again and again Elmer-DeWitt showed up on newsgroups and
mailing lists with spunky, opinionated posts on such topics as the media
and telecommunications. He lent his name to a successful legal campaign
to aid Brock Meeks, a small publisher on the Net who faced a libel suit
from a mail-order tycoon in Ohio. What’s more, Elmer-DeWitt was
sensitive to the threats from the Clipper chip, which Washington might
use someday to invade the privacy of millions of Americans. He clearly
represented the interests of his employer, but he did so with a good mix
of wit and smarts that endeared him to many on the Internet. His
electronic signature said, “Read Time on America Online where we are
paid to take abuse.”

Enlivened by posts from Netfolks and WELLfolks whom Elmer-DeWitt had
befriended, _Time_’s message board thrived on America Online. But now,
quite correctly, _Time_ had run an article pointing out the advantages
of the Internet from the perspective of publishers. _Time_ raised a big
question, the same one Frank Daniels had asked. Did publications really
have to fork over such a hefty percentage of their online revenue to
commercial services, such as America Online, when the Internet existed?
Time Warner’s well-stocked area on the Net was itself an answer of
sorts. Granted, the company’s outpost on America Online wasn’t about to
vanish. Time Warner was testing both interactive TV and computers as
transmission vehicles; similarly the company was not committing itself
to any single network in cyberspace. I took it for granted that sooner
or later Time Warner might end up on the network that Bill Gates was
starting. Just as _Time_ reached newsstands everywhere, the electronic
equivalent could seek out eyes wherever the phone lines led. _Sports
Illustrated_, _Fortune_, and _People_ would soon be on CompuServe. And
yet Time Warner’s priority in the computer world was clear: the Internet
above all else, at least for the moment.

“When we put _Time_ on America Online,” said Walter Isaacson, editor of
new media at Time, “it is done on their server, using their software,
and only someone subscribing to America Online and using America Online
software can access it. On the Web, anyone using public domain software
can get to it.” I could just have substituted “_News & Observer_” for
“_Time_,” an impression only strengthened by the next sentence: “We have
a direct relationship to our readers.” Isaacson went on: “There will be
massive amounts more content from Time Inc. on the Web than on America
Online or CompuServe, which will just feature individual magazines.”

Some twenty-two magazines were to go on the Web. Isaacson said around
ten editors would participate full or part time. Total investment in the
Web site was to reach the “mid six figures,” and “with advertising it
should be in the black within a year.” “There may be a mix of ads and
subscription fees,” Isaacson said. Mercifully, the advertising would not
be the intrusive Prodigy kind that popped up on the bottom of my screen
in a garish, Vegas style.

Jim Kinsella, the ex-newspaper editor who presided over the Web area,
said he was pushing for a subscription fee of around $8 a month. I would
have wanted the price to be a few dollars lower, but it was fine if I
got enough for my money. If nothing else, Kinsella wanted readers to be
able to stay online without the time charges that made thousands unplug
their hookups with America Online and similar services. A product
manager with Microsoft would later say as much to the _New York Times_
in discussing Bill Gates’ new service: “We’re trying to reduce the
threshold of pain. We think users hate connect fees.”[4.18]

Kinsella’s $8 monthly fee—his proposed figure, not Time Warner’s—would
be for Pathfinder itself, not for the Internet connection. I did some
quick math. Pathfinder could indeed be a competitive possibility if Time
Warner were able to lower the cost of using the Internet by way of cable
television from the $75-$100 a month that people typically paid for such

Mass use might enable Time Warner to undercut the $20 that the _N & O_
presently charged. Typical readers might want to keep reading a _local_
newspaper, and the _N & O_ could drop its own prices, but this was still
a good example of how national media just might drain at least some
readers away from the local media. Understandably, Kinsella was thinking
in mass, national terms, as I would have done. He predicted that within
five or ten years half the country might be able to reach the Net in one
way or another. Others at Time were similarly optimistic.

Not everyone in late 1994 was so sanguine. Mark Stahlman, for example, a
media expert in New York, shrugged off Net publications as “just the
latest in a series of fads.” Richard M. Smith, _Newsweek_’s editor in
chief who was running the new-media committee of the Magazine Publishers
of America, was skeptical about online services in general: “The people
who are making money are the people who are running conferences about

Smith was oversimplifying somewhat, but formidable barriers did exist,
of which one of the biggest happened to be the limits of the technology.
Reading electronic text for hours on end could be murder on both the
back and the eyes. All day long I sat in front of a computer screen; the
last thing I wanted was to have to do it while I wandered through
magazines or books. Television wouldn’t do: I hated the idea of reading
a magazine or novel from ten feet away. Besides, didn’t magazines and
books exist to be enjoyed in bed, on the hammock, or at the beach?

Mightn’t Silicon Valley, however, come out with small, tablet-style
computers designed for reading? “TeleReaders” could feature optional
keyboards for people who wanted to use them as general purpose
computers. Screens, needless to say, must be much sharper than today,
and without so much flicker. Batteries should last longer. And, ideally,
you should be able to dart from place to place in a newspaper or
magazine by merely touching a “pen” to the appropriate part of your
screen. _That_ was what the magazine, newspaper, and book industries
needed, rather than just more conferences. Washington could even
encourage this by way of a focused procurement program for schools and
libraries; the same machines could even be used for electronic forms for
government and commerce.

Roger Fidler of Knight-Ridder had already been experimenting with
mockups of tablet-style machines. He was more interested in a
newspaper-oriented approach and less in a general one than I was. But
the basic idea was the same—words needn’t be captives of the printed
page. The real question was this: How soon until the right technology
appeared? Electronic magazines such as Time Warner’s would still make
money without a TeleRead-style approach, but the full potential would
not be reached, especially if more children abandoned words for TV and
computer images. That was even truer for the world of books. Even more
than magazines and newspapers, e-books suffered from the limits of
technology. It wasn’t just a question of the right machine for viewing;
at issue were other matters such as copy protection and billing. But at
least some partial solutions were on the way, and even with the present
difficulties of the medium, online bookstores were sprouting up on the
Internet. One of the best was run by Laura Fillmore, an editor in
Massachusetts who had once worked for Little, Brown.

Books: Laura Fillmore and
the Online Bookstore

An elderly man owned a charming old store in a southern town with the
standard magnolias, wrought iron staircases, and hot, moist summers, and
he loved to brag about his shiny new safe. Most customers did not know
about it or care. Rather than worrying so much about the protection of
his wealth, he might have been better off to imitate his rivals and
invest his money in air-conditioning instead of the safe.

The man reminded me of myopic publishers and authors. Not quite grasping
the full potential of the Internet, they fretted too much about
copyright protection, and not enough about making their wares friendly
to shoppers. A pay-per-read company in Virginia was typical here. You
could download its books off the Internet, but you did not enjoy such
niceties as links to other titles online. Nor could you print more than
a page or so at once. Beyond that, you had to clutter up your computer
system with a $25 gadget hooked up to the printer port. If you were
working on tight deadlines and were rich and desperate enough, you might
stomach this copy protection system. But I dreaded the possibility of
its adoption by the book industry as a whole; established publishers and
writers just might see the world pass them by if they cared too much
about cybersafes and not enough about customer amenities. Many megabytes
of good, free reading awaited the public on the Web, and not everyone
understood the value that professional editors and writers could add.

Nowadays, however, more publishers and hangers-on were catching on to
the nuances of the Net. Among them was Laura Fillmore, a publishing
consultant who owned the Online BookStore in Rockport, Massachusetts.
She must have driven some traditionalists crazy. Fillmore actually had
the notion that ASCII—text in a popular format, without italics and the
other trimmings—should be free to everyone. She loved Doctrine Publishing Corporation,
which an Illinois academic had started to put classics and other works
on the Net at no charge. Fillmore was the antithesis of a techno-geek,
the kind of woman who just might read Dickens to her two children on
snowy days, and who was a regular on the speaker circuit within her
industry. She had majored in English at Barnard College and worked for a
publishing company that dated back to the nineteenth century. Fillmore
helped bridge the past and the electronic era. Her vision wasn’t quite
the same as mine, but it was worlds apart from that of piracy-fixated
publishers who saw electronic readers as a criminal class.

The move to the Net was, in her opinion, part of a long evolution toward
a new form of decentralized publishing. She recalled when the great
houses didn’t farm out editing and other tasks as often as they do
today, and when almost every book took nine months to reach the stores.
“Back in the late ’70s when I was at Little, Brown,” she said, “we
needed to get special permission to use Ex. When an author wanted his
sales figures, I’d walk up the street to the top floor of a separate
building where Rose, the lady with the P & L cards, had been keeping
tabs for twenty years, and I’d sign out the neatly penciled card and
carefully carry it to my boss, wrapping it in plastic against the
weather if necessary. I passed the copyediting department with their
well-stocked reference library, a bastion against inaccuracies, and the
design department, smelling of wax, hung with rulers, sizing wheels, and
X-acto knives.”[4.20] The industry, though, had changed; now freelancers
throughout the country, not just in New York or Boston, were often
editing and even publishing books. Fillmore herself had gone into
freelance editorial work years before, and she still remembered “the
shrinking feeling in my stomach the first time I bought a computer setup
back in 1984: $10,000 of the bank’s money for an XT and an HP LaserJet.
The salesman left, I was back at the C prompt, and the room grew dark.
No matter which buttons I pushed, ‘Abort, Retry, Ignore’ glared back
persistently. Finally, I chose none of the above and unplugged the whole
thing.”[4.21] Fillmore overcame her technophobia, but the chaos of
change still made her uncomfortable. “Increasing speed and volume have
led to high job turnover, a blurring of disciplines. Our computerized
tools allow the editor to become a typist, a designer, and a
type-setter, the designer becomes a software junkie, a graphic artist, a
prepress house. No time for galleys! Straight to pages! No time for
pages; straight to film. The drop dead date is bottom line. Sales are
needed this quarter.”[4.22]

Years ago, competition had reached the point where many typesetting jobs
left the United States. “We even hired freelancers thirdhand in
Singapore and Haiti,” Fillmore recalled in a speech. “The publisher
hired me; I hired someone stateside to hire someone in-country to hire
the keyboarder and, still, the publisher ended paying maybe half what
the job would have cost him at $15 per hour. Our topic today is

But in Fillmore’s opinion, this distributed form of publishing, where
tasks went every which way, would take a newer and more humane form. In
the 1980s books had appeared on computer networking, a kinder technology
than the brutal, production-oriented variety of the past. And now
Fillmore saw in networks a chance to “elicit life from people” who used
computers to communicate. Her own “epiphany” came when a Net-oriented
writer, John Quarterman, author of _The Matrix_, introduced her to “the
then alien concept of electronic mail. My assistant would pick up mail
from my lone correspondent, the author, print it out, put it in my in
box, and I would handwrite responses which she would input and send back
in due time. It sounds quaint, but it seemed to make sense to me at the
time—in the same way computerized typesetting distributed though
unconnected PCs made sense.” On the Net, everyone could publish, not
just giant publishing houses. And so Quarterman could forward to her
some public messages from students who were defying the Chinese Army in
Tiananmen Square. They could speak for themselves; no one edited them.
They weren’t like the freelance typists in Haiti: They were not “hidden
and voiceless behind four middlemen” and “with no hope of a phone, much
less an Internet connection.”[4.24]

The overlap in Fillmore’s mind, between publishing and communicating via
the Net, was entirely natural. When the Haitians typed, they created a
digitized version of the book they were working on. They were not just
transferring words to paper. Bits and bytes, once created, could go

Fillmore, of course, was hardly the first to think of consolidating
knowledge. As early as 1945 a scientist had published a preternaturally
farsighted _Atlantic Monthly_ article that was to electronic publishing
what Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks were to inventions in general.
Vannevar Bush had proposed a memex, a microfilm-based device that could
bring together knowledge from many disciplines—along with the thoughts
of the user. It would be, in other words, a cross between a personal
file cabinet and a giant library. In a speech, Fillmore quoted a key
passage: “The human mind ... operates by association. With one item in
its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the
association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails
covered by the brain.”[4.25] Bush might as well have been describing the
World Wide Web and its links that allow you to click on “Boeing” and see
“Airplanes” or click on “Clinton” and see “Presidents.” Ted Nelson, a
dreamer-writer-programmer, was thinking of the memex when he invented
hypertext links. That concept, in turn, excited Tim Berners-Lee, a
staffer at a physics institute in Berne, Switzerland, who was the father
of the Web—the vast network of computers through which I could retrieve
the Raleigh _News and Observer_, _Time_, and Fillmore’s offerings.

Back in 1992, however, the World Wide Web was a fraction of its present
size, and programmers had yet to release easy, graphically oriented
browsers such as Mosaic that would help tame the Web. Even more than
today, people needed books to fathom the Net. And yet no popular-level
guide was in print. So it was entirely fitting that when Fillmore
decided to create a book from scratch—rather than just produce it for a
publisher—the Internet was the subject. This how-to guide was _The
Internet Companion_, the author was Tracy LaQuey, and the paper
publisher was Addison-Wesley. Fillmore kept the network rights and
looked forward to distributing the book through her new Online
BookStore. Barry Shein of Software Tool & Die, the first commercial
service to hook ordinary mortals into the Internet, had offered her
space on his bank of hard disks. “He described his operation,” she said,
“as basically an electronic store with empty shelves and a cash register
at the door. I decided that I’d find electronic properties to fill these
shelves.”[4.26] But the Internet at the time had Acceptable Use Policies
that prevented her from making a profit. What to do?

Fillmore hit on a solution that actually rewarded her for an idealistic
approach to publishing. She gave away—with great luck in the end—ASCII
files from the book in hopes of drumming up interest in the paper
version. “Who wants to read hundreds of pages in ASCII anyway?” Fillmore
would later ask. Unadorned ASCII by itself wasn’t always that pleasant
to read, and many people liked the Net version well enough to shell out
money for a paper book. “Even our publisher was supportive of our
effort,” Fillmore said, “and happy with the resulting sales
figures.”[4.27] Orders poured in from as far off as Finland and Korea.
Netfolks all over the world could learn of Fillmore’s offering
immediately rather than waiting for reviews to show up in local
magazines and newspapers.

Within two years, _Companion_ had sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Al Gore had written the foreword just before his election as vice
president, but the freebies on the Net certainly hadn’t hurt. Other
publishers also found that free copies could be a boon, not a bane. _Zen
and the Art of the Internet_ (Prentice Hall) and _The Hacker’s
Dictionary_ (MIT Press) similarly flew off the racks. “Giving something
valuable away for free,” Fillmore said, “can make money.”[4.28]

Of course some would say she hadn’t actually published online. Rather
she had used the medium to promote a paper book. Still, the prospect of
purely electronic publishing beckoned. “I was seduced by the prospect of
the then 10 million people on the Internet—10 million literate people
with disposable incomes—attached to the Net. Why not acquire lots of
Internet rights to lots of books and put them online at the Online
BookStore. Surely some percentage of those people would buy files of a
popular author’s books for a reasonable price.”[4.29] Fillmore was
sensible enough to price her offerings for consumers who were spending
their own money, not their bosses’. Some commercial databases were
charging as much as $200 per hour or more, while Fillmore was thinking
more in terms of $5, say, for a short story downloaded from the Net.

The test story was “Umney’s Last Case,” a fifty-page Stephen King story
from a collection called _Nightmares and Dreamscapes_. King was among
the best-selling writers on the planet. Fillmore dreamed of tens of
thousands of dialups even if “Umney” intrigued only 1 percent of the 10
million people on the Net at the time. Fillmore had picked out just the
right King story, one where a time traveler gave a Toshiba T-1000 laptop
computer to a tough detective around 1939—someone who in turn used his
“plastic Buck Rogers steno machine” to write a story within King’s own

Fillmore’s “Umney” project was a sensation at the biggest book fair in
the world, the one at Frankfurt; upbeat stories appeared in places
ranging from European news programs to the _Wall Street Journal_. She
witnessed “a vast amount of smoke, a tremendous marketing boost for the
printed book again, lots of noise—and by extension, lots of profit for
the publisher and for the author—but handfuls of per-copy sales.”[4.30]
They didn’t even pay for all the phone calls used to set up the deal.

I was hardly surprised. Enjoying access to many megs of free material on
the Net, the typical denizen didn’t want to shell out even $5 for the
story even if she or he could simply fax in a credit card number. It
wasn’t that King’s work was worthless—quite the opposite. Rather, on the
Internet and with this business model, “Umney” at most any realistic
price could not compete with free material such as Usenet postings.

Yes, the Net teemed with sci-fi and fantasy fans. But as I saw it, they
were too busy talking to each other, and, while they would have been
delighted to download “Umney” for free, they balked at spending the $5.
You might say that “Umney” was like a typical TV program. The appeal was
potentially broad but not deep. Pay-per-view wasn’t that much of a hit
on cable TV, and the same principle applied here. “Umney” could enhance
a collection of material for subscribers—we go back to the flat-fee
example of the _News & Observer_ and Jim Kinsella’s vision for Time
Warner—but even a Stephen King story wasn’t strong enough on its own for
online use. Part of the problem, I believed, was the medium. The right
technology for reading fifty-page short stories just wasn’t out there
yet. With the proper equipment, the value would increase.

Besides, even now, Fillmore could use a license or sponsorship model.
She sold “Umney” to two computer networks, one of them CompuServe, which
gained the right to post the story for a week during a conference on
paperless publishing. “Hundreds of people have accessed it,” Fillmore
said. The future possibilities were evident now. Corporations someday
might sponsor books on computer networks the way they sponsored programs
on CBS or NBC. In fact, whole sites on the Net—with the names of
companies—could serve as homes for innovative projects. Sun Microsystems
was oriented toward UNIX, relied heavily on sales to Net users, and
benefited from the goodwill and publicity that its SunSite libraries
enjoyed. Fare ranged from presidential speeches to the Internet
Underground Music Archive; there could be a place for commercial e-books
as well in these high-tech sandboxes, as Fillmore jokingly called such

The sponsorship model wasn’t perfect, of course. Fillmore herself was
the first to wonder which corporations would have sponsored writings
about the uprising in Tiananmen Square. Big companies often favored
upbeat material. As I saw it, fiction and nonfiction books alike might
suffer if this model alone prevailed. They differed from newspapers and
magazines; book publishers thought more in terms of individual
properties, and beyond that, publications such as the _N & O_ and _Time_
already enjoyed strong identities from their paper incarnations. The new
media were less a challenge to their editorial integrity. But many
sponsored books might degenerate into the Net equivalent of the wretched
infomercials on TV, the ones where over-the-hill actors “interviewed”
astrologers or memory experts, and where the audiences clapped
thunderously on cue.

Wisely, Fillmore did not give up on “Umney” entirely—it was still online
when I was writing this chapter—nor did she quit using the Net to
promote writings on paper. Even more important, she tried out writings
that took advantage of links to other material on the Web.

_Bless This Food: Amazing Grace in Praise of Food_ was an example of
prime material for hypertext. The paper book bought together
food-related prayers from many times and places. But everything was
contained. You couldn’t wander outside the printed pages. Thanks to
Fillmore, however, you could click on Buddhist-related material and see
a Buddha’s image piped in from the Smithsonian. You could even e-mail
the author of _Bless_, Adrian Butash. Fillmore wasn’t just selling the
book itself—she was offering it as a “dashboard” that could take you to
related material on the Net. Certainly the Smithsonian hadn’t had
_Bless_ in mind when it posted the picture of Buddha. However, through
the pointers in the electronic edition, you could learn of this image
and view it in just the right context; that, after all, was the splendor
of the Web. Quite honestly, then, Fillmore could charge $25 for a book
that sold in hardback from Delacorte for $18.95. She was giving you
_more_ for your money. Besides, if you proposed new links and she liked
them, you would receive some royalties. You, the reader, could be part
of the book and the author’s life. We could all be editors.

As a writer, I had somewhat mixed feelings about this. I loved e-mail
from readers. But I was already spending too many hours a day on
electronic correspondence of one kind or another. I hated the idea of
suffering a constant stream of e-mail from Project X when I wanted to
move on to Project Y. If this model won out, writers would have to be
much choosier about the projects they took on—knowing that publishers
expected more commitment.

Given the deluge of 50,000 titles a year that readers face just from
U.S. publishers, more than a few people would enjoy such a prospect. But
they shouldn’t grow too complacent. With electronic publishing much
cheaper than the paper variety, we might eventually see 100,000
commercially published titles a year. I, for one, wouldn’t mind as long
as quality and royalties don’t suffer. The problem is not too many
books, but rather the need for better software to sort through them—or
for more hypertext editors to issue good pointers. That is one reason
why I loved the idea of publishers selling pointers as well as actual

Not every writer would be open-minded, of course; even Fillmore at first
had feared hypertext. When O’Reilly and Associates put one of her papers
on the Web through _GNN_—spreading around her observations on electronic
publishing—she saw all kinds of links. By clicking on blue letters, for
example, readers would call up material about a founder of Internet.
Fillmore felt as if a Philistine had taken her beautiful bowl, her
self-contained piece of writing, and turned it into a colander. Some
writers might see a parallel in another way: Suppose the colander leaked
readers, who, seeing the links, dove off into another area of the Net,
and _never_ returned. Fillmore had adjusted to this possibility, and I
could, too. Just like Zonker Harris I was of the “May the best server
win!” mentality, except that I refused to confuse popularity with merit.
Books weren’t like sports servers.

From society’s viewpoint, another issue presented itself here. Both
Fillmore and I wondered about the damage that television and computers
might be doing to people’s attention spans. “Attention deficit disorder
seems to have arisen at the same time that computers have spread to the
home and office,” she said, “and I don’t think that’s an accident. How
many people age twelve and younger are capable of reading 300 pages of
sustained argument about anything?” Another worry arose, too, in my
mind. Like Frank Daniels, I realized that an entire generation of
children was spending more time gazing at computer and TV screens than
they devoted to books and traditional newspapers.

I felt that technology was destiny, that Washington and other
governments should promote computers that encouraged the receptive to
read e-books hour after hour. Too much of the new-style education, as
envisioned by many, would be task oriented—would be _training_ as much
as _education_ per se. That was fine for technical matters where, for
example, a future factory worker might want to learn the basics of
engine design. Hypertext was superb. The student could study a diagram
of a diesel engine, click on an individual part, and read and hear a
detailed explanation of its function. But I wanted technology that also
encouraged people to read and absorb whole books.

If book readers were too small a minority, then countries such as the
United States would be less democratic and more oligarchic, with the
elite all too able to manipulate the other citizens. Some social critics
such as Neil Postman demonized technology as a source of mindless
distractions for the masses. I, however, saw opportunity if we acted
soon enough before we lost more children to TV. That meant sharp
screens, smaller, lighter machines, and other advances—which would come
sooner or later, but which could be hastened by the coming of a focused
procurement program. Washington should assure the Valley a market for
the right hardware. It should also try harder to help schools absorb it,
so the machines wouldn’t just sit idle in closets.

A national digital library, not just a digital store leading to
commercial collections, was just as essential as better hardware. Today
a college student researching the effect of Shakespeare on popular
culture is able to find the Bard’s work at the school library. But what
about tracking down newer books that the library couldn’t afford to buy?
Also, only one student could read a paper copy at a time; suppose a
professor wanted many students to compare impressions of a novel,
especially one that was out of print and long gone from the bookstores?
People on the technical side could benefit even more than those in the
humanities. The best and most recent guides to Microsoft Word or
Windows, for example, didn’t come from educators; rather they came from
the private sector. The faster this knowledge could reach average
citizens, the easier it would be to upgrade the labor force.

A national digital library, moreover, would help many businesses market
their goods. A food company trying to sell a new line of rice, for
example, could instantly call up cookbooks of many ethnic groups and
find out the relationship between food and the cultures. In an era of
customized products, companies needed to learn quickly about niche
markets. That would be especially true as business globalized; corporate
planners had to keep on top of conditions in many countries.

So TeleRead-style libraries—which let people look through many kinds of
information, everything from books to UN reports—could make real
contributions in the United States and elsewhere. If nothing else,
governments needed to understand the possible efficiencies. Yes, public
and academic librarians would choose books. But innovative, private
firms would own the computer banks (well backed up) storing the books
and other material; many different contractors, always trying to outdo
each other’s technologies, could compete. Other efficiencies would
accrue. Pooling the public libraries of rich and poor citizens would
help everyone by increasing the variety of books available to all.

Big Brother needn’t run a national digital library. Subject-oriented
librarians in many cities might acquire material; in effect they would
be putting a public library system online, one that reflected the tastes
of, say, Lyons as well as Paris. How much more supple than the
overcentralized approach that the French now favored for their national
library! The elite librarians could still identify the books _they_ had
blessed, but the provincials could have their say as well; and, given
the variability of literary tastes over the ages, the latter in some
cases might prevail anyway.

What’s more, by gambling money up front to qualify for royalties from
TeleRead, writers and commercial publishers could bypass the librarians.
Book people such as Laura Fillmore could thrive under this approach. A
national library could offer e-books not only to citizens directly but
also to independent-minded entrepreneurs such as Fillmore, who could
charge for their custom links. I loved the idealism she showed in
suggesting that ASCII be free. It was a good model in many cases for
today. But I feared that as computers grew better for book reading—and
it would happen eventually, with or without a TeleRead program—free
ASCII would take away too many paying customers. And if ASCII books
weren’t free? Then, more than ever, piracy would occur regardless of
various legal and technological precautions. So the answer should be
free national digital libraries—well stocked and with fair pay for
writers and publishers—to reduce the temptation to bypass copy
protection. Use tracking to report dialup counts and pay originators of
material, but not for billing. _That_ was the way to take full advantage
of the technology and keep market incentives while promoting literacy.

Rich countries would be the first to start libraries of this kind. They
could safeguard their intellectual property by helping poorer countries
get books online if the latter agreed to honor copyright laws. The time
would come for national and international Electronic Peace Corps to make
this possible. EPCs could help upgrade Third World phone systems on site
and share knowledge via e-books, e-mail, two-way video, and otherwise.
To enforce global copyright law, we needed carrots as well as sticks.

What’s more, governments could protect books with technology far less
cumbersome than the $25 gadgets that the pay-per-read bookstore in
Virginia used. _Then_ e-text stood a chance. I thought of the old
merchant down South: Safes were useful, but only if the customers could
enjoy an air-conditioner—an easy-to-use digital library for all of a
country’s citizens.

National digital libraries, of course, could link up with each other and
form an official world library someday. But, given the many cultural
differences, that was impossible now. National libraries, then, were the
way to go—with opportunities for citizens in different countries to read
each other’s books when governments allowed this. I pitied the censors.
In an era of international computer networks, national libraries would
end up anyway as one big global library for citizens of open societies
and for the more resourceful people of countries such as Iran. Simply
put, national digital libraries would make it so much easier to market
or shop for books internationally. When a Swedish anarchist heard about
TeleRead, his big question wasn’t, “Isn’t this an opportunity for
cultural imperialism?” Instead it was, “Will I be able to read American
best-sellers as quickly as people there can?” Whatever the kind of
book—a Tom Clancy thriller or an anarchistic tract—TeleRead libraries
would allow easy global distribution.

In rich countries such as the United States and Sweden, the need for
national digital libraries would only grow with the introduction of
better televisions and video games, not to mention the distractions of
the Net itself—including virtual reality, at some point. Even in wealthy
nations, people had only so much disposable income. How much of it would
be left for online books? Mightn’t we use e-forms and digital libraries
to transfer resources from paperwork to knowledge? As much as I
applauded the good work that Frank Daniels was doing with the third
graders in Raleigh, I was a little put off by the online questionnaire
for adults and children using his BBS. It asked about favorite TV
programs, physical appearance, sports, and other activities, but a
simple question was missing—one that I felt certain would have been on
the list twenty years ago: “What are your favorite books?”

Spring 1995: An (Interim) Afterword

Whatever the medium—newspapers, books, or magazines—many Netfolks saw
the Internet as a path to diversity. That was partly why I liked seeing
_The News & Observer_ online with A. C. Snow et al. Maybe the Internet
could rescue locally owned newspapers before they all tumbled down the
maws of conglomerates. On May 17, 1995, however, _The NandO Times_, the
Webbed newspaper of the _N & O_, ran a story that I’d never wanted to
read. A chain was buying up the company. For perhaps the first time, a
Net daily reported on the sale of it and its pulped-wood siblings.

A color photo showed Frank Daniels III briefing his staff. What really
caught my eye, however, was a revelation that I saw later in the _New
York Times_: “Frank Daniels III said he was convinced that the paper
needed to find a larger parent in part to give the paper the resources
necessary to nurture those new electronic efforts.” More than a few of
us newspaper junkies had hoped that the new technology would help keep
the _N & O_ local. I recalled one reason why Daniels had not dumped his
_N & O_ stock in the 1980s in favor of an investment in an online
service. “The relationship between a newspaper and a community,” he had
said, “has such a richness and history that communities shouldn’t lose
that.” Now, however, after 101 years in the Daniels family, the _N & O_
and trimmings were going to a California chain for $373 million. The
buyer was McClatchy Newspapers Inc., the former employer of George
Schlukbier, the Daniels’s new-media guru.

No wicked corporate conspiracies existed here. The Danielses simply felt
comfortable with McClatchy, which not only shared the _N & O_’s still
basically liberal politics but also enjoyed a good reputation in the
newspaper business.

Run out of Sacramento, McClatchy Newspapers was a family-owned chain
with just twelve dailies. It allowed much more leeway to local editors
than many others did, and I might well have reacted just as the Daniels
family did when the McClatchy people came calling. The _N & O_ mustn’t
end up in the hands of some skinflint chain; McClatchy Newspapers could
be an excellent alternative.

Still, the sale did not delight me. The Net, after all, was supposed to
be good for small guys, including, presumably, family-owned enterprises.
Josephus Daniels had bought the _N & O_ at that bankruptcy auction in
1894, seen it through the Roaring Twenties, the stockmarket crash, and
the heyday of his friend FDR. He must have died thinking that the
Daniels name would forever grace the masthead. From a portrait in the
boardroom, he looked out at his progeny announcing the transaction. Just
why couldn’t all the computers and cables and videocams have helped
strengthen the family business, not force its sale?

I could see how the latter may have happened. The Daniels had had to
invest in both the printing press and the new med_ia_, with an emphasis
on the plural. A story on newsprint, an Internet audio, and a video
would cost more than just an old-fashioned version. Network-related
expenses of the _N & O_ may have been smaller than the investment in new
press, but they would only grow in the future. No-frills Web areas cost
next to nothing to set up. But net.papers with the very flashiest
graphics and full-motion video would need programmers and designers and
other specialists, not all of them cheap. At the same time the Daniels
wanted to cover their circulation area well, and that meant a big,
expensive staff of reporters, too.

Just as important, however, the _N & O_ faced strong competition for
advertisers and readers. Yes, the Net shrank distances and gave smaller
companies some new marketing opportunities. But as shown by Time
Warner’s giant electronic newsstand, it could also create some good
synergies for media conglomerates offering package deals to national
advertisers. In certain respects—hardly all—readers also benefited. I
could key in “Carly Simon,” for example, and see any stories that might
have appeared about her, not only in _Time_ but also in _Entertainment
Weekly_ or _People_. Frank Daniels could bring together wire service
news and offbeat items from technical publications and others. But in
the future he couldn’t match the brand appeal of corporations such as
Time Warner.

Daniels had a right to be proud of his technological accomplishments, of
course. But from now on, assuming that he stayed, as he apparently would
for the moment, he would be an employee rather than a member of the
owning family. Forget the Third Wave talk of Net saving us all from
conglomerates. We could all have our own home pages on the World Wide
Web, of course, and maybe put out little magazines; and IUMA-style
startups could always use the new technology to startle the Goliaths—and
in the end, exceptions notwithstanding, the Internet did foster
diversity. Clearly, though, it was far from an all-purpose savior for
the _N & O_s of the world. However powerful in North Carolina, the
Raleigh newspaper was hardly on an equal footing when it competed
against the very largest media organizations.

As if to underscore that point, eight huge newspaper publishers had
banded together earlier that spring to form New Century Network, a club
for the big boys on the Net. Some people wondered if the giants might
lose out in the end—readers wanted to tour the Web themselves, not just
confine themselves to material favored by newspaper coalitions. And
maybe New Century wouldn’t end up so exclusive after all. Also,
advertisers might prefer to sprinkle their cash around the Web rather
than focus it on newspaper chains—they could pay for links to their
pages from many sites without much ado. The natural economies of the Net
might yet win out over the business plans of the giants. Still, for the
moment, publishers such as Gannett and the Washington Post Company were
apparently setting the tone of New Century itself. The 185 New Century
papers claimed more than 23 million paying readers.

“New Century might raise antitrust questions,” wrote Rory O’Connor, a
reporter for the _San Jose Mercury News_, part of Knight-Ridder, a chain
in New Century. Peter Winter, interim chief executive of New Century,
said the publishers were “comfortable with our conformance to antitrust

Antitrust was the talk of the newspaper and online industries. In early
June the U.S. Justice Department said it was studying the network that
Microsoft aimed to launch in August. Just by clicking on the proper icon
available through the Windows 95 operating system, people could join the
Microsoft Network. And some newspapers and other online services feared
that Microsoft could stifle the competition. In a year Windows might
sell 20-40 million copies; what if several million users clicked?

Newspapers worried increasingly about the Microsoft Network and other
online services. American Opinion Research of Princeton, N.J., found
that almost a fifth of the surveyed editors and publishers thought they
might lose more advertising to online services than to television.
Nearly three-quarters said the business was in good shape now. Just a
half felt the same would be true by the year 2005.[4.32]

The newspaper chains tried to fight back. Large papers now owned 11
percent of the shares in Netscape Communications, the wizards behind the
fastest and best browser on the Web. For the moment things seemed fine
for the public. Netscape came up with new wrinkles that other companies
didn’t offer, such as the ability for Web pages to sprout color
backgrounds without much fuss. But so far it was working with
standards-setting bodies rather than saying, “Hey, you guys, these
features will be _mine_ alone.” I just hoped that in the future Netscape
wouldn’t fashion its software to bind people to specific sources of news
from conglomerates such as Knight-Ridder. Perhaps half the people
cruising the Web were now using Netscape.

In a buying spree of its own, America Online purchased Internet fixtures
such as WAIS Inc., the software company. WAIS had made some of the best
publishing tools on the Net. America Online also bought the WebCrawler,
a first-rate index to the Web. The company acquired Global Net
Navigator, too, the wonderfully Netcentric magazine from O’Reilly and
Associates, a guardian of Net culture. Just like Frank Daniels III, Tim
O’Reilly alluded to the cost of online services. Explaining the sale, he
told a GNN mailing list that “in order to really do justice to the
information problem GNN was created to solve, GNN would have to be
scaled up beyond our ability to fund it on our own. With many large
players entering the Internet information services market, the best way
to keep our lead was to team up with one of them.”

The most dramatic—and, some critics might say, ominous—alliance may have
happened when MCI teamed up with Rupert Murdoch to form a new
partnership that could offer many kinds of material on the Net. It
committed as much as $2 billion toward his News Corporation.

MCI wasn’t just eager to be a pipeline for publishers and others—it
wanted to Originate Content. The phone company was already publishing
readers’ short stories electronically by way of Gramercy Press. Soon it
would release a trade paperback—yes, a book on pulped wood—from a
novelist writing under the name of a fictitious Gramercy author. But the
Murdoch alliance meant so much more. This global entrepreneur controlled
Harper-Collins through News Corps. Would his electronic books enjoy
global distribution advantages via MCI’s pipelines, compared to
offerings from smaller, less connected publishers?

Within the book business itself, the movement toward the Net was
accelerating as summer 1995 neared. More and more authors were online,
getting feedback from fans—just as the fledgling rockers of IUMA did. It
was a great morale booster, but only to a point. The novelist Nicholson
Baker, author of the _New Yorker_ article on electronic library
catalogues, complained that e-mail had “the problem of promptitude. You
have to answer within four days or you’re being rude. I like the
stateliness of paper, where you can take six months. You’re still being
unforgivably rude, but somehow it’s okay because other people have been
rude in this way before.”[4.33] Obscure writers, however, found the fan
mail from the Internet to be more helpful. In that way the Net was a
_friend_ of diversity.

Smaller publishers were also growing more comfortable with the Internet.
Bookport, a California-based service, let them post their books on the
World Wide Web for Netfolks to read page by page. Alas, a customer could
not obtain a whole e-book at once. The idea, of course, was to
discourage piracy. I disliked the idea of pay-per-read prevailing; the
library model would make books much more popular among the young and
actually _help_ good publishers. But the Bookport was well done with
oodles of great links to book-related sites on the Web. One of the first
titles was _Netiquette_, a guide to manners on the Internet; that was in
the community-minded spirit of the traditional Net.

Larger publishers, too, pushed ahead on the Web. Time Warner was selling
“Quick Reads.” It was a series of reference books, self-help guides, and
others that you could download in full and search for, say, the right
quote from a famous business executive (_Bartlett’s Book of Business
Quotations_) or the appropriate recipe (the _Cooking Library_). I could
understand Time Warner’s fondness here for reference books. Most readers
didn’t want to gawk at electronic novels hour after hour. The big
question, in cases of tech-savvy conglomerates like Time Warner, was not
whether the publishers were ready. It was whether the _public_ was;
whether enough people would end up soon enough with the proper hardware
for reading books in bed or on the sofa.

That, of course, was where TeleRead came in. Whatever their sizes,
publishers needed to hook the nonelite in this videocentric era before
they gave up on the written word.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The above is not to suggest that text is the only way to communicate
knowledge over the Net. The right graphics certainly can as well. One of
the most intriguing examples of the potential here is a remarkable
endeavor—the Visible Human Project—in which, so to speak, a murder lives
on forever in cyberspace to the benefit of medical education and cancer
research. I’ll discuss this in the next chapter.


    Wired Knowledge:
    When They Let a
    Murderer Loose
    on the Internet

Paul Jernigan was a tattooed ex-mechanic just under six feet tall and
weighing 200 pounds. He had been a drug addict and a chronic drunk, but
nearly all his organs still looked in textbook shape by the standards of
gross anatomy—a stroke of luck that would later help him win him a
macabre competition. Jernigan had fatally stabbed and shot a
seventy-five-year-old watchman after stealing a radio and a microwave
oven. More than a decade had passed. So had his hopes for a successful
appeal to the courts.

Lying on a gurney in a Texas deathhouse—his arms outstretched, as if in
a crucifixion—Paul Jernigan just gawked upward as his brother watched.
No last words came before the poison flowed into Jernigan’s veins.

Jernigan gave himself to science. A not-so-loquacious sister told me
this was to spare the family the cost of burial. “It was like, matter of
fact,” his last attorney said of the donation. “It was a gift. He wasn’t
going to laud himself, pat himself on the back. We didn’t send an
embossed announcement that ‘Paul Jernigan has donated his body to
science and this is his ticket to redemption.’”[5.1] A former cellmate
offered his own twist. Supposedly, Jernigan wanted his family to be able
to sell his life story for a true-crime book. The donation just might
make the planet care more about him in death than in life.

Within a year of the execution, in fact, I was reading clips about Paul
Jernigan from the _London Times_, _Jerusalem Post_, _New York Times_,
_Washington Post_, _Los Angeles Times_, and the _Boston Globe_. My
favorite lead came out in a British paper called _The Independent_: “A
killer was yesterday let loose on the Internet computer network.” I
wondered how he’d respond to flaming. The new Jernigan lived on as a
digital atlas of the human body, a few steaklike cross sections of which
I could dial up on the World Wide Web.

The Visible Human Project had come out of the National Library of
Medicine in a Maryland suburb near Washington, D.C. It was one of the
most spectacular examples of the Net’s potential for spreading
knowledge, the topic of this chapter.

Researchers had cut Jernigan into four blocks, frozen him in a blue gel,
ground him down millimeter by millimeter, digitally photographed the
1,878 cross sections that emerged, scanned these slices[5.2] into a
computer, put them on magnetic tape, and then on the Internet. Now the
cadaver would be grist for medical educators and cancer researchers and
perhaps even the designers of a “Fantastic Voyage”-style game. Players
might explore the human body from the inside, just as Isaac Asimov’s
characters did in his novel. The government itself was spending $1.4
million on the project; expected commercial payoffs could reach the tens
of millions and maybe more. Research and education, however, would be
paramount here.

The Visible Human Project is but one of thousands of uses that academics
and researchers have found for the Internet. The Net is why many
scientific luminaries were quick to slap the “fraud” label on efforts to
create energy through cold fusion. Skeptics throughout the world could
compare notes. If Paris couldn’t replicate an experiment, then Boston
would know within hours. Working in the other direction, fusion
stalwarts have used the Internet to swap data and maintain the faith.
Cyberspace is to knowledge what beehives are to honey.

Already the Net teems with thousands of mailing lists devoted to the
most arcane disciplines, not just to the mainstream ones. Many
scientists and other researchers envision the Net as a substitute for
paper-style academic journals, subscriptions to some of which can cost
as much as a Ford Escort. Stevan Harnad has caught the imaginations of
many academics with “A Subversive Proposal” for scholars to publish
their finished works formally on the Net without offering them to
academic publishers. He puts out a vigilantly edited, psychology-related
magazine with a circulation of tens of thousand on the Internet; he sees
no reason for the Net just to be a repository for pre-publication
papers. In his opinion, academics could use such opportunities to enjoy
greater bargaining power with existing publishers.

Yet another glory of the Internet is that it serves as a bridge between
experts and nonexperts, as well as one between authorities in many
academic disciplines. A dean of a law school, for example, can sign up
for mailing lists on electronic serials to learn more about the
technology that is fueling the drive for copyright reform.

From Day One, the Internet was a creature of the elite research
establishment, but knowledge-related uses have steadily grown more
egalitarian—starting with the brightest students in elementary and high
schools, then moving on to average children, and even to problem kids.

To dispose of a major issue, No, the Net shouldn’t replace teachers. I
couldn’t agree more with Cliff Stoll when he rants against lax standards
and mindless technocratic schemes. Well-trained teachers can provide
inspiration and guidance to help children explore networks on their own.
The last thing we need is to turn the educational reaches of the Net
into one big flash card. What the Net can do is prepare children to deal
with source material, with actual papers written by researchers, as
opposed to pabulum in textbooks.

Correctly, Stoll criticizes some educators for teaching astronomy
without children studying the actual sky; computer programs should only
supplement such activities, not replace them. But shouldn’t he apply the
same “real thing” logic to Web-distributed source material and applaud
students’ easier access to it? Only the brightest children will benefit
from a complicated mathematical treatise. But surely even an average
student could take advantage of a historian’s paper on a nearby Civil
War battle. If anything, teachers could use the Web and other areas of
the Net to demand _more_ research from students. Just why must Stoll
compare the Net to a fun but dumb educational film? Is a Web version of
the _Odyssey_ to be confused with some educational Looney Tunes?

Intriguingly, Web technology makes it possible for students to produce
information, not just soak it up. In Fairfax County, Virginia, students
at Thomas Jefferson, a high school for the gifted, are posting their
“pages” on the World Wide Web. I can remember when college applicants
submitted tape recordings of their music. Now they can also give M.I.T.
or Caltech the addresses of their Web pages and demonstrate, in the most
direct way, their familiarity with networking. They can post their
papers and point to other people’s pages that interest them.

Also, at Jefferson and countless other schools, students can
electronically send their classmates to knowledge-rich sites on the Web.
Clicking on “NASA” in blue letters within Bob’s area, Jill can see what
the space program is doing. Then she can return, click on other blue
letters, and check out his tip to visit a history-related site
discussing the Sputnik and Vanguard days. Via a project called
MendelWeb, Ellen can read the famous treatise of Gregor Mendel, the
geneticist, and retrieve other scientists’ opinions; then she might
write her own paper and post it on the Web for classmates and even for
students elsewhere.

Clearly the value of the Net, for students and researchers alike, isn’t
just in the information per se—it’s also in the ease of sharing it.
Teachers can point to common Web resources (such as MendelWeb) from Web
pages where they add their own comment, or even their own study guides.
They can also link to other guides.

Some Web sites even offer electronic forms with questions to which
students can respond—in either a multiple choice or an essay format.
Andy Carvin, a specialist in educational technology with the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting, praises the World Wide Web as “an excellent
tool in which to design online curricula.” Understandably, even
elementary schools are getting on the Web with their own areas.

Other good things are happening. By way of a project called Big Sky
Telegraph, Native Americans in Montana have been pen pals with children
in the former Soviet Union. What better way to stir up an interest in
writing, politics, and geography at the same time? Significantly, in
Montana and other places, many schools are not on the Net directly.
Instead, schools use affordable bulletin board systems—their own or
perhaps those operated by hobbyists—which can relay Net-originated
material. If need be, such systems can run on ancient computers of the
kind found at garage sales; some messages may be delayed for days, but
that’s better than no connection at all. Within the BBS world, moreover,
nets even exist especially for education. Consider K12Net, which
includes at least “three dozen conferences specifically related to K-12
curriculum” and reaches some sixty school-associated systems in New
Zealand alone. More and more, however, lucky schools are hooking into
the Internet directly or at least arranging for teachers and students to
get accounts elsewhere.

As a ninth grader at Poolesville Middle Senior High School, in
Poolesville, Maryland, Chris Gazunis used the Net to study catastrophes
such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and oil spills. “We didn’t just look at
a textbook diagram of what caused an earthquake and the casualty number
associated with it,” he recalled. “We used the networks to learn what
happened to the people’s lives and homes. Instead of just being given a
set of directions and material that would result in an earthquake
resistant building, we designed and tested them ourselves.”[5.3]

Randy Hammer, a high schooler at Timberline High School in Lacey,
Washington, who is blind “with two glass eyes,” once had to have sighted
people read the newspaper to him. No longer. Via network connections, he
can enjoy the _Washington Post_, the _Moscow News_, and science-oriented
publications—thanks to a gadget that reads aloud to him the words on his
screen. “It’s hard now,” he wrote, “to remember how I lived without this
wealth of materials and information at my fingertips.”[5.4] That’s what
happens when the hardware is around.

Even in a wealthy place like the United States, however, society so far
has been stingy toward high tech in public schools. The ratio between
students and computers is something like 16 to 1. Some 75 percent of
American schools have computers capable of getting on the Net, but the
children can’t all use them at once. What’s more, just 35 percent of
public schools have Internet hookups in classrooms, media centers, or
computer labs. Only 3 percent of the classrooms themselves are wired in,
according to a survey from the U.S. Department of Education.

We’re talking almost Third World here. “It’s amazing to me how people
outside of education have no idea how teachers still have to line up
outside the teachers’ lounge to use the telephone,” says a senior
analyst at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.[5.5]

In the end, as I see it, the real solution is a TeleRead-style program
of the kind described in the previous chapter. It would connect the
students to the nets from home, reduce the future communications costs
of the schools somewhat, and allow students to explore computer networks
at leisure rather than just during the school day. A few small steps are
already being taken in this general direction. The state of Maryland has
granted limited—but free—Internet privileges to school children and
other residents. Without leaving home, they can dial up material ranging
from weather reports, to academic papers, to Shakespearean poetry.
Joseph Peightel, a cable splicer with Bell Atlantic, says that the
Sailor program is just the ticket for his ten-year-old daughter, whose
hunger for books outstrips the family budget. While the Peightels can’t
retrieve the latest best-sellers, they at least can enjoy Project
Gutenberg-style material in the public domain. The Maryland program
helping the Peightels is not TeleRead, and it comes with problems and
inefficiencies, but it may be as close as any state effort to the
nirvana envisioned by Al Gore, in which all children could dial up the
Library of Congress.

Needless to say, I bristle when Cliff Stoll glosses over the reasons why
the Net can’t provide easy answers to questions such as “What political
compromises caused Bismarck to become the capital of North Dakota?” or
“Why isn’t Kyoto the capital of today’s Japan?” or “What’s the history
of the Ruhr Valley, and what are the implications of its new Eastern
European competition?” Of course. Worried about piracy, publishers have
understandably kept their textbooks off the Net. The last laugh,
however, just may be on the more zealous of the copyright interests.
Right now Stoll couldn’t be more correct about the need for more and
better books on the Net; but as shown by, say, MendelWeb, the academic
community is doing plenty on its own. And if this keeps up, the demand
for copyrighted, commercial books, the kind that feed me, my editors,
and yes, my publishers, too, could suffer. Far better to have a national
digital library with privately originated books available from the very

Ahead I’ll examine more closely some scientific and educational uses of
the Net. Selections—yes, the print kind, not the Jernigan variety—will
appear on:

• The “hows,” the positives, and the negatives of the Visible Human
  Project—it stands out for reasons beyond the drama. The Clinton
  administration has encouraged high-bandwidth, scientific users of the
  Net. The original Visible Man requires sixteen gigabytes of
  storage—enough space to hold fifty _Encyclopaedia Britannica_s. Some
  say this isn’t the best use of Net resources. I disagree, however, and
  I’ll tell why. Along the way I’ll pass on information about the
  Internet’s Visible Man before he became so visible.

• High school use of the Internet. The United States is hardly the only
  nation with thousands of children in cyberspace—countries ranging from
  Canada to Singapore are putting students online, directly or
  indirectly. Significantly, computers and networks can help students
  outside the elite. Some proof of this comes from Nova Scotia, where,
  for several years, a high school has been using the Internet to
  benefit some “at-risk” students. I’ll tell you about the Internet
  success that a Canadian teacher named Jeff Doran has enjoyed with
  leather-jacketed teenagers. Many are racing into the computer lab and,
  let’s hope, away from fates such as Paul Jernigan’s. The Internet
  project at Park View Education Centre is far from an unqualified
  triumph—many Park View teachers still fear the technology—but patterns
  there suggest a vast potential for educational uses of the Net if
  schools will modernize their curricula.

The Visible Man

The doctor, a Scottish-accented man in his fifties or sixties, had
collected a wall full of diplomas and plaques. Perhaps that’s why he
felt entitled to give only the sketchiest of explanations when he told a
Midwestern friend of mine that she might need heart surgery to avoid a
possible stroke. Karen* would be in the hospital just a day or so. But
during this time a surgeon would insert a catheter up her groin and go
on to kill off selected heart cells. With luck, the operation would end
her atrial fibrillation. It had made her heart throb as quickly as 200
beats a minute on occasion and had sent her to the emergency room.

Karen pressed for details about the recommended operation. “Ma’am,” Dr.
S. said in a peremptory burr, “this is too technical.”

It was Valentine’s Day and Karen and her husband would rather have been
thinking about hearts in that way alone. But she wanted to know all.
“Ma’am, I’ll draw you a picture,” Dr. S. said a bit grudgingly. The
doctor sketched a crude heart that might as well have been on a greeting
card. Hastily drawn lines showed how electric impulses were traveling
through Karen’s heart with an extra path. The operation would cut off
the surplus wiring, so to speak.

Well, this was a start. But Karen still felt ignorant, and it was _her_
body into which the catheter would go. And so it is with many patients,
not all, but many. Even good doctors don’t always tell enough.

The Visible Human Project, however, would make it easier for Karen to
learn more. Dr. S. could have shown Karen a computer image of an actual
human heart and have pointed to the exact areas that the surgeon would
kill off. Karen would have picked up a better appreciation of the
complexities of the proposed operation. At the same time, Dr. S. could
also have juggled around computer images to show the increased risk of
clotting that would result if she _failed_ to have the operation. Karen
would have emerged better informed and more confident—or less, whatever
the facts justified. Someday she might even be able to dial up on the
Internet an animated, perfectly detailed series of pictures of the

That was what the Visible Human Project would mean. What’s more, patient
education was just one of many uses; the right technology could
revolutionize the training of doctors and advance medical research.

As far back as the 1980s, such ideas intrigued Michael Ackerman, a Ph.D.
in biomedical engineering who worked for the National Library of
Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. He heard of a
project at the University of Washington that was digitizing the human
brain, although not the entire body. Researchers at other schools hoped
to do the same with other organs. But they were less keen on collecting
images and other data than on using them, so why duplicate each other?
Like the Internet itself, then, just one digitized corpse could help
many researchers at once.

In North Carolina a marketing executive with a drug company was dreaming
of a human atlas on a computer screen. Why should medical students have
to make do with fold-out drawings in anatomy guides? Michael Du Toit,
Vice President of marketing for Glaxo Inc., passed the idea on to a
small company called Butler Communications, which checked out the
technology. Glaxo had three goals. First, it wanted to create the basic
images. Second, it wanted viewers to be able to wander through the body;
ideally they could move the body for the best view, spin it, travel
through it. And third, it wanted researchers to be able to give the
lungs cancer, clog the arteries to the heart, and demonstrate the
effects of drugs. But computers weren’t ready. “The hype versus the
deliverable,” Robert Butler told me, “was miles and miles apart.” To
meet Glaxo’s specs—to show the body by way of artistic recreations and
virtual reality—might cost as much as $100 million.

Imagine the excitement that Du Toit and Butler must have felt on
learning that academic and government researchers were finally coming up
with the means for this to happen at a fraction of the expense. The Feds
put out a request for proposals for the dissection job, and the crew at
the University of Colorado made the final cut. Still unanswered was the
question of whose corpse would end up on the Internet. The contest
judges allowed a bit more leeway than did the people choosing Miss
America and Mr. Universe.

The ideal candidate for Visibility could be anywhere from maybe thirty
to sixty years of age and be a bit thin or pudgy, albeit not exceedingly
so. Height mustn’t go too far beyond the norms for male and female.
Above all, the innards of the body had to be photogenic from an
anatomical perspective. That weeded out anyone worn down by cancer or
similar disease, not to mention any victims of automobile accidents or

A little unfairly, this contest had geographical limits. Texas,
Maryland, and Colorado were the states with subcontracts to provide the
body. I could understand Maryland and Colorado, but Texas? I wondered if
the reason would be the fondness of the people down there for capital
punishment. No longer did bodies have to roast in electric chairs. Texas
helpfully killed its murderers with lethal injections. So, in this
competition, Paul Jernigan was a strong contender from the beginning.

Murder is an act of the will no matter how poor or Hitlerian our parents
are, or what genes shape us and our brains. But if Fate sent anyone to
the deathhouse gurney and to Visible Manhood, it was Paul Jernigan. He
lived out an updated Dreiser novel.

His full legal name was Joseph Paul Jernigan, and he was born in Geneva,
Illinois, on January 31, 1954, the youngest of Earl Jernigan’s six
children. The boy suffered from asthma and almost died of it. He and his
brothers and sisters typically owned just one pair of jeans each. Their
mother eked it out in a chicken-processing plant, as a clerk at
Montgomery Wards, and at other low-paying jobs, and they lived in public
housing. She married a truck driver who, like Earl, was a strict
disciplinarian toward the children. Later she suffered a stroke.
Afflicted with a learning disorder, Paul flunked a grade at school and
dropped out two years before graduating. He was a drunk and eventually
was doing a pharmacy’s worth of drugs, from Quaaludes to horse

The Army trained Paul Jernigan as a mechanic, sent him to Germany, then
tossed him out as unsalvageable. Perhaps recognizing the cruel matrix
that shaped Jernigan, it gave him a general discharge (a “no comment” in
effect) rather than a dishonorable one. A shrink later found Jernigan to
be a passive-aggressive man who was sometimes TNT-volatile. In the years
after the military Jernigan kept a cooler of ice and beer in his
automobile; a typical paycheck went for pot, cheeseburgers, and enough
octane for himself and the car.

Paradoxically, though, friends trusted Paul Jernigan with their
children. Jernigan was the perfect baby-sitter who enjoyed romping
around with his charges. He married for a stretch and loved his

But he failed at marriage just as he had failed in school and in the

Jernigan bungled at burglary, too. He was already a two-time loser in
1981 when he and a pal named Roy Lamb were driving down the road in
Corsicana, Texas, a small, howdy-neighbor kind of town south of Dallas
on Interstate 45. Emboldened by a night of booze and pot, the two
decided to rob Edward Hale’s house. They began stuffing their loot into
a pillow case when Hale surprised them. Lamb ran out. Jernigan beat Hale
over the head with an ashtray, hoping to kill off the witness. Hale
stubbornly survived. Then Jernigan stabbed him with a rusty, dull-bladed
meat knife, which just bent on Hale’s chest. And so he took a shotgun
and fired until the watchman was dead. Edward Hale did not die

After the murder, Jernigan went to Houston to try to straighten out his
life. He was in a halfway house when arrested.

Some would say Jernigan needn’t have wound up on the gurney; the law
prevented the courts from accepting an accomplice’s testimony. Mark
Ticer, his last attorney, believes that Jernigan may have felt so
contrite that he wanted to die. Ticer grew truly fond of his client. In
character, Jernigan would constantly inquire about the lawyer’s
two-year-old and remember birthdays.

Jernigan gave Ticer’s wife, Cecily, some earrings made from gold bought
with his military pension, and he crafted a wishing-well bucket for
Ticer. Ticer was as trusting of the murderer as Jernigan’s friends had
been; he would have trusted him with his own young daughter. Even on
death row Jernigan would write to the stepchildren from his failed

Smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and sipping a Pepsi, he would discuss
legal strategy with Ticer until finally there wasn’t quite so much to be
strategic about.

“Paul,” Ticer more or less said, “things are not going well. I guess I
have to talk about your burial arrangements if they’re going to execute
you. I know your family doesn’t have a lot of money.” And it was there
in the Ellis prison in Huntsville that Ticer learned of The Gift.
Neither knew Jernigan would eventually become the Visible Man.

Mark Ticer tried for a stay of execution up to the last minute. Aware of
Ticer’s devotion to him, Jernigan asked his lawyer not to witness his
last minutes. Death was almost instant. Paul Jernigan died much more
smoothly than he had lived.

The state anatomical board, a subcontractor of the University of
Colorado, took it from there. Jernigan got one and a half gallons of 1
percent formalin. That was a light touch. Often cadavers are embalmed
with ten gallons of a stronger preservative, and they sit and pickle for
a year, so that when medical students cut them up all the tissues are
gray. But the idea here, in case Jernigan won the Visible Man honors,
was to keep his tissue looking nice and bright like prime meat; the
students would be able to enjoy a better, more realistic view.

Writing this chapter, I pondered the use of the state anatomical board
as a cadaver procurer. Thank God the board was separate from the court
system. Given the rage for businesslike government, I could just imagine
some of the wilder politicians setting up an execution quota to work
toward a balanced state budget. But the real reason for the use of
Jernigan’s corpse was more prosaic. Texas had one of the best
cadaver-donation programs in the country, and of some 2,000 bodies that
year, his just happened to show up at the right time and in the right

A Learjet flew Jernigan from Texas to Colorado. Awaiting him were the
masterminds of the dissection effort at the University of Colorado
Health Sciences Center in Denver. Victor Spitzer specialized in
radiology and cellular and structural biology; David Whitlock was a
professor of cellular and structural biology. The people working most on
Jernigan would be the research assistants in the dissection room, which,
day to day, was overseen by Tim Butzer, thirty, and his wife, Martha
Pelster, a bright, curly-haired woman of twenty-five who would later
apply for medical school. Helen Pelster, another assistant, was the
sister of Martha Pelster.[5.6] The whole scenario—the family
connection—begged for embellishment from Stephen King or Robin Cook.

I asked Martha Pelster if her work haunted her at night. “I kind of keep
it on a pretty even level,” she said. “I don’t have too much trouble
with it.”[5.7] She said Butzer felt the same.

Had Jernigan inspired much after-hours talk with her husband?

“If there was a problem that needed to be worked out.”

But did Pelster and Butzer reflect on the Visible Man’s past in relation
to what was happening now?

“Not too much. Getting emotionally involved with something like that—you
don’t want to discuss it. It isn’t relevant to what we’re doing.”

Inquiring about the university’s most famous cadaver, I learned that
Jernigan had come with at least two tattoos on his chest area; they
looked vaguely like dragons. His build and muscles were impressive. The
lab had to modify some of the machinery to handle Jernigan. He showed up
with just one testicle, which, I learned elsewhere, was the aftermath of
painful surgery from his military days. I also heard that another
operation had left him without an appendix. Students and researchers
seeking to unravel the mysteries of appendixdom would just have to turn
elsewhere. As a taxpayer, however, I didn’t feel cheated. This was the
States, not Bangladesh; did that many Americans die without any remnants
of surgery? Jernigan’s cadaver stood head and shoulders above a rival, a
woman who was a chronic alcoholic with visible damage to her liver. In
the hierarchy of the dissection room livers must have counted more than

Before the millimeter-by-millimeter grinding, the scientists treated
Jernigan to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI, mixing radio waves and
magnetic fields) and computer-aided tomography (CAT or CT, which is like
topography except that it’s on the innards of the human body). MRI picks
up soft tissue. CAT scans are good for hard tissue, and for the
differences between it and soft tissue. The researchers CT’ed Jernigan
both before and after he was frozen, and these scans had to correspond
with the alignment of the digitized photographs. Imagine the precision
required here.

Preparing to slice the icy cadaver into four blocks for convenient
grinding, the lab crew sharpened up on a less exalted cadaver. Vertebrae
were a problem. “This saw would curve,” Pelster said, “so you wouldn’t
have a perfect perpendicular flat cut. It would have a curve to it. So
we took the cadaver back to the CT scanner and found the level where we
could make a cut.” In the end there were three cuts and four sections of
Jernigan—head and torso, abdomen and pelvis just down to the thighs, the
rest of the thighs and the knees, and just below the knees to the feet.
The frozen pieces went into an aluminum mold, one at a time. And then
the researchers poured a blue gel around them (the same blue you’ll see
on the edges of the cross sections if you dial them up on the World Wide
Web). The result was four chunks of ice, each approximately 20 by 20 by
15 inches.

The grinding area was the next stop. Plexiglass enclosed it. That was a
must. Pieces of cadaver would fly everywhere as science turned Paul
Jernigan into dust with a spinning, carbide-tipped blade. “You’d think
we’d have trouble sectioning bone,” Pelster said, “but that’s not been
the case. Bone always cuts very clean. But sometimes we have a lot of
trouble with the tendons. The tendons are such that they don’t want to
shear off cleanly, and so a lot of time we did hand scalpel work on each
slice. So the slices might take ten minutes each instead of four minutes
each.” Actually the time varied. “Ninety slices were the most we cut on
any one day, and we averaged sixty. Sometimes it was ten a day. It was
about four months of sectioning.”

“Were you worried about damaging the goods?” I asked.

“Definitely. We just did the best we could.”

“Any near misses?”

“There were definitely a few. We never were to the point where we
torpedoed the whole project. It would be more a possibility of losing a
slice. We never came close to botching the whole thing. You look back
and you see a little dot of ice here or there, things like that. You do
the best you can. But I think it turned out well.”

All along, of course, cameras and lights were clicking and flashing
away. The slices went into a black-walled, reflection-proof chamber for
photographing by one digital camera and two with film. A table held the
cameras. It turned to give each a view of the cross sections from the
same angle. The results went into a Macintosh Quadra 840AV with 128
megabytes of random access memory and 2 gigabytes of hard disk space. It
was, in other words, many times more powerful and could store at least
several times more than the average personal computer. As with the
grinding, problems sometimes arose. “You think computers are so
precise,” Martha Pelster said, “but they’re not. Things are always going
wrong.” Typically working with her and Tim were such people as the man
who kept the grinding machine running, a camera expert, and a computer
expert (Helen Pelster, Martha’s sister), who would transfer the
digitized Jernigan to tape and CD-ROM. Come the end of a hard day of
photography, the lab crew collected everything and put it back in the
freezer. “And then when we were finished doing this,” Pelster said, “we
had many bags of things that needed to go be cremated.” The dust went to
a contractor for incineration.

Digitized photos and CAT and MRI images from Jernigan went to National
Library of Medicine in Maryland and to the Scientific Computing Division
at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
The latter worked with a Cray Y-MP/8 supercomputer and Silicon Graphics
workstations to study the results. A headline on the World Wide Web
summed up the magnitude of the computational task: “The Visible Human
Project: Can It Bring a Supercomputer to Its Knees?” A machine with the
power of the Cray could take the 1,878 cross sections, stack them like
slices of an upright bread loaf, and create electronic bones or hearts
or brains that looked as if they had never been taken apart in the first

By fall 1994, Michael Ackerman at the National Library of Medicine was
ready to tell the world about the electronic Jernigan and to have his
images posted on the Net by way of the weather forecaster’s facilities.
“We hold this out as an example of the future of health care,” Ackerman
said. He predicted that the study of medicine would become increasingly
visual. No one talked then of a murderer, and so the first stories on
the wire services blandly mentioned an anonymous thirty-nine-year-old
donor from Texas who had died of a drug overdose.

Learning that a digitized corpse would go on the Internet, not everyone
greeted the news with unalloyed praise. Some reviled this as a waste of
Net resources. Why not use CD-ROMs to distribute the information? To an
extent I could see their arguments. The Library was releasing sixteen
gigabytes of images at the start, and even someone with a deluxe Net
connection could spend a week or so downloading it. Critics believed
that this squandered bandwidth, that it was a bit like cruising down a
narrow country road with an overgrown tour bus and fifty cars honking at
it from behind. The strain on the Internet was far from that bad. But
even by Net standards this was indeed a behemoth, and much more
importantly, the bandwidth defenders worried about the precedent being
set here. Sixteen gigabytes of images was equivalent to 8 billion pages
of double-spaced typing. Individual e-mail messages commonly took up
only a page or two.

Even so, the Visible Man had his friends out there in cyberspace.
Anxious to beat rivals to the data, one company kept its modems pumping
away for a week until it had received all of Jernigan. It didn’t want to
wait weeks or months for tapes. Thanks to the Net, many people
throughout the world could receive Jernigan at the same time. In the
first few months of the release, more than 900 companies, schools, and
people wrote Ackerman about licenses giving them permission to use the
data in experiments and products. Some 100 actually followed
through—everyone from pharmaceutical firms to a young artist who,
according to Ackerman, assured him that she would make tasteful use of
the images.

Luckily from a bandwidth perspective, you didn’t have to download all of
Jernigan. Each slice was a mere seven megabytes in a spatial resolution
of 2,048 by 1,216 pixels (several times sharper than that of a typical
personal computer). A maker of software for ophthalmologists could pull
down only the images dealing with the eye and related brain areas. Those
aiming for the podiatry market could focus on the feet and ankles.
What’s more, even without a license, ordinary Net users could dial up
Jernigan Lite, so to speak, from the World Wide Web.

Coming over the Net eventually would be more than just the raw,
unprocessed images. Refined versions—for example, animated Jernigans,
rotating in 3-D, or even virtual reality versions—could go anywhere in
the world. And when they did, researchers and students would be wanting
their own pet views. CD-ROMs just didn’t store enough data to anticipate
all the possibilities. Typically they could hold maybe 650 megabytes of
data. Even extended, the storage would offer a fraction of what could be
available via high-speed connections to sites from Paris to Melbourne.

Jernigan, you might say, was more than just the material for a medical
experiment. He was also a focus of a research project to develop special
formats for libraries of visual information on the Net. Eventually
people would be able to download not just images but also the “objects”
that made up the images.

“These objects will have knowledge in them,” Michael Ackerman said, “so
they know how they relate to each other and the rest of the scheme. Say
you ask for the heart. What you get of course is the not a picture of
the heart but the objects that made up the heart that your software has
now rendered as the heart. If you point to something on the heart, it
can open up because it’s made up of these objects. And if you point to
something on the margin of the heart and say “What is attached here?”
that object on the margin knows what its nearest neighbor is even though
it’s not in the picture. And it knows to go back to the database and
bring up what’s attached to it.”

Such an approach might even take advantage of Web-style technology to
link together libraries at a number of locations. So you might smoothly
travel from, say, a processed image of a blood vessel done up at School
X to an animated image of a heart as tweaked by Company Y.

Those uses would increase the load on the Internet, of course. But
ultimately the principle of the expanding pipeline might work to the
benefit of all. That is, the heavier the traffic on the Net, the heftier
the connections would be built. So in the end, everything would be
cheaper—from image transmissions to sending one-page notes by electronic
mail. The challenge, of course, was for this to happen without the costs
of ordinary Net users being driven up by the workload that the image
libraries and similar endeavors would bring about. That’s where TeleRead
might come in. It could systematically promote the mass use of
electronic forms for tax documents, business transactions, and other
purposes. And indirectly the money saved on paperwork could go not only
toward a national library but also to help upgrade the present Internet
for researchers and the world at large.

Right now people tended to see the applications of the Net in terms of
one use versus another—in terms of money for low-cost networks for
consumer education versus high-bandwidth connections of the kind that
Ackerman wanted. With a TeleRead-style approach and enough imagination,
however, we could take full advantage of the economies of the
technology. And so although we would not end the clashes between Net
users with different priorities, we could at least reduce them.

Several other cost-related questions arose beyond those of the expense
of the network connections. I wondered how much patients would be
charged to see a picture of the innards of Jernigan or a Visible Woman.
Robert Butler doubted that his client, Glaxo, was ready to say. However,
he left me with the impression that this probably would not be pay per
view. Glaxo had its own reasons for going ahead—for example, showing
doctors the effects of its pharmaceuticals on the body. So, no, he said,
this was not a plot to gouge the public with peep shows.

A related issue, arising from the involvement of drug companies, was the
question of proprietary information. While the images were on the
Internet for all to see, this project was not entirely in the spirit of
the Net’s openness. Butler, for example, might have feared that I was
working for a rival corporation, and he waited several weeks to return
my calls. I could understand his reasons. Still, I was startled to learn
that Ackerman at the National Institutes of Health would not even
release to me a list of the companies that had licensed the use of the
images. Nor had NIH organized a newsgroup or a mailing list. Surely all
the hundreds of licensees would have common problems, common
opportunities, that they could discuss without imperiling each other’s

Yet another question went back to one of the main reasons given for the
project. Could medical students really learn by hooking into the Net and
dialing up the images from the Visible Man? David Dean should have been
a complete booster of this endeavor. He was, after all, a Ph.D. who
worked in medical imaging and taught anatomy at Case Western Reserve
University. And yet he told me, “I feel you can’t replicate the
experience in the anatomy lab. Students will have no time for this
stuff. They’re totally overwhelmed. They can see the same structures
again and again in different bodies.”

At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Gerry Oxford,
professor of physiology, said that seeing organs in three dimensions
wasn’t the same as _feeling_ them. “Physicians in training need a
visceral appreciation of the fact that they will have responsibility for
the human body.” Even a believer in the project, Marc Nelson, assistant
dean of medical education at the Stanford University School of Medicine
in Palo Alto, worried that electronic anatomy could lessen contacts
between students and teachers.[5.8]

Real bodies, however, cost universities $600 each—assuming they could
get them in the first place. And students would not have eyeballs,
hearts, hands, and livers to themselves.

Of all the boosters of the project, Martha Pelster may have been the
most persuasive. She worked as a lab assistant, had cut up dozens of
bodies, and now was headed to medical school. “When you look at this
cadaver,” Pelster said of the digitized Jernigan, “everything is still
in its orientation. When you go in and dissect, you take a lot of stuff
out. If you cut something wrong or cut through something and toss the
object into the reject bin, you’ve lost it. But with this visible male,
you can go back in again. You can see what happened before your lab
partner went in there and messed up your cadaver. This cross-sectional
anatomy is going to be the be-all and end-all. A book can’t have this
many cross sections, this good.”

Just as important, no one in the project, from Ackerman to Pelster, was
touting electronic cadavers as a complete substitute for the real ones
that the medical students studied. The digitized versions would simply
augment the real cadavers, the ones that you couldn’t reboot if you cut
them the wrong way. In the new era, medical schools could even require
students to put the human body together, not just take it apart.

Cadavers in cyberspace would offer yet another advantage: even
schoolchildren could study them. People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals and some rock-n-roll musicians such as Pearl Jam were asking
schools to “cut out dissection” and use computer imaging or model frogs.
Thanks to the Visible Human Project, however, students someday would do
better than just viewing pixels flashing across the screen. They would
be able to tour the body of an actual human. Potential medical students,
moreover, could get a head start. Long before they reached the slicing
rooms, they would be familiar with electronic cadavers and be able to
make better use of the real ones. What’s more, the digitized Jernigan
could revolutionize training in laparoscopic surgery, where doctors
inserted tubes in patients and operated with tiny instruments and
TV-like monitors and cameras. The view on the video screen of a training
computer could be true to life.

All this was not even to mention other applications—for example,
computer-simulated crash tests to improve auto safety, efforts to study
the range of wrist motion and reduce carpal tunnel syndrome in typists,
or investigations of ways to protect athletes against injuries.

I asked Mark Ticer if Jernigan’s family had ever thought of suing for
any of the wealth that the project might create from medical products
and the rest.

The answer pleased me in this litigious era. Ticer said that if anything
the family would be offended that anyone raised the issue. That was the
way Jernigan and his kin were. “There wasn’t a condition attached to his
gift,” Ticer said.

Sharon Kuster, Jernigan’s sister, said her brother would “probably be
happy about it. I am.”

“Now he can be remembered for all the good he did rather than all the
evil,” Ticer said. “I think he’d be quietly delighted.” I picked up on
the “quietly.” Jernigan’s invisibility, prior to his crimes, was not
just because of his station or lack of station in life. That was his
way. Many other inmates on death row gravitated toward microphones.
Jernigan spurned them. The true crime book, if one ever resulted, would
never have come out while he was walking and breathing.

Shortly after I talked to Mark Ticer and Sharon Kuster, my friend Karen
got the results of an intensive examination by a second doctor. It
seemed that Karen would not be undergoing the heart surgery. But even
now she couldn’t tell for sure. What’s more, if Karen received drugs
instead, the medical benefits of the Visible Man might still help her
someday; a major pharmaceutical company, after all, was hoping to use
the digitized cadaver as a tool to explore and demonstrate the effects
of its products.

My thoughts shifted back to Jernigan the human. Lying on the death
gurney, awaiting the poison, would he have wanted to make The Gift if
someone had rushed in and asked at the last minute, “Do you realize
you’ll be all over the Internet? That you’ll suffer the ultimate
invasion of privacy? That strangers from here to Oslo will see your
guts?” I’d like to think that Jernigan would have nodded and the Learjet
would still have flown the body up to Denver. For the sake of Karen, of
other sick people, of those who just might live longer and better if
their surgeons were slightly more skilled, or if they themselves could
make the right decisions about their medical care—for the sake of them
all, I was not-so-quietly delighted that the invisible man was now

Schools: Park View Educational Centre

The big motto out of the United States, in the 1990s, seemed to be,
“Build jail cells, not classrooms.” Again and again, politicians would
promise to shrink the bloat in school budgets while Fighting Crime; I
shared some of their skepticism toward the edutocracy. Washington, D.C.,
was Exhibit A here. In one recent year the city had shelled out half a
billion on public schools but paid just $2 million for books.

Suppose, however, that U.S. schools had been spending their money in a
way that helped keep children out of jail and helped them learn.
Americans might do well to study Park View Education Centre. It is a
high school up in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, and something
weird and wonderful had been happening there over the past few years. At
Park View the Internet was not reserved just for the usual suspects—the
would-be Bill Gateses, the local Steve Jobses, the prodigies who already
owned PCs and Macs and were dialing up Christie Brinkley photos on
electronic bulletin boards. Many of the children on the Net were the
at-risk students, those in danger of leaving Park View because of
academic or disciplinary problems.

They were in the “general-stream” track. And just as in the States, the
college-bound children looked down on them. That was unfair. Many of the
general students were bright and simply didn’t want to go to college.
Some of the general boys, not all, wore black leather jackets, tight
jeans, and black boots. And they used razor blades to tattoo the logos
of Ford and Chevy onto their skins. The at-risk girls were less
colorful. But some had disciplinary problems of their own, along with
the same lack of interest in academics. What’s more, certain teenagers
in the area were doing marijuana and hashish and boozing it up; teachers
at Park View worried constantly that the wilder of the students would
turn up on the police blotters.

Fighting against pot smoking and other behavior of the Jernigan variety,
some teachers at Park View systematically used the Net to bolster the
egos of the general students while also improving their scholastic
skills. Yes, alarms went off in my head when I heard the word
“self-esteem.” Too often, at least in the States, this quality came at
the cost of academics. Saying, “You’re good!” was not enough. Gold
stars—if dishonestly earned—would just teach the children that the
educators were liars.

Some teachers at Park View Education Centre, however, were mixing
self-esteem with reading and writing in a way that true Net nerds would
love. And it was happening in a cash-strapped place a continent removed
from Silicon Valley in both distance and technical expertise.

This was not borderline Canada. Park View Education Centre was a good
two days’ drive from the state of Maine. The school served Lunenburg
County, a mostly rural area settled by German-speaking people whose
descendants still reverted to dialect. Bridgewater (pop. 9,000 or so)
was the nearest town. Named for the modest bridge across the La Havre
River, it was in many respects All Canadian—with streets with names like
“King” and “Queen” and “Prince.” Businesses such as Gow’s Hardware and
Rofihe’s Men’s Wear had been in the same families for generations. The
Bridgewater area boasted a Michelin tire plant, too, and a mall and twin
cinemas. And it was growing. But many inhabitants were displaced
farmers, lumberjacks, and cod fishermen; tensions from work or the lack
of it could show up in some homes, to the disadvantage of the children.
When I was researching this chapter, Canada’s unemployment rate was 10
percent, while Lunnenburg County’s was 12-13 percent.

In at least one way, Park View Education Centre may have reflected both
the business climate and the Canadian winters, or perhaps just some of
the educational crazes of yesteryear. Park View was built in the late
’70s with narrow little windows that more or less cheated the classrooms
of a river view. Those slots were somewhat emblematic; many children
hadn’t been outside Nova Scotia. Even among the academic-track students,
fewer than 40 percent were making it to college. Park View, then, was
not quite the stereotypical place for educational high tech.

Still, the provincial government, colleges, and the business community
had been quietly working with Park View and other schools to upgrade the
workforce. In this spirit an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent
University, in Halifax, organized a project called Learning Connections.
Pitching in was the Nova Scotia Technology Network. One idea was to use
computers to hook students in with employers by way of the Internet to
give them a taste of the workplace. It would happen. But something would
overshadow it—student-to-student communication over the Net.

Jeff Doran, a technophobic English teacher at Park View, wasn’t sure
what to think when he first heard of the grand plans. His tenth grade
class of general students did not exactly teem with computer nerds. Many
of the children had flunked a grade. “Some of them had reading levels
down around grade three or four. One or two maybe would have been
considered at a grade ten level. I didn’t have any goal except to try to
keep them in school and keep them in class.” He also had his share of
questions about the project itself. “All we were told was that we would
get some computers, and then we’d get this connection through the phone
lines, and the students would be able to write to people around the
world, and then when the project was over at the end of the year, we
could keep the hardware. I had no idea what we were then going to do
with it, and I certainly had never used it before.” Doran didn’t even
own a television or answering machine. “I still had a phonograph. But I
didn’t even have a tape player, and I had been writing on the typewriter
all my life.”

But Doran had something else going for him, something even more helpful
than technological expertise. And that was an abundance of good,
teacherish skills and empathy for his students, even the ones with the
tattoos. He himself had rebelled. A Harvard graduate, he had fled the
United States during the Vietnam War to avoid the draft. Doran’s exact
political beliefs weren’t the point here, though; a dare-devil Green
Beret might have shown the same ability to brook the foibles of the
general students. What mattered was that Doran cared more about results
than about whether the children followed every little rule. Above all he
cultivated rather than feared the students’ ability to think on their

The Nova Scotia Technology Network provided some technical help, but
would not instantly answer every question. “So,” Doran recalled, “we did
a lot of muddling through ourselves and a lot of teaching of each other.
And that was one of the best things. Some of the students became
teachers because they learned by experimenting, and then they showed
each other. And invariably they showed me, and so I learned from them.
The first thing I discovered was that there could be no front of the
room. It had twelve computers in it that circled around the walls. And
there was no way that I could stand at any point and demand everybody’s
attention. I learned that in about three minutes of the first period.”

Significantly, Jeff Doran’s English class for general students had a
one-to-one ratio between students and computers, a stark contrast to
those in just about all other public schools in Canada and elsewhere.
Students could use the machines not only for networking but also for
word processing. In fact, they started using the machines so often that
in those early days, Doran was holding classes in the computer lab
regularly rather than in the scheduled rooms.

I asked Doran which students he remembered most vividly from those first
days on the Net, and two came to his mind: Betty* and Mac*. Betty was
the only girl of the twelve students on the first day of school. “She
was, uhm, kind of an old-fashioned, sweet-faced girl,” Doran said, “with
one of the foulest mouths that I ever encountered. Yeah. But she had to
be to hold her own against these boys. She was surly and sullen and
stubborn with me, and I don’t think she ever actually came to blows with
any of the boys, but she came pretty darned close.” Betty was brighter
than most in the class. And yet, feisty or not, she lacked
self-confidence. Many would have written her off. More than a few
teachers regarded the general classes as a dumping ground. “She was
pretty unimpressed by what she could do in the computer room,” Doran
said. “She at first was doing most of her assignments by handwriting.”

Meanwhile Mac was hardly off to the most promising of starts. His head
was shaved into a Mohawk. A reform school alum, he was short and stocky
and looked a bit like a small World Wrestling Federation champ,
according to Doran. Mac’s face bore scars from the fights he got into.
He would regularly pound the bejeezus out of other teenagers. “I’m not
sure why Mac was in school,” Doran said. “It may have had something to
do with the law—either school or jail. He was not happy to be here. And
his skills were very, very low. He was about the lowest I had ever seen
in a student.”

Okay, so this was the raw material. I didn’t expect Doran to turn either
Betty or Mac into Oxford dons—everything was relative—but I wondered how
far he had gotten with the computers and the Internet.

“Well,” Doran said, “once she finally started on the computer, she
started writing more than she had ever written before. And I believe
that’s how you learn to write, by writing.” She organized her sentences
and paragraphs better, her vocabulary expanded, and fewer spelling
errors popped up in her work—not just because she could spellcheck but
because she cared more. Her scrawlings in a loose-leaf notebook hadn’t
looked so impressive. But now she could use a computer printer and see
the same, beautiful results as an honors student doing a ten-page

“The second big difference,” said Doran, “was that she was writing
e-mail to other students. Suddenly she had an immediate audience. This
wasn’t some make-believe English project where we would pretend to have
a pen pal somewhere and pretend to write to them. This was a real person
who was going to read that message and respond right away, and that kind
of feedback made her, and made all of the students, suddenly aware of
the importance of an audience. And an audience in writing is something
that they had never experienced before, because the audience was the
teacher and who cares what the teacher thinks? Except that the teacher
gives you the mark, so you just write what you think the teacher wants
you to say.

“But now Betty and the others had people who would write back and forth
about their weekends, and their boyfriends, and their dates, and their
sports, and their hobbies, and their cats, and so on. And I think it
opened up a sensitivity to what was acceptable in print, and how your
words can affect people, and the differences between people—especially
over great distances, because a large number of the students that we
were writing to in Vancouver were Asian. In fact they were fairly recent
immigrants to Canada, so their English wasn’t that great. So actually
Betty’s writing skills were better.” And that, in turn, helped her think
better of herself.

Meanwhile Mac, too, was progressing. At the start Doran gave Mac and
others a list of twenty words; they were then to look up the definitions
and use the words in sentences. The time limit was four weeks. Mac
needed the month. He couldn’t even cheat well; copying others’ work, he
blundered because he did not know what he was cribbing. “The last thing
that he could ever see himself doing,” Doran said, “would be sitting in
front of a computer, you know, at a keyboard. With these beefy fingers
of his, he was gonna tap away? I mean, that was out of the question.”

Doran, however, managed to stretch out Mac’s attention span to put up
with the limits of the machines—to give them the detailed instructions
they needed. In computerdom, people use the term “boot up” to mean
turning on their machines or loading programs into them. And, Doran
recalled, “There were times I half expected he was gonna literally boot
this thing across the room.”

“Yes,” Mac snapped back at Doran, “I’ll boot the friggin’ thing up!”

“And yet,” Doran recalled, “within that one year he was writing messages
to pals in other schools and to me as well.”

By then Betty wasn’t just sassing back the boys when they teased her.
She was actually teaching them how to use the equipment. Her marks shot
up to the 90s. Not content just to write a few short paragraphs, she was
turning out well-organized letters several hundred words long in a
professional-looking business format. That was unimpressive by the
standards of academic students, but a true triumph for Betty; she even
zapped off a paper letter to a suspense novelist she admired. The
writing skills she developed on the Net had helped make this possible.

Simultaneously her opinion of herself rose to the point where she was
one of the chattier participants in a video that Park View students
helped make, and that was later shown on a Halifax television station.
Students shot scenes to send across Canada to counterparts at a school
in Vancouver, British Columbia. And Betty showed up again and again on
camera. It would have been nice to write that she went on to college,
but she did not. She ended up a waitress. Partly due to the Net,
however, she surely was a better waitress—more at ease with her
customers, and better material someday for management if that was what
she wanted.

And Mac? “One of the last things I got from him,” Doran said, “was a
message about how he felt he had been changing that year, and how he had
been improving. And I agreed—I thought he had, too. And then just about
that time, he pulled this stupid move and got drunk while he was on a
class trip and got kicked out of the school.” But the story didn’t end
then. “Mac moved to British Columbia and is gainfully employed. In the
boys’ cases, the measure of success is that they are not in jail. In
1990, probably ten boys were at risk of failing and dropping out of
school. Two were at risk of ending up behind bars or dead.”

Reflecting on past and present students at Park View, Doran noted the
little triumphs which led to the big ones. The Net helped whet the
children’s interest in school—to the point where, often, just about all
the students in his first period showed up. It was a virtual miracle,
given the sleep hunger of adolescents.

Clearly the Net could be a truant officer’s best friend. “I use
computers a lot,” one enthusiastic student e-mailed me from Bridgewater.
“I come in on any free time that I have, I even give up my lunch hour to
play with the computer, but I would really like to have more class time
in the computer room.” She said that computers “hold so much wonder to a
person. Like me. Writing on a computer does help out with reading and
writing skills.” Another student, a tenth grader who lacked a computer
at home, told how much he’d enjoyed corresponding with an aunt and uncle
in Winnipeg. At the time he e-mailed me, his relatives had just had a
son, and his e-mail was going into their baby book. Textbooks alone
would never, never have encouraged him to look forward to school the way
the Net did.

I asked Doran if there were any test scores for the children to document
the Internet’s benefits to the children at Park View. He said that
scores by themselves would mislead since he had improved as a teacher in
other ways. And yet he believed the Net had helped; since he couldn’t
supervise the class constantly, he had learned to foster curiosity among
the students as they explored the Net on their own. He and some other
teachers in the experiment understood that they and the children would
be learning from each other, that the old authority models were gone.
The same trend was gradually happening in industry in Canada and the
world at large. So if Doran wasn’t turning out Ph.D.s, he at least was
creating better workers.

Other reasons existed for his success. The videotape reinforced the Net
experiences. The Park View students looked forward to seeing their
counterparts. Much more importantly, Doran let children use the Internet
in ways that meant the most to them. The Net was like the videotape.
Doran had expected his students to shoot pictures of quaint homes, of
beaches, of the usual, touristy sites, when they were showing off the
Bridgewater area. Instead the students photographed the places where
they worked and shopped. And that told all. The e-mail was the same way;
students would most benefit from the technology if it was on their own
terms. At Park View, some virtual romances even developed between the
students and those elsewhere. One boy wrote to a Florida school asking
to be put in touch with a cheerleader.

Yet another explanation for Doran’s success was that students could
spend hour after hour on their computer. So they had plenty of time for
school compositions and for writing letters to friends in Vancouver and
elsewhere. (That wasn’t true of all the students in latter years.
Although Doran felt they did well, they might have done still better
with more time.)

Perhaps most important of all, the machines didn’t put down the general
students the way so many humans did. “It’s been my experience that the
technology benefits the struggling student much more than it does any
other student—in literacy growth, self-esteem, tech skills,” said Lorri
Neilsen, the education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University who
had started the Learning Connections project at Park View and elsewhere.

The positives aside, the Bridgewater experiment was not a complete
triumph. “It’s very important to know the spirit of this project was
carried by a handful of teachers,” Neilsen said. In fact, just eight of
forty teachers in the school participated in the project. Skeptics were
worried about it taking time away from the usual curriculum. Yet another
problem was the authority question; some teachers had to know everything
and were nervous about students learning behind their backs. A third
complication was gender: Many female teachers were uncomfortable around

Answers and solutions existed to all those challenges. In the case of
academic students, I could appreciate the need to cover a vast range of
subjects that colleges demanded. But with a TeleRead-style arrangement,
just about all the major resources would be online anyway. Old material
over a period of time could be scanned into the national database—a
highly economical way to distribute it, and even better by archival
criteria alone since unread paper material might well disintegrate
anyway without anyone caring about it.

Even with the Net as it existed then, students of all kinds learned many
shortcuts that enabled them to turn out better papers. The knowledge on
the Net was far, far shallower on the whole than at, say, the Library of
Congress in the States. But it may well have exceeded what the students
could find in some small-town libraries. If nothing else, by logging
onto the Net, they could learn how to stay up with the most current
knowledge—no small edge in an era when new products replaced old ones in
months rather than in years, and when academic journals proliferated.

What about the authority question? That could diminish in time if
schools of education shifted gears and encouraged teachers to foster
curiosity rather than have students focus just on textbooks and
teacher-certified facts. Would it happen in the United States without a
concerted, TeleRead-style effort? Maybe. But I doubted this.

If nothing else, public schools needed to give their teachers more time
to master the hardware and the Internet so they would not feel so lost
when their students roamed the Net; the equipment alone wasn’t enough.
“Basic technology training is one of the most neglected aspects of
educational reform,” said Andy Carvin, the Net-oriented educational
expert at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “More often than not,
when a school or a school district implements a major technology
overhaul, teachers are introduced to the Internet and all of its tools
in a day or two of ‘training.’” Carvin told me, and he was right, that
teachers should enjoy regular use of the technology at home and at
school so the knowledge wouldn’t fade away. Too, they needed to know how
to “combine that knowledge with traditional teaching and
curricula....It’s like learning to use a telephone—you can be taught to
pick up the receiver and press a few numbers, but if you don’t have
anyone else’s number or don’t know how to give out your own number it’s

I asked Lorri Neilsen about Canada, and she said that schools of
education up there were making good progress toward correcting
deficiencies. They had better. In the new era of giant databases there
should be more emphasis on finding _and_ evaluating information from
many sources, and less on parroting textbooks. Teachers should encourage
children to look for malarkey in all media, but especially on the Net,
given all the self-publishing there. Perhaps with more women growing up
with computers, female teachers in the future wouldn’t suffer so much
from the old bugaboos about networks and smart, curious, uppity

That still left another issue—the possibility that students might send
offensive messages over the Net and perhaps fixate on its wilder areas
such as the alt.sex series of newsgroups.

“We did have a couple of cases of students in the school sending
threatening and hateful messages,” Doran said, “but these were not my
students. These were what I would call hackers, computer nerds.” Later
Park View forced students to sign agreements under which they would lose
their privileges if they abused the Net. This was not a hypothetical
issue to me. As I was researching this chapter, I found “Fuck you all”
in the subject line of a public message of a list devoted to educational
uses of the Internet. A student at an American school had taken over
someone else’s account. Making students sign agreements wasn’t a total
solution, but it was a good one. If a student misbehaved and lost Net
privileges, then he or she would be at a considerable disadvantage in
competing with peers.

Addressing the newsgroup question, Park View filtered out the groups it
deemed objectionable. I suspected that a smart student could circumvent
these precautions, but if that happened, he might well have been
intelligent enough to cope with the virtual temptations.

Off the Net, at any rate, students could just as well find questionable
reading material. I remembered the pictures of Marilyn Monroe that my
classmates passed around in elementary school back in the 1950s. Did
anything change? Should we really deprive children of the glories of the
Net under the assumption that the kids were all potential pervs? The
best approach was the Park View—one making children sign agreements that
they would be responsible for their own actions, and suspending or
ending their much-cherished Internet privileges if they abused them.

Risks aside, the Internet was a natural place for students of all kinds.
Only a fool would dwell on the hazards of the net to the exclusion of
the possibilities there.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Would that all activities of government be as benign (well, for the most
part) as those of the schools. In the next chapter we’ll learn about
Phil Zimmermann and his brushes with the darker, almost Big Brotherish
side of government.


    Governments and the
    Net: Making Sure
    Orwell Was Wrong

If a programmer named Phil Zimmermann had his druthers, he would be
leading a pretty sedate life on the whole. He drives a Saturn, lives in
a small house in a middle-class suburb in Colorado with his wife and
children, and dons a suit and does a pretty good yuppie act when he
consults for East Coast companies. In California he fits in with his
blue jeans. Short and paunchy, he is bearded yet harmless.

Some American bureaucrats, however, would lump Zimmermann in with CIA
turncoats and peddlers of illegal plutonium. In November 1994 customs
agents detained him at a Washington-area airport when he was reentering
the States from Eastern Europe. Twice they combed through his bags then
warned him that in the future he might be in for more of the same.

Why this Kafkaesque treatment? Because many in the U.S. national
security establishment hate Phil Zimmermann’s guts. He came up with
Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP for short—a snoop-resistant way of
transmitting e-mail over the Internet and other networks.

Zimmermann loathes snoops and jackboots. Clearly he was not in the
former communist Europe to subvert democracies; in fact, he was telling
people how encryption[6.1] could help preserve their freedom. “I don’t
have to explain to Eastern Europe,” he said, “why it is important for
their governments not to get too powerful.”[6.2]

This dictator-proofing helped win Phil Zimmermann a “Pioneer Award” from
the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the civil liberties group, which
praised him for creating “a worldwide standard for e-mail encryption.”

Zimmermann, however, as the Net’s many libertarians are quick to note,
may end up in jail for allegedly having violated an American export law
that carries penalties as high as a decade in prison and a
million-dollar fine. The Feds treat PGP-style software as a weapon just
like Stealth bombers, ballistic missiles, and nuclear warheads. And some
Washington bureaucrats hate the idea of such a privacy protector in the
hands of too many civilians who are not, well, Washington bureaucrats.

Even if the Feds don’t indict and convict Zimmermann, the U.S.
government has already done its share of bullying here.

The U.S. Constitution forbids prosecutors from dragging Zimmermann into
an overlit room and interrogating him without a lawyer present. Tell
that to Washington, however. Although the law bans the export rather
than the import of powerful encryption software, customs agents at
Dulles Airport, eager for any excuse they could find, quizzed Zimmermann
when he _returned_ from Eastern Europe. An oft-zealous enemy of privacy,
the Clinton Administration has even promoted the manufacture of
encryption devices that would let Feds listen in on supposedly
confidential phone calls. Washington is also spending billions of tax
dollars to make telephone lines more susceptible to tapping.

Zimmermann, meanwhile, has been working on a phone-style piece of
software. Used on the right computer with a $50 sound card and a $7
microphone, it would let people speak securely over the Internet or
ordinary phone lines.

Bill Clinton’s snoops must love Zimmermann about as much as they enjoy
static during wiretaps. Here’s a man who they fear could break the
connection altogether. Many in Washington, especially FBI Director Louis
Freeh, would love to see unauthorized encryption banned entirely, the
real issue here. And Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa has
proposed to make it a crime to distribute scrambling programs by way of
international nets if the Feds lacked the electronic keys to defeat
them. The Grassley measure would even ban some software now classified
as exportable.

Like it or not, however, Washington no longer can control the fate of
industrial-strength encryption.

Far too many Americans—and Russians, Germans, Czechs, Iranians,
Singaporeans, Malaysians, Japanese, Chinese, you name it—know about the
technology. The Feds instead should focus on different law enforcement
techniques, and on powerful computers to unravel the bad guys’ codes.
But the Clinton people and their allies won’t budge. They keep dreaming
of the mass use of D.C.-blessed hardware and software to let law
enforcement people listen in on supposedly confidential phone calls.
Just like the old Soviet KGB, the Feds think that bureaucracy can
prevail over technology, and that government has a God-given right to
force citizens to be snoop-friendly.

The saga of Phil Zimmermann is hardly the only indication that _some_
Big Brotherism is alive and well in the United States—especially when
one considers other outrages, such as the recent net.censorship jihad or
the elitist copyright proposals that would crimp public debate.

In all fairness, the United States is less backwards on encryption
matters than are countries such as France, which bans powerful
cryptography for private use.[6.3] And certainly Bill Clinton isn’t a
dictator. In fact, the trouble with him, at least at the personal level,
is the opposite: He is too much of a wimp to resist civil liberties
threats from the FBI, the National Security Agency, other bureaucracies,
and the more maniacal of the “law-and-order” crowd on the Hill.

Whatever Clinton’s problem, though, his encryption policy is making him
reviled among many skeptical young people in Generation Net, not to
mention the baby boomers, who suffered lie after lie from LBJ and Robert
McNamara during the Vietnam War. A lifelong Democrat, I voted for
Clinton. I might not again. His constitutional lapses, or at least those
of his bureaucrats, just might help pave the way for true Orwellian
scenarios in the United States and elsewhere.

So might the shameful war that a powerful Clinton appointee has waged
against public libraries, one of society’s best defenses against
Orwellian Ministries of Truth.

“Making Sure Orwell Was Wrong,” then, is an apt sub-title for this
chapter. You’ll remember the basics of the novel _1984_—bureaucrats
tinkered with back issues of the _London Times_ to suit the policies of
the moment, brainwashed the proles of Oceania, and spied on most
everyone with TV cameras. All had to obey the mythical Big Brother. The
most vivid image from _1984_ was a boot smashing again and again into a
man’s face. In the era of mainframe computers bigger than overgrown
Cadillacs, many critics of the Vietnam War invoked Orwell and similar
pessimists. Wouldn’t pasty-faced drones in windowless rooms use the
technology to keep dossiers on us?

Then microcomputers popped up. Suddenly good people could use bits and
bytes to fight back against Big Brother. Amnesty International, for
example, could keep databases documenting murder, torture, and other
crimes by dictators. And then, via the Internet and other networks,
Amnesty could spread the news around and marshal world opinion against
the thugs. Other human rights groups and environmental organizations
benefited, too, and soon most everyone agreed about high tech: George
Orwell had been wrong. Progressives with unpopular ideas celebrated the
new tools available to them. And conservatives didn’t disagree that Big
Brother was dead; if microcomputers could nurture freedom and diversity,
why worry so much about antitrust laws and other regulations? A New York
think-tanker would eventually write a reverse _1984_ in which hackers
won over Big Brother.[6.4]

Meanwhile, an open government movement was growing on the Internet,
along with efforts to use networks as an efficient conduit for services.
Far from being Big Brotherish in all ways, Clinton’s people commendably
put a wealth of official documents on the Net, everything from White
House speeches to reports from the Agriculture Department. The states,
too, acted. Californians could track down a complete set of laws and
proposed laws on the Internet. North Carolinians could hook into an
electronic job bank, indicate their desired kind of work, click on a map
to designate a favored location, and watch jobs pop up. Oregonians could
get fishing-and hunting-license information online.

Bureaucrats in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand,
Argentina, Finland, Austria, Poland, Japan, and a host of other
countries went on the Net to one extent or another.

Even Singapore, hardly famous for civil liberties and freedom of
information, took a few steps to open up. I was surprised and pleased to
find on a government server a 1993 _Wired_ article with the
not-so-flattering title of “The Intelligent Island?” Like many
countries, Singapore faced a dilemma. Would the country’s strict culture
suffer if the masses were allowed access to the Net? Singapore had
flogged an American teenager merely for vandalizing automobiles; imagine
if authorities instead had caught him in a sex act with a local. The
whip was in character; it was a source of local pride, not shame. And
yet if Singapore didn’t truly open itself on the Internet, if it
couldn’t provide a hospitable electronic environment to
megaconglomerates, the country would fall behind nations with a freer
flow of information.

“Most Singaporeans are little rule followers,” a local hacker told
_Wired_. “They are used to being spoon-fed what they are supposed to
know by the government.” He predicted that Singapore would turn into a
“controlled information center. The government will try to suppress
hackers.”[6.5] And yet the very distribution of the article—for all to
see on a Web server, amid official government documents—told me that the
Orwellian scenario was not a full certainty. If _Singapore_ could ease
up a little, there might yet be a little hope for the rest of the

However, the need for some healthy paranoia remains, even if, yes,
Orwell overstated his case. An Internet Central doesn’t exist for
bureaucrats to shut down, of course; messages can arrive by way of many
paths, and electronic mail if need be can travel over normal voice
lines. But martinets of all ilks can’t resist the urge to censor or
unplug. A government computer in Canada is rumored to be programmed to
reject Anglo-Saxonisms as passwords, and I don’t doubt it. Would that
all outrages were so funny.

Claiming software piracy, cops shut down the electronic bulletin boards
of scores of Italian progressives. “In some places,” the activist
Bernardo Parrella reported, “sleeping people were abruptly woken up
facing machine guns.” The boards were part of FidoNet, a worldwide BBS
system with electronic mail connections to the Internet. Significantly
the police didn’t undertake similar harassment against the high-tech
admirers of Hitler and Mussolini. The victims were liberal or left wing.
Within a year, the Italian cops were back at it again, seizing
computers, disks, books, diaries, and other materials from citizens
suspected of anarchistic sympathies. This time the police made no
pretense; the raids were clearly political.

Politicians and bureaucrats can be just as prickly about sex as about
politics. In Singapore, prudes searched the hard disk of computer
systems to see if the good citizens were enjoying the alt.sex
newsgroups. And back in the States, Senator J. James Exon of Nebraska
concocted a nutty scheme to ban “indecent” material from the public
areas of the Net. _1984_ once more came to mind. Big Brother loathed
sex, as Winston Smith, Orwell’s hero, knew all too well in carrying on
an illicit affair with a female bureaucrat.

Jim Exon also hated sex—at least on the Net. I could appreciate his
worries; did nine-year-olds really need to gawk at alt.sex.bestiality,
or kiddie porn, or the next Brandy’s Babes? Exon, though, again and
again, scrambled his facts. He relied partly on a breathless article
that the _Washington Post_ had run under the headline “Molesting
Children by Computer.” Among other things, writer Sandy Rovner had
advised parents to check their kids’ computers for files ending in
“.BMP”. None other than the Microsoft Windows software, however, left
.BMP files on hard drives—as a way to display images such as the
corporate logo. Might Microsoft be a new Sodom?

“Obviously I had not researched the story enough,” Rovner admitted to
her great credit. “I am new to the world of cyberspace.... I have a
computer coach, but even he is behind on the Internet. Yes, I violated a
cardinal rule of journalism—I didn’t know enough about what I was
writing about. And I certainly wasn’t thinking censorship. Mea culpa. I
am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment, as all journalists are or
should be.” And yet Exon cited “Molesting” on the Senate floor to
justify his repressive, cyberspace-oriented change in the existing
Communications Decency Act. “Argghh,” went Rovner.

Even more significantly, Exon, as noted earlier, failed to grasp the
difference between the Internet and television. Children wouldn’t just
flick on a computer and see a Madonna look-alike climaxing with a German
shepherd. They would have to _look_ for pornography. And the industry
was ready to work on software, such as SurfWatch, to help parents keep
their kids out of pre-designated areas of the Net.

Nothing would be foolproof or teen-proof, of course. Brilliant
technologists had designed the Internet to survive 100-megaton H-bombs.
“The Net,” said the hacker John Gilmore in an oft-repeated quote,
“interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Parents’ best response would be at home. Mothers and fathers shouldn’t
expect Uncle Sam to play nanny. As Steve Case, president of America
Online, noted in connection with his company, parents should never turn
their children loose in a city of millions of people. And I believed
that the same held true of the Internet. Why should parents count on
_everything_ being constantly under control. Put the Net on a leash
short enough to suit Exon, and the pornography would still
persist—encrypted and on non-Net bulletin boards if nothing else—but
legitimate users would suffer. Some Internet providers might even shut
down to avoid legal liabilities. Moreover, in an era of global commerce,
Washington shouldn’t put America at such a disadvantage. The losses in
trade and jobs eventually would reach the billions, given the estimated
hundreds of billions of Net-generated business.

“The only thing that censorship will do is drive the best and brightest
members of the U.S. Internet community to countries where they can
express themselves without risk of reprisal—and drain the United States
of its valuable intellectual capital,” _Interactive Publishing Alert_’s
Rosalind Resnick would later write.[6.6] “Personally I’d rather see a
few four-letter words flicker across my computer screen every now and
then than risk losing talented writers, artists and programmers to our
economic competitors.” A mother of two, she counseled parents: “Keep the
computer in a public area of the house, such as the den or living room,
not in your kid’s bedroom. Warn your kids about the dangers of
pedophiles and urge them never to give out their phone number or address
to anyone they meet online.” _That_ was a far better approach than
Washington-mandated net.censorship, one that could work with the
smartest hacker-child. Even the hyper _Post_ article had played up
similar solutions. But Jim Exon couldn’t keep his hands off the Net.

In a superb illustration of the dark side of electronic democracy, Exon
held up a blue binder full of net.smut and, on the C-SPAN television
network, argued for censorship of cyberspace. The vote in the Senate was
84 to 16—how could U.S. senators oppose “decency?” Given all the sex
scandals on the Hill, it was scene worthy of _Elmer Gantry_, the
Sinclair Lewis novel about a moralizing preacher who nonetheless
indulges in sex and booze. The book, of course, ends with the Rev.
Gantry promising, “We shall yet make these United States a moral

Around the same time the Senate was hoping to Disneyize the Internet,
Bob Dole, the Republican majority leader, was protecting Bob Packwood by
opposing a move to open the Ethics Committee hearings into the personal
behavior of the oversexed senator from Oregon. As reported by the
_Washington Post_, Packwood allegedly had grabbed and kissed scads of
women—from campaign workers to female staff members, lobbyists, a hotel
clerk, and a baby-sitter—“sometimes forcing his tongue into their mouth
or fondling them.” Packwood, while not owing up to every particular, had
apologized for being “terribly offensive to women.” And now he and Bob
Dole had voted for Draconian net.morality? Dole had even teamed up with
several other senators, including Charles Grassley, the champion of
snoop-friendly software, to offer a cyber-censor bill worse even than

The ironies wouldn’t stop. None other than Donna Rice, whose escapades
with ex-Senator Gary Hart had helped kill off his political career, was
now praying and crusading against cyber smut—as a spokeswoman for an
antiporn group.

Another irony hit me. Tobacco and liquor advertisements, which promote
products far deadlier to children than any obscenities, were reaching
the Net. The Internet Sleuth, for example, one of my favorite
collections of Net indexes, had advertised Smokin’ Joe’s tobacco
products over a period of at least several weeks. And yet the Exonians
could not stop fixating on words and pictures, as opposed to a massive,
proven threat that had killed millions of Americans. I didn’t want the
government to ban even cancer-weed ads from cyberspace, lest the
regulators go wild and try to make the Net TV-bland; but if Exon and
allies had to crusade, they might as well be consistent about it.
Perhaps as a true children’s advocate, Exon could even give back the
more than $27,000 that his campaign had collected between January 1989
and December 1994 from the tobacco and liquor industries. That was just
a fraction of his total take, but a statement just the same. Maybe the
operators of “adult” bulletin board systems—who used the Net to post
samples, the real source of the problem—could befriend Exon-style pols
with a well-funded political-action committee. “PornoPAC”?

I wondered what would happen next if the net.censors won in the House of
Representatives. Earlier, in chapter 4, I had quoted Peter Lewis of the
_New York Times_ as alluding to the “pencil-dicked geeks” who flamed
him. Would Washington let _NetWorld!_ go out over an Exonized Internet?
This was the only time I had ever seen such language in e-mail from
Lewis, a gifted professional. Society didn’t prevent a woodcarver from
using a certain kind of wood just because hoodlums might buy some
baseball clubs made from it and split each other’s skulls open. Why,
then, draft legislation that so despicably intruded on writers’ work?
And what about teachers and students of literature, including bright,
stable teenagers under eighteen? Or readers who just loved good,
expressive writing? Knowingly or not, the savages in the Senate could be
banning even _Ulysses_ from the public area of the Internet. Never mind
the forthcoming age of electronic books; might Washington someday go on
to suppress the paper editions from stores and libraries?

Quite correctly the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned of the folly
of turning the public regions of the Internet into “the equivalent of
the Children’s Room at the public library,” and forcing Netfolks to seek
out “adult” areas. Get carried away on an Exonized Net, use the wrong
word, and the Feds could fine you up to $100,000 and jail you for up to
two years. Even in private e-mail you’d need to behave yourself: You
could not harass anyone with an “obscene” remark or image, lest he or
she report you. What if an ex-lover took innocent comments and put them
in the wrong context? Tough luck. Sooner or later the courts would
probably clean up after the politicians and toss out the censorship, but
that would hardly matter to the many who suffered in the meantime.

In July 1995 the censorship debate was still at full blast. Just as Jim
Exon had relied on the misleading _Post_ story, so did his side brandish
a sensationalistic _Time_ magazine cover. A shocked, wide-eyed child
gaped at “CYBERPORN,” as the headline described it “EXCLUSIVE: A new
study shows how pervasive and wild it really is. Can we protect our
kids—and free speech?” Out of character, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, one of the
most Net-aware of all the reporters in the mass media, had relied on a
flawed paper out of Carnegie Mellon University. The student perpetrator
of the study, one Martin Rimm, had overgeneralized, and two professors
at Vanderbilt disemboweled him with a 9,000-word rebuttal on the World
Wide Web. If nothing else, the Rimm study had blurred the distinction
between bulletin board systems and the Internet itself and also confused
Usenet with the Net as a whole.

Carnegie Mellon investigated whether Rimm had violated people’s privacy.
Most deliciously of all, however, from a Net perspective, he had written
something else—a self-published novel with such picturesque terms as
“rectum rocket.” Would that Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken had been
around to chronicle the circus.

Over on the House side, Speaker Newt Gingrich sensibly let his
libertarian side prevail and opposed Exon. I wasn’t surprised. How could
Gingrich play nanny while railing in general against regulation and
bureaucracy, especially when he himself had set up shop as a novelist?
My fellow liberals, though, were amazed. It was as if they were watching
the T-Rex in _Jurassic Park_ gobble up a velociraptor that was about to
enjoy a human snack.

Maybe the Exon-style proposals by now will have suffered the fate of the
smaller dinosaur, but similar lunacy is bound to break out anew.[6.7]
Among some on Capitol Hill, the urge to censor is as powerful as the
passion for reserved parking places.[6.8]

If the censors do win, their narrow-mindedness may backfire in ways
beyond the ones I’ve already described—and these risks will only grow in
the future, as the Net becomes still more international. Puritanical
countries such as Singapore might arbitrarily jail visiting Americans
who, from the States, had made Internet postings deemed offensive by the
standards of local dictators.[6.9] The possibilities are endless. A U.S.
novelist passing through a Mideastern country could become the next
Rushdie if the local ayatollahs deemed his online work offensive.

Clinton’s Feds hardly helped when they went jurisdiction shopping and
prosecuted the owners of a California BBS for sex-related material that
violated community standards in _Tennessee_. Applied internationally,
the local-standards principle could send an American to a sword-wielding
executioner someday. The Bill of Rights, alas, is just a U.S.

Exon You!

When the U.S. Senate passed Jim Exon’s net.censorship bill, the
journalist Brock Meeks wrote a lead for the ages: “U.S. Capitol, Senate
Gallery—It’s all over. Fuck it.” But what happens if net.censors prevail
someday on the House side, too (if they haven’t already), and you can’t
use the F word? Netfolks have a solution:

_Just substitute the last name of the senior senator from Nebraska._
Enemies and lovers can then say, “Exon,” to each other.

That’s obvious. But the gifted trolls at Bianca’s Smut Shack, spreading
a post from the mythical “Ezra Pound Is Innocent Committee,” have
actually promoted a whole new lexicon in honor of Exon and allies. For

Byrd: (noun) The posterior or hinderparts, specifically the anus.

Coats: (noun) Excrement, or as a verb to excrete.

Exon: (verb) To copulate with, the act of copulation.

Gorton: (noun) The female genitals, or specifically the vagina.

Gramm: (verb) To orgasm. Also colloquially used as a noun.

Heflin: (noun) The female secondary sexual characteristics.

Helms: (noun) The male phallus.

Specter: (noun) The clitoris.

However, a borderless Internet can also hinder the censorship crowd. If
American bluenoses such as Exon tried to restrict an electronic _Tropic
of Cancer_, for example, a U.S. publisher just might set up shop in
countries with less infantile politicians. People in the States could
then dial up the computer overseas.

Already the Net has made fools of martinets in the Canadian government.
Ottawa tried to squelch newspaper accounts of a murder, claiming that
the coverage would preclude a fair trial. So people in the States sent
electronic care packages to their Canadian friends—articles from U.S.
papers. Canadian officials banned a pulped-wood issue of _Wired_ for
attacking their stupidity; that was one of the biggest debacles of all,
given the ease of dialing up electronic versions of the magazine, one of
the planet’s most plugged-in publications.

Consider, too, the ramifications of anonymous servers, which strip names
and other identifiers from messages, allowing Netfolks to circumvent
legal bullying by governments and others. In 1995, the Church of
Scientology in Los Angeles got Finnish police to raid a server in
Helsinki that was posting anonymous exposés of this rather litigious
organization. The server survived. But the cops forced Johan Helsingius,
operator of the server, to reveal the name of a Church enemy who
originated the messages. “Now users fear their secrets are at risk,”
_Time_ said of people using his computer service. Case closed on
anonymous servers? Hardly.

Within weeks after the incident I read a note from a hacker telling how
encrypted messages could wend their ways through chains of anonymous
e-mailers in several countries, with the names of the senders remaining
hidden unless most or all of the e-mailers broke under pressure. Yes,
abuses are possible, such as the release of trade secrets, outright
libels, forgeries, or the most vile and violent of pornography. But how
much better to live out this future than one of the Orwellian variety.
Tyrant-bashers in the Thirteen Colonies used the wizardry of their day,
the printing press, to agitate against the Tories; now let’s hope that
if Exonian politicians try to stifle the Net, enough hackers will have
their most dangerous presses ready to go, the servers I’ve just
described. Obsolete or not, the censors aren’t going to stop.

Other Big Brotherish urges have surfaced. While some Power People hope
to be able to learn more about us by fighting PGP-style programs, they
are stymieing our efforts to learn more about _them_. At the same time
the Feds put online thousands of public documents and even the visage of
Bill Clinton’s cat, some politicians on the Hill sought to _weaken_ the
Freedom of Information Act, which makes it easier to dig up dirt on
public officials. Just as important, Clinton people in early 1995 were
proposing new copyright laws that in effect would discourage the
intelligent discussion of public issues on the Internet. It would be
harder to share electronic newspaper clips. Even more disturbingly,
Clinton’s copyright policy could menace our public library system in the
future. Bruce Lehman, his czar of intellectual property, was coming
across as Andrew Carnegie in reverse.

Carnegie is remembered as a Scot who grew rich off steel in the States
and who encouraged people throughout the world to start libraries for
all. He gave millions toward library buildings, with the understanding
that the local taxpayers would finance their support. Carnegie wanted
public libraries to be universities for the common man, and the metaphor
holds up. Today, without paying for college or even for books, Americans
can educate themselves on subjects ranging from microcomputer chips to
medieval history, to Alexis de Tocqueville’s writings on democracy, to
the case for or against feminism or abortion or public broadcasting or
capital punishment. That is life in the era of paper books.

If Lehman had his wishes, however, Americans would not be able to dial
up copyrighted electronic library books from home by way of the Internet
Instead they would have to tote around CD-ROMs and floppy disks.

William F. Buckley Jr. wrote that, in the era of the Internet, the
Lehman vision would be “the equivalent of requiring everyone who listens
to music to buy 78 rpm shellac records. What will the children dial in
to read? The collected speeches of Vice President Al Gore? And believe
it or not, there’s also talk of the Postal Service getting involved in
local public libraries through information kiosks.”[6.10] In effect the
White House approach would jack up the price of independent, privately
originated information, while making it easier to obtain
Washington-blessed information.

The information kiosks led some librarians to think of noses and camel’s
tents. For the Postal Service at one point said it would let local
librarians and citizens use the kiosks to retrieve only designated
categories of information, as opposed to, say, everything on the World
Wide Web. On a 1 to 10 scale of Big Brotherism, the kiosk idea as
originally proposed was an 8.5 or worse.[6.11] If the postal bureaucrats
weren’t trying to be Big Brother in the strictest sense—and no, they
weren’t—then they at least were unwittingly paving the way for him.

Worse, the Postal Service has talked of issuing tens of millions of
“U.S. Cards” that would “mediate all government services and controls
over citizens,” while at the same time an Internal Revenue Service
official has proposed a system that would file our tax returns for
us.[6.12] I hate both ideas. Rather than compiling Orwellian dossiers on
citizens, governments should help us computerize via TeleRead-style
programs so we can more easily do the “paperwork” ourselves by way of
electronic forms. Investigators could audit the forms, but only under
appropriate circumstances. How much better this would be—not just
e-books, but electronic empowerment against bureaucracy—than the vision
that Washington and other governments have in mind for us.

Perhaps the Lehman idea and the Postal and IRS plans will have been
beaten back or rendered harmless by now. Whatever happens, though, it is
clear that new technology may harm both privacy and democracy if our
vigilance lapses.

The threat of electronic oligarchy, stanching the free flow of facts
that intelligent nonmillionaires demand, is hardly unique to the States.
In the United Kingdom, for example, The _Times Higher Education
Supplement_ has warned against a copyright regime that would be a
paradise for read-o-meter companies but a nightmare to people valuing
free libraries. Just like Lehman’s proposal in the U.S., the wrong laws
in the U.K. could lead to a Copyright Gestapo; let’s hope that neither
country will criminalize one of the prerequisites for democracy:

Given the global nature of both encryption technology and copyright law,
the whole world should be watching Washington’s policies. The Clinton
Administration, after all, hopes to internationalize the same mindset
that could send Phil Zimmermann to jail; in fact, many of the American
export controls _are_ in effect in other countries, raising the
possibility that an Australian or a British hacker could end up someday
in the same predicament. In the pages that follow I’ll tell about the
battles that Zimmermann and his allies have fought with Washington.

You’ll read, too, of my fight for an alternative to the Lehmanesque
copyright law. My little case history suggests that the White House is
not so eager to listen to ordinary mortals who speak up on the Net.
Clinton’s people would rather pander to the usual campaign contributors.
So far at least, pious rhetoric notwithstanding, they have basically
neglected the need to put the public library system online with free or
low-cost books from the private sector. Video just might end up reigning
even more supreme than it does today—at the expense of abstract thought
and democracy. Winston Smith would not be happy.

PGP and the Fight for Privacy—and
Against Clipper—on the Internet

Father Bill Morton, an Anglican priest in Woodstock, New Brunswick,
could take confessions via e-mail without violating his vows. Encryption
software guarded the privacy of his communications. In Florida a bright
teenager without any vices—but with a nosy mother—could protect her
diaries. And in New York, an employee of a leading investment house
could routinely guard his credit card number. The same software made it
possible for thousands to use the Net for confidential business
transactions. At the same time, democratic activists in the former
Soviet Union would be able protect their messages if tyranny returns.

The name for this encryption package was PGP and by 1995 it was as much
a cause as a program. Thousands had downloaded it off the Internet and
other networks. Named in tribute to Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery on
Garrison Keillor’s radio show, PGP stood for Pretty Good Privacy. PGP
lived up to its name—people needed it. Part of the reason was the nature
of the Net itself. A skilled hacker could intercept unencrypted e-mail
more easily than on the regular commercial networks. Mail often passed
through computers at a number of universities and companies before
reaching its destination. Without question the best way to protect the
contents of your outgoing mail was to scramble its message before you
sent it into cyberspace.

PGP was also popular because its use showed that the Net would never
accept Clipper chip encryption schemes—designed to make it easier for
the government to snoop on citizens.

Not surprisingly, then, at the time I was writing this book, Phil
Zimmermann was a hero to many on the Internet. His program meant
dignity. It meant safer commerce on the Net. Other privacy protection
programs existed, but his was most popular, making it all the more
useful. So when the Feds threatened Zimmermann, many people correctly
felt as if Washington were attacking them along the way. The irony was
that the federal government’s policies against safe encryption could
actually threaten world security and had already set back efforts on
behalf of computer security.

In a sense the PGP story was part of a continuum, and not just because
the Egyptians had scrambled messages four thousand years ago or because
encryption had been a staple of Cold Warriors.

Even while growing up in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Phil Zimmermann had
tinkered with secret codes. At around age ten he had learned Morse code,
Braille, and, via lemon juice, invisible ink. By his teens he was
building code wheels; at Florida Atlantic University, he kept up his
passion for puzzles and secrets. He started out there in physics;
switched to computer science; married; packed up for Boulder, Colorado,
where he became a computer consultant; and thought of a move to New
Zealand. Phil Zimmermann believed it would be safer, in the event of
nuclear war, than Ground Zero countries.

Instead of leaving the States, however, Zimmermann decided to stay and
help throttle back the military. Along with the astronomer Carl Sagan
and Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame—and hundreds of
others—Zimmermann was arrested at testing grounds in Nevada. Soon his
love of computers would be converging with his distrust of people in

Zimmermann in the early ’80s was selling a gadget that plugged into an
Apple II computer but used an 8088 chip just like the then-new IBM
personal computer. This gadget was designed to allow people to keep
their old Apple hardware and software while running new programs for the
fast new chip. Zimmermann called his company Metamorphic Systems. A
programmer from Arkansas saw a Metamorphic ad and called Zimmermann to
pitch to him an encryption system that was too long to run on most
machines. Would Zimmermann care to adapt the system to run on an 8088
chip? He would.[6.13]

RSA was the encryption method here. Named after its three
originators—Ronald Rivert, Adi Shamir, and Len Adleman—RSA was a
virtually uncrackable form of public key encryption. So what did _public
key_ mean? Well, you didn’t have to worry about the wrong set of eyes
seeing the jumble of letters and other characters that made up keys for
messages transmitted to you. You could freely spread it around. Then
someone who wanted to send something confidential to you didn’t have to
contact you for a secret key known only to you. He could use your public
key by way of his RSA software.

Simply put, the public key approach did away with a major problem: how
to send descrambling tools over networks if the information itself
wasn’t secured. People who didn’t know each other could trade public
keys, then share secrets from the start. They could even use the same
software to verify their identities with the help of trusted third
parties, who “signed” the keys with sequences of their own. Imagine the
many possibilities for allowing safe business transactions on networks
between strangers. A lucrative business just might await Zimmermann if
he added his own wrinkles.

With RSA, however, came a series of legal nightmares for Zimmermann.
Starting work on his own software using RSA, he hadn’t any idea at the
start that Rivert, Shamir, and Adleman would be claiming a patent on it.

The trio farmed their rights out to RSA Data Security and, eventually,
Public Key Partners. Jim Bidzos, negotiating for RSA, in many ways stood
out as a political and philosophical opposite of Zimmermann. Bidzos
carried a Greek passport for business reasons but at the same time felt
patriotic enough to have volunteered for the U.S. Marines. The way
Bidzos tells the story (to Simson Garfinkel, author of _PGP: Pretty Good
Privacy_), Zimmermann asked for a “free license” for use of RSA. “When I
told him ‘No,’” Bidzos said, “he was really upset. He told me that he
was behind on his mortgage payments and that he had invested years in
writing this piece of software.” Bidzos said he suggested that
Zimmermann try licensing the patent from a larger company.[6.14]

Zimmermann’s own side of the story differed starkly—in 1991 he wrote Jim
Bidzos a letter saying that Bidzos and Ron Rivert had told him that “you
would grant me a free license to make and sell products with your
algorithm.”[6.15] A few years later he would note to the _Wall Street
Journal_ that he hadn’t sold PGP before his contract with ViaCrypt, one
of RSA’s licensees.[6.16] He steadfastly maintained he had not broken
any laws. Many on the Internet would have agreed, if for no other reason
than that they considered software patents to be abominations. Without
patents to limit them, many programmers felt they could be more
creative. Their ethos was quite in line with the traditional Net ethos.
The predecessor of the Internet, after all, hadn’t just been started to
allow the Pentagon to survive nukes. It also existed to share knowledge.

By 1991 the patent issue wasn’t the only one dogging Zimmermann. The
U.S. Senate was considering a law that would in effect ban Fedproof
encryption here in the United States and potentially prevent him from
selling the software on which he had been toiling for years now.
Washington already forbade export of encryption abroad. The Cold War was
winding down, but export controls were still draconian. Hadn’t we won
World War II because our technology was better, because we had had
nukes, because we could even snoop on secret code transmissions from the
enemy? The export laws and the Pentagon put strong encryption equipment
in the same category as munitions.

But what about at home? Not surprisingly, the FBI didn’t want the wrong
technology to fall into the hands of dope rings, Mafiosi, and others
planning or coordinating crimes. In 1991, then, perhaps at the Bureau’s
request, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware inserted the following
language into an omnibus crime bill: “It is the sense of Congress that
providers of electronic communications services and manufacturers of
electronic communications service equipment shall ensure that
communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text
contents of voice, data, and other communications when appropriately
authorized by law.”

A Senate staffer assured civil libertarians that the measure would not
ban strong encryption. Many disagreed. Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibility, library groups, academics, and industry managed to get
Washington to drop the offending language.

By then PGP was all over the Net. Smart lobbying, not the software,
killed the Biden plan. But Zimmermann’s work was still a good, sound
precaution against a relapse. Via bulletin boards and the Internet, a
free version was circulating from one end of Planet Earth to the other,
having gone overseas within a day of its release. In Zimmermann’s words,
it spread “like thousands of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.” PGP
reached Russia and scores of other countries. It wasn’t like nuclear
weapons or mini-computers; you couldn’t stop a ship from loading or
search the luggage of the suspicious. No, PGP just moved silently over
the wires as hackers throughout the world shared Zimmermann’s craft. The
way Zimmermann told it, however, he had not broken any of the export
laws. And others supported him.

Jim Warren, founder of _InfoWorld_ and a software man respected for his
civic activism on the Net, would later recall that Zimmermann gave PGP
to an acquaintance named Kelly Goen, who “studiously” limited the
uploads to electronic bulletin boards and Internet sites within the
United States. Warren was aware of the uploading process while it
happened. “The whole idea was to provide it to _Americans_,” he would
remember, “so Americans could have personal privacy and security” in
case the U.S. Senate tried to bottle up decent encryption.[6.17]

The National Security Agency—the secret agency that dealt with many of
the best cryptographers and dominated the encryption scene in the United
States—did not complain formally when PGP first hit the Net. And
Zimmermann fretted. Had his baby failed to safeguard privacy enough to
worry the National Security Agency?[6.18]

Back at RSA Data Security, Jim Bidzos wasn’t thrilled when PGP appeared
with RSA technology. He maintained that PGP violated both patent and
export law, and at his urging, some commercial services and universities
banished PGP from their servers.[6.19] Legally, Bidzos may or may not
have been justified. But once again the hacker ethic prevailed on the
Net. Not everyone online took Zimmermann’s side, but by now he was a
serious hero to a group of encryption boosters known as “Cypherpunks,”
the name that a magazine writer had once given them as a joke.

Many of the Cypherpunks were libertarians, or variants thereof, and they
believed in perfect privacy. The punks were to encryption laws what the
National Rifle Association was to restrictions on firearms.

Along with scores of corporations, not just people whom the White House
might dismiss as fringe, the Cypherpunks wanted to use encryption to
protect digital money. They envisioned a society in which bits and
bytes—representing cash—could pass from person to person without Party A
knowing Party B’s identity. The Cypherpunks were smart, and often very
right. Frustrating for others, but rewarding for them, they tested the
tolerance of the most ardent Voltaireans.

Tim May was among the punk leaders. He had once worked for Intel, the
chip maker. As Steven Levy put it in an article for _Wired_, May had
“‘retired’ at 34 with stock options sufficient to assure that he would
never flip a burger for Wendy’s.” He in some ways came across as the
Internet’s Abbie Hoffman, say, or Jerry Rubin. Baby boomers will forever
recall these bearded crazies of the 1960s who ran a pig for president
and protested materialism by going to Wall Street and scattering money

May did not mind getting rich. But he had something of his own to
scatter in cyberspace. It was a series of taunts that appeared at the
bottom of the many messages he posted to the Net: “Crypto Anarchy:
encryption, digital money, anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
knowledge, reputations, information markets, black markets, collapse of
governments.” If Washington had rigged up a machine to scan the Net and
measure people by levels of subversion, May would have blown out all the
lights and needles. And one of his programs of choice, as advertised
amid the other subversion? PGP, what else?

Timothy May and other Cypherpunks over the next few years would tap out
thousands of messages, exchanging technical tips, dreaming up new forms
of crypto madness, rallying support for encryption and for Phil
Zimmermann. This was a whole subculture with a language and an ethics
code of its own. Sometimes the Cypherpunks fought among themselves.
Later a punk in Colorado “spoofed” Timothy May and, using May’s Internet
address, posted malarkey all over the Net. But true to his anarchistic
leanings, May did not press for the dissident’s expulsion from the punk
mailing list.

Back in November 1992 the punks may have breathed a little easier.
George Bush lost the election. No longer would the president be a
Republican, a World War II veteran, and a former director of the Central
Intelligence Agency. Bill Clinton was a baby boomer. He had spoken out
against Vietnam, he had avoided the draft, he liked Fleetwood Mac, he
played a saxophone, and his vice presidential candidate had made a name
as a loyal supporter of advanced computer networks. So perhaps the Feds
would back off on Zimmermann. At the very least maybe the security
bureaucracy would face a long delay while the Clinton people puzzled out
what to do.

Clinton’s sax and the rest did not count, however; in encryption matters
he might as well have been a ninety-nine-year-old fan of Lawrence Welk.
Within just a few weeks of the inauguration, two men from the U.S.
Customs Department were quizzing Phil Zimmermann. According to the book
_PGP: Pretty Good Privacy_, they said Jim Bidzos had described PGP as a
rip-off of the RSA approach.

Following the Zimmermann interview, Customs pressed ahead both on the
patent front and on export law issues. Zimmermann, however, denied
having swiped PGP from anyone, and he said patent matters should be
between him and Bidzos, not between him and Customs. At the time the
Feds told him he was not the target of an investigation.[6.20]

Soon, however, two subpoenas suggested that Washington was still quite
eager to justify any and all of the Cypherpunk’s paranoia.

One subpoena went to Austin Code Works, which sold public-domain
software that contained some of Zimmermann’s work. Washington struck
out. It had been seeking evidence of overseas sales, and Austin lacked
any in this case. Zimmermann hadn’t even sold Austin his work

Washington was more lucky at ViaCrypt, a company in Arizona, where the
subpoena stuck. Zimmermann had just given ViaCrypt a PGP license. Now he
indeed would be under investigation. In _PGP: Pretty Good Privacy_,
Simson Garfinkel observed that RSA Data did not win similar honors even
though it had placed encryption-related software on the Internet. Nor
did Internet providers such as Netcom, which stored PGP on computers
that people overseas could reach.[6.22] Bill Clinton’s people were
letting foreigners dial up this export-controlled software again and
again. Needless to say, the bullying of Zimmermann still made the
industry nervous—who was next?

As if the Clinton White House hadn’t sinned enough, it was about to
embarrass itself in a high-tech version of the Bay of Pigs. That’s how
critics regarded a nitwit scheme to control encryption and discourage
the public from using good software such as PGP. The Bay of Pigs, a
cuckoo plan for the invasion for Cuba, was a legacy that had come to
John F. Kennedy from the Eisenhower Administration. The odds would have
delighted no one but a masochistic squad of kamikaze pilots. Castro
crushed a small band of Cuban exiles who showed up on Washington’s
behalf at the Bay of Pigs. Like the debacle on the Cuban beaches, the
Clipper chip was really another Republican leftover. The national
security apparatus hadn’t been able to con the Bush Administration into
implementing Clipper before the election. But Bill Clinton himself
lacked the guts to resist the NSA.

“No Such Agency,” as Washington wags called it, operated out of Fort
Meade, Maryland, near the Chesapeake Bay, perhaps explaining its
fondness for assigning nautical names to encryption plans. Many billions
of tax money had gone into the NSA over the years. Thousands worked for
it. And they weren’t just interested in the survival of the United
States. They wanted job security. Clipper was going to be a meal ticket.
Just as some wishful planners had deluded themselves into thinking that
a small band of men could tame Cuba, now the NSA was telling Bill
Clinton’s people that it could use Clipper to control the world of

All those irksome constitutional details aside, the NSA’s plan might
actually have made sense once. The people at Fort Meade had done the
United States a service by staying ahead of Soviet encryption in the era
of tail fins and air raid drills. But today such an approach was about
as appropriate as a backyard bomb shelter. As far back as the 1970s, two
men outside NSA’s control had invented public key encryption, which, as
noted before, was a good way for strangers to exchange secure messages
and authenticate their identities from the start. Whitfield Diffie was a
mathematician, computer scientist, and encryption expert. Martin Hellman
was an electronic engineer. Both were grouchy about a computer system
whose users had to entrust their passwords to the systems managers. So
they came up with public key encryption—the same principle that was
behind the RSA approach used in PGP, and now available from Boston to

Even Bill Clinton couldn’t repeal the past. Just as the Kennedy
Administration had justified Castro’s paranoia, so the Clinton
Administration worked hard to do the same with that of the Cypherpunks.
This time Washington wouldn’t deploy humans. Instead it wanted to rely
on a little computer chip that Steven Levy described as “just another
tiny square of plastic covering a silicon thicket.”

“Tumor-sized” might have been more apropos. Clipper, in fact, was a
tumor of sorts.

In a human body a tumor serves itself, not its host. And that’s what
Clipper was supposed to do. The Clinton Administration wanted to license
Clipper to the private sector, where it would show up in millions of
telephones and dominate the market—displacing future encryption schemes
based on technologies such as PGP. Washington hoped to make Clipper too
cheap to resist and to provide a federal market for Clipper products.
AT&T and the rest could put Clipper in telephones, and then, supposedly,
dope peddlers couldn’t peddle and terrorists couldn’t terrorize without
the Feds having a chance to intercept their conversations. The
government would also work to make computers snoop friendly.

That was the scenario. Like tumors these government-issue chips were to
spread—not only in the States but also overseas. Eventually the Feds
would also announce plans to make Clipper available through software,
rather than just through the chip. Whatever the incarnation of Clipper,
though, Washington would play down the fact that it would corrode the
country’s constitutional right to privacy. America’s Winston Smiths
would have to trust a government that had covered up an unhealthy number
of deaths from nuclear fallout, given us Watergate, and illegally spied
on thousands of Americans.

An old friend of mine, Margaret “Peggy” Engel, a former _Washington
Post_ reporter who ran and still runs a respected journalism foundation,
was among the snoops’ victims. Bureaucrats got the phone company to turn
over a list of Peggy’s calls even though she had not committed a crime.
It seems a freelance writer had managed to dig up some inside
information on the failure of the IRS to collect several billion dollars
in back taxes from corporations that had profited from currency hedging.
This same writer later applied for a grant from Engel’s organization,
the Alicia Patterson Foundation. Vindictively, the Feds snooped on
Engel, too, simply because the writer had made a call to Engel’s office
for an application for a fellowship.

So it went. Because Peggy and I talked from time to time, the Feds had
also tracked her telephone and computer calls to me. They acted against
her under a casually issued court order signed not by a judge but by an
assistant deputy clerk—one of more than 20,000 such actions issued in
the Washington area in 1992. “It’s like getting your parking ticket
stamped,” she told me. “That’s the level of scrutiny that these things
get. And the number keeps growing. I think it’s because of the increase
in fax machines. I think agencies are using it on their employees to
find out who talked to the press or Congress.” And now the Feds wanted
to license the manufacture of a chip that would spill our secrets on

Granted, the Feds claimed that in the Clipper’s case, one bureaucrat
could not spy alone. The official line was that people from both the
Treasury Department and the National Institute for Standards and
Technology would have to agree before an interception could take place.
If they did, the electronic keys would go over the wires to local police
or others needing the tap. All this would require a court order. Some
Clipper boosters might well have argued, “We’re talking about strict
controls.” But Peggy’s experience still showed the potential the Feds
had for promiscuous Big Brothering, especially since both the Treasury
and the Institute were within the Executive Branch.

Later the front pages would sprout articles about bureaucrats reading
the supposedly confidential tax information of their neighbors or of
movie stars. Yes, the tax people tightened up their operations to avoid
repeats. But supposedly the IRS had been secure in the first place.

The NSA might itself prove capable of some nasty twists. What if it
could call up escrow keys from a database despite all talk to the
contrary? Or suppose it had a database of its own to unlock all the
keys? Would it really want to go to court for authority to snoop? In
_PGP: Pretty Good Privacy_, Garfinkel wisely noted that Washington would
let Clipper chips be exported. And the NSA was allowed to spy on
nondomestic conversations. So he logically wrote: “If Clipper-equipped
radios were being used by Iraqi fighter pilots, the NSA would want to
listen in. Although the NSA hasn’t said so publicly, it is doubtful that
the agency would jeopardize national security in order to play along
with the escrow system.” The NSA might even work out secret deals with
the company making the chips, to assure that the results didn’t
frustrate the snoops.

Adding to the quite-justified paranoia was the fact that only the
dumbest of criminals would rely on Clipper to protect privacy. So what
was the point of using technology meant to turn the bad guys into jail
bait? Why bother to create it in the first place?

Washington countered that criminals would want Clipper phones to talk
securely to the world at large. And I suspected that, yes, they indeed
would buy some equipment with Clipper. But for plotting a $10 million
dope shipment or a terrorist attack, the black hats would quickly learn
to use other scrambling systems; in fact, they could run them on top of
Clipper so the Feds _still_ got only gibberish. Even if the Feds banned
PGP-style protection, criminals would spread the right hardware and
software among themselves. Like drugs or sex, this would be a fine
opportunity for entrepreneurial lawbreakers.

The underworld might even sell Clipper-crackers that could make
criminals just as good at snooping on America’s Winston Smiths as the
Feds would be. High-tech hoods could call their new business Credit Card
Numbers Unlimited. Small wonder that Clipper appalled many security

At the same time, experts for the software industry raised questions
about whether the Clipper chip could penetrate the market and, if so, to
what extent? Any way you looked at it, the plan was crazy. If Clipper
couldn’t catch criminals (and did _everyone_ in the White House really
swallow this bilge?), then who was left? People like Peggy Engel, her
muckraking grantee, and me. At least part of the time, we would need
Clipperish encryption if somehow it surprised the experts and did catch
on; our banks might not let us use anything else. How much better if a
PGP-style alternative were the standard instead.

Technically, Clipper was just as scary as it was politically and in
law-enforcement terms. Scientists and mathematicians loved to dissect
encryption schemes in academic papers, and keep checking and rechecking
them over the years for flaws. But Clipper’s designers withheld the
information that outside experts could use to poke holes in the concept.
Unknowns indeed existed. A well-connected scientist at AT&T would later
find a significant weakness in the network version of Clipper, a way to
cripple the snoop-on-me-please feature.

All in all, Clipper actually emerged as a world security threat.
Washington was harming electronic commerce by promoting a crippled and
questionable program for encryption. The Administration in effect was
delaying the adoption of truly comprehensive security standards for the
international community, especially business people outside the States.
The standards were on the way, but not as fast as if Clinton’s people
hadn’t wreaked havoc on the private sector by way of moronic export

“We need strong cryptography for mainstream society on the Net,”
Zimmermann told me. “It’s like making locks. It’s as if I were in the
business of selling very, very strong locks.” He reminded me of the case
of Kevin Mitnick, who was arrested for breaking into scads of computers
and stealing oceans of valuable information. The FBI chased him for a
couple of years. “Isn’t it ironic that this guy was able to inflict such
damage because our systems are so insecure?” Zimmermann asked. “Our own
government suppressed the availability of strong encryption technology.
They brought it on themselves, or, I should say more accurately, they
brought it down on us.”

At the same time, through Clipper and through efforts against PGP and
other effective software, Washington in effect was lending moral support
to dictatorships. Clipper used a technique called _key escrow_. That was
a nice way of saying you had to trust Uncle with your secrets since he
had a copy of your key. But what if Uncle weren’t Uncle Sam? What if he
instead were Uncle Saddam?

“You may have the Saddam Husseins of the world, the North Koreans, being
able to hang on to power,” Zimmermann said, “by using this technology to
oppress their own political opposition.”

Clipper could do harm even in countries friendly to the United States.
Washington wanted them to adopt Clipper-style standards. And at the very
least the Clinton Administration was encouraging these governments to
demand the keys to whatever encryption schemes their citizens used. That
could boomerang mightily against American companies doing business
outside the States. Phil Zimmermann recounted to me a rumor he’d heard
about a giant entertainment conglomerate that had negotiated a huge deal
in France; its executives found the French to be uncannily prescient
about the Americans’ tactics. The espionage rumor might or might not be
accurate. But fear of French spying against Yanks was common enough for
many people from U.S. firms to be very careful about what they said on
the telephone, or where they left their suitcases. The French had
prohibited strong cryptography. And the Clipper plan, while not a ban on
decent encryption, certainly deprived American companies of the moral
foundations they needed to protest the French law. In the long run a
Clipper arrangement might indeed pave the way for a ban in the United
States itself against PGP-strength products, and already it could prop
up such moves abroad, to the great disadvantage of American companies
with secrets to protect.

In another way, too, Clipperish approaches would make U.S. companies
less competitive. American software firms wanted to build encryption
into spreadsheets, databases, word processors, and other major
applications. If the Feds bullied them into using Clipper, then their
products would be less attractive than those of rivals. Consider the
market for software to store sensitive material such as medical records;
would a European hospital favor a crippled American program over a
German program with robust encryption?

That wasn’t so abstract a question. An engineer from the giant Siemens
conglomerate in Germany told me later that he was working on medical
software, and he expected his employer to clobber U.S. rivals if their
products used a questionable, Clipperish encryption scheme. What’s more,
crypto mavens were common enough overseas for even American companies to
think about hiring them in the former Soviet Union to bypass the export
controls. If it happened, it would be the ultimate statement on the
absurdity of both the controls and Clipper.

Not surprisingly, a great hue and cry against Clipper came from the
American software industry, and meanwhile the hackers themselves were
waging full-scale warfare against it on the Net. Thousands of Netfolks
participated in the anti-Clipper activities of groups such as the
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, the first group to
sound the tocsin.

In 1994, however, as clueless as ever, the White House officially
endorsed Clipper—no ifs ands or buts—and made arrangements for the
production of the chips. “Encryption is a law-and-order issue since it
can be used by criminals to thwart wiretaps and avoid detection and
prosecution,” Al Gore said in justifying Clipper. “It also has huge
strategic value. Encryption technology and cryptoanalysis turned the
tide in the Pacific and elsewhere during World War II.” But exactly.
People on the Net thought that Clipper was just plain brain-dead as a
way to protect security, a triumph of bureaucrats over techies.

You even didn’t have to be on the Net to hate the tumor chip. At the
request of _Time_ and CNN, Yankelovich Partners polled 1,000 Americans;
did they think that private phone calls mattered more than wiretap
powers for police? Four-fifths opposed Clipper. Newspapers churned out
editorial after editorial, and with good cause: Imagine the joys of
trying to expose government corruption if the biggest crooks on the
public payroll might someday be able to monitor your conversations
whenever they wanted.

Quite properly, then, most citizens did not trust Washington. Hackers
wore sweatshirts that played on a slogan that Intel used to promote
computers using its chips. Alluding to Clipper, the sweatshirts read,
“Big Brother Inside.” Tens of thousands of people on the Net lent their
names to an anti-Clipper petition originated by Computer Professionals
for Social Responsibility. John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist
who cofounded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told how snoopy Feds
would have to kill him and pry his private PGP key from his “cold, dead
fingers.” Through it all, meg after meg of messages went out over the
Net—everything from sophomoric diatribes to carefully reasoned pleas for
anti-Clipper letters to local members of Congress.

After questioning some arguments against Clipper, one man found himself
vilified all over the Net, complete with a lie that he had made a
homosexual advance against a hacker. The privacy movement was supposed
to defend Americans’ right to dissent, not enforce its own form of
alternative orthodoxy. I felt grumpy, then, about the smear. But that
was a relatively rare incident; typical opposition to Clipper was
passionate but high minded.

Except for the smear described above, the meanest statements came not
from Clipper foes but from Stewart A. Baker, a PGP critic who was about
to return to private practice after serving as chief counsel for the
National Security Agency. _Wired_ commendably let Baker give his side.
The magazine did so “with all the enthusiasm,” Baker wrote, “of Baptist
ministers turning their Sunday pulpits over to the Devil.”

Understandably Baker began by denying that Clipper would “create a brave
new world of government intrusion into the privacy of Americans.” Baker
said that key escrow would merely maintain Washington’s rights to do
wire-taps as presently authorized. That was a wrong; the government
actually was going out of its way to make us all tap ready, as if we
were back in the old Soviet Union in the KGB era. But at least in this
case Baker wasn’t maligning the Net. The nastiness oozed out later when
his article took on “Myth Number Two: Unreadable encryption is the key
to our future liberty.” Baker shrugged off such reasoning as “the
long-delayed revenge of people who couldn’t go to Woodstock because they
had too much trig homework. It reflects a wide—and kind of
endearing—streak of romantic high-tech anarchism that crops up
throughout the computer world.” Then he let loose against PGP-style
programs itself. “Some argue that widespread availability of this
encryption will help Latvian freedom fighters today and American freedom
fighters tomorrow.” Presumably thousands of PGP boosters were hunkered
down making bombs in Manhattan basements.

Having tried to ignore the legitimate uses of PGP by thousands of
peaceful, law-abiding citizens, Baker then told how “a high-tech
pedophile in Santa Clara, California, had a PGP-encrypted diary of his
contacts with susceptible young boys using computer bulletin boards all
over the country.” Oh. So between overthrowing the government, PGP users
would be seducing eight-year-olds. Baker huffed that “if unescrowed
encryption becomes ubiquitous, there will be many more stories like

Poor Baker. If he’d really wanted to do his attacks right, he could have
quoted with full grimness the writings that Timothy May, the Cypherpunk,
had posted on the Net in the spirit of Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.

May was the author of a long, detailed, sometimes even Talmudic list of
frequently asked questions and answers on cryptography and the fight for
privacy, which might or might not have been on the Net at the time Baker
was writing his _Wired_ piece. But if not, he could have found
equivalent thoughts among May’s many postings to the Cypherpunks’ rather
public list. Laying out the case against strong encryption programs in
the PGP vein, May conjectured that they could make killing for hire much
more practical. People using encryption could rely on trusted agents who
dispensed anonymous digital cash. “There are some ways to reduce the
popularity of this Murder Incorporated system,” May said, and kindly
assured readers that he had been thinking about them.

For good measure May noted that racists such as the Aryan Nation were
using encryption, and “other kinds of terrorists” might be relying on it
as well. “Expect more uses in the future, as things like PGP continue to
spread.” As if that weren’t enough to pull bureaucrats’ chains, May
said: “Many of us are explicitly anti-democratic and hope to use
encryption to undermine the so-called democratic governments of the

May, ever the idea juggler, also weighed in with some powerful arguments
_for_ PGP that appealed strongly to a stodgy old Democrat (small “d” as
well) like me. Even the Feds should have grasped them. “Could strong
crypto be used for sick and disgusting and dangerous purposes?” May
asked. And then he answered himself: “So can locked doors, but we don’t
insist on an ‘open door policy’ (outside of certain quaint sorority and
rooming houses!). So do many forms of privacy allow plotters, molesters,
racists, etc., to meet and plot.” Whatever May was, anarchist,
libertarian, objectivist, or nothing, he was making more sense in those
three sentences than Baker could have in a 1,000 essays.

After May signed up for Cyberia, a legally oriented list, he was one of
the favorite nonlawyers there, winning friends even among those who
disagreed with his politics. In one limited way he may have been more
threatening to Washington than Hoffman or Rubin, for, rather than just
ranting and raving and putting on a good show, he could communicate all
too cogently with members of the establishment. At the same time the
Feds were fixating on Zimmermann, May casually told the lawyers how he
moved in and out of the country without letting Washington veto his
speeches on encryption. In effect his gleeful confession made mockery of
the laws. If D.C. couldn’t even control a traveler—there in flesh and
blood—how could it monitor electrons speeding over the phone wires?

“I myself just presented a paper on ‘Crypto Anarchy and Virtual
Communities’ in Monte Carlo,” May told the cyberlawyers, at least one of
whom was an attorney from the Justice Department. “I described
algorithms, methods, etc., and was never asked or instructed to submit
to the Men in Black in D.C.” He was even carrying around “several
gigabytes of code, essays, programs.” But never was he “ever stopped,
questioned, or searched. Only upon landing in San Francisco was I asked
to state my business overseas. I said I was meeting with cryptographers
from around the world! This was met with confusion by the
twenty-two-year-old Customs officer; but after asking if any of them
were from Russia or Iraq, and I told him I had no idea if there were or
not, he waved me through.” May said most U.S. cryptographers “just shrug
and ignore the _possibility_ that our papers may be illegal to present
outside the U.S.”

His observations came as the Electronic Frontier Foundation was trying
to resolve matters in a more tidy way. It was sponsoring a lawsuit to
prevent Washington from restricting the spread of encryption-related
writing and software. Quite correctly the EFF argued that the encryption
laws were an “impermissible prior restraint on speech, in violation of
the First Amendment.” An EFF victory, needless to say, could nuke the
government’s case against Zimmermann.

With Hooverian tenacity, as if Phil Zimmermann were Dillinger or a
godfather, Washington kept up its harassment and even escalated it in
some ways. Jim Warren saw this happen firsthand. He had asked to testify
several years ago in Zimmermann’s defense, but the authorities ignored
his request. Then in 1995 he had published op-ed pieces in San Jose and
San Francisco papers, in which he throttled the FBI and NSA for getting
in the way of the best possible security on the Net. In the wake of the
Mitnick break-ins, he had accused the Feds of “endangering millions of
innocent citizens and law-abiding businesses that use the Net or cell
phones, in order to protect their ability to monitor the few who might
be guilty of something.” Almost immediately two U.S. Customs agents
favored Warren with a surprise visit to his house and quizzed him about
Zimmermann and PGP. “When they began the interview,” he said, “they
handed me a subpoena that said I was ‘COMMANDED to appear and testify
before the Grand Jury of the United States District Court’ in San

“Who says government isn’t responsive,” Warren quipped.

He said this in a folksy newsletter sent to hundreds of people on the
Net. Its well-earned name was _Government Access_; he had been the main
organizer of a successful campaign to get California to put legislative
information on the Internet for free. As much as anyone he was trying to
work within The System. Yet he was ever skeptical toward “Congress
Critters.” Again and again Warren’s newsletter in effect depicted a
Washington that could be Torylike in its contempt toward Netfolk.

Warren didn’t just write of the well-publicized threats like the Exon
bill, or the Clinton Administration’s prosecution of a couple in
California because their sex-oriented BBS did not come up to Bible Belt
community standards in Tennessee, or the Zimmermann case itself. Warren
also wrote of obscure people such as a Berkeley-area hacker who, enraged
by restrictions on encryption and by other actions in the vein of King
George’s Stamp Act, had fled to Sweden.

“Sweden is no paradise,” the expatriate told Warren via e-mail, “but I
don’t ever worry that the government is going to break into my home. I
know that I’ll be able to run my BBS, maintain all the contacts I’ve
developed over the years, and continue to use the various nets without
fear of Uncle Sam attacking me. So now I’m trading in my U.S. passport
for one that is a lot less threatening to me and my PC.” Warren added:
“This is the second former American I have known who has done this for
exactly these reasons!” I remembered a hacker libertarian who had been
hoping to construct an island in the Caribbean, beyond the reach of
technophobic politicians.

Warren was disappointed enough with Washington to tell the Net: “I’m
beginning to feel like a German Jew in 1935.” He didn’t just hate
Clipper and the harassment of Zimmermann. On top of everything else,
Washington had recently passed a digital telephone bill that “would make
Lyndon Johnson, Nixon’s Watergate team, and J. Edgar Hoover drool on
their bibs.” The project would cost the taxpayers billions of dollars
over the years—all this to make the phone system more tappable, out of
fear that crooks might otherwise forward phone calls to bugfree
locations. Washington was actually setting aside more money for snooping
than for electronic libraries. And now Warren feared that the Feds
someday would ban encryption outright.

Beyond D.C.’s computer-related stupidities, he loathed the way the Feds
played fast and easy with the Constitution on matters such as drug law
enforcement. Agencies, for example, could keep money and equipment taken
from suspects and use them for their own purposes, thus giving police “a
profit motive” to abuse Americans’ rights.

“No doubt,” Warren said, “many in Germany told that nation’s Jews, ‘It’s
not that serious’ and ‘It’s just a phase—it’ll pass’ as they disarmed
the citizens in the name of law and order only a few years before
filling the camps and ovens that somehow good, law-abiding Germans just
never knew about until after the war. If we don’t watch out, our
government’s cure for ‘crime’ will become even more dangerous than the
illness. And this time, I don’t think Sweden will be a safe haven.”

Clearly Warren was a long, long way from the optimism of _Orwell’s
Revenge_, the book in which Big Brother lost to the hackers.

I doubted that the United States was quite as Oceania-like as Jim Warren
obviously believed, and his own German parallel might be stretching it.
Stamp Act parallels did, however, fit. An old, ignorant, Torylike order
wanted to pass laws to contain the new, and I could envision an
increasing number of ugly confrontations between bureaucrats and
Netfolk. Baker, the ex-NSA man, hadn’t hesitated in the least to come up
with his wacky characterizations of Clipper foes. To the D.C. policy
elite, we on the Net were fair pickings.

All the hype about the Information Superhighway notwithstanding, most of
the Feds didn’t feel quite as at home on computer networks as billed.
Most Congress members in mid-1995 still lacked public e-mail addresses.

Meanwhile, the Net was catching on among millions of younger Americans
who surfed freely, while their elders could barely master commercial
networks such as CompuServe. By way of Clipper and blatantly
anti-network copyright proposals, the White House was kissing off all
too many within Generation Net.[6.24]

A further embarrassment was the contrasting enlightenment of some
Republican conservatives, who many Democrats on the Net might have
dismissed entirely in the past. Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing talk show
host, didn’t just show up on CompuServe as a visitor. He personally
logged on again and again and even met his wife there. He might not be
on the Net itself, but he was much more at ease with the technology than
were the majority of the liberals on the Hill. Meanwhile, the most
powerful conservative of all, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, spoke out
against the Exon amendment. William Buckley, the noted conservative
journalist, was a major backer of my proposal for a decentralized
national library system online. And the conservative writer George
Gilder, while all too zealous at times about free markets, had made some
of the most prescient predictions on the direction in which the
technology was headed.

Too many Democrats were TV-centric, while Gilder believed that computers
would be the new entertainment medium, prevailing over television. Sales
figures proved him right. More Americans bought desktops computers in
1994 than purchased color televisions, and it was only a matter of time
until they logged onto computer networks and worried about their privacy
there. And here were Clinton and Gore pushing Clipper with more ardor
than they could summon up for well-stocked electronic libraries for all.

Of course, not everybody on the Democratic side was hopeless, and many
Republican law-and-order types loved Clipper, the Bush leftover. Also,
these same politicians might well applaud the Clinton Administration’s
anti-Net copyright proposals, not understanding all the undertows that
could ultimately drag property rights under. But at least they hadn’t
enlisted civil libertarians and populists in their campaigns to the
extent that Bill Clinton had. I’d never have voted for the man if I’d
known in advance about Clipper, the harassment of Zimmermann, and the
antediluvian copyright policies. Bush in some ways might have been
preferable. Not knowing the difference between a potato chip and a
silicon chip, he would have done much less damage. A smarter, more
principled Democrat than Clinton could pick up the pieces in ’96.

Clinton’s Justice Department showed a brazen and bizarre lack of
fairness toward Zimmermann. Until the statute of limitations expired—and
that was fuzzy, even to lawyers—the Feds might just let him dangle.
Without finding Zimmermann guilty of anything, or even charging him,
Washington in a sense was already leveling penalties. He had to spend
hours and hours away from his regular consulting business to work on his

Total costs might reach $300,000 if the prosecutors decided to act. Even
if lawyers donated their time—and Zimmermann might enjoy the services of
some noted attorneys outraged by the threat to civil liberties—there
would be the burden of telephone costs, travel, and hotels. Appeals for
donations went up in such areas of the Usenet as talk.crypto.politics,
comp.org.eff.talk, and, of course, alt.security.pgp. People could pay by
credit card, encoding their numbers via PGP.[6.25]

In the end, no matter what happened to Zimmermann, the real victory
might be in the marketplace. And there Clipper was losing. AT&T and a
chip maker named VLSI Technology came out with a chip that would
challenge even the NSA’s supercomputer. Given a choice between that and
Clipper, who’d want the latter? Even before then, in fact, few customers
were going for Clipper-based equipment.[6.26] In the end it looked as if
Washington would resort not to a chip but to continued pressure on U.S.
corporations to make available the key schemes of more secure plans. And
even then, I hoped, the industry would balk. The more such foolishness
became a habit here, the less protected would be American companies
abroad, as people outside the States followed Washington’s example.

Some of the biggest Clipper haters, meanwhile, were overlooking their
differences to unite against the tumor chip. Jim Bidzos’ company had
already granted a license for the basic technology to ViaCrypt, which,
at least in the latter’s opinion, left it free to sell a commercial
version of PGP. And this past action may have been a door opener in a
way for Phil Zimmermann. PGP was no longer so much of an outlaw program
in the eyes of many, and businesses felt they could use it and get
technical support. Beyond that, professors at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, whence much of the RSA technology had come,
were sick of all the patent wars. They just wanted to see solid
encryption in use. And Bidzos, however much he quarreled with
Zimmermann, was himself determined that the Feds not control encryption.
The compromise could go a long way toward enshrining RSA as at least an
informal world standard, and thwarting RSA’s biggest competitor, the

And so Bizdos and colleagues let PGP be used for noncommercial purposes
as long as the newer versions were incompatible with the older ones that
lacked the blessing of RSA and Public Key Partners. Of course that still
didn’t solve the hassles of securing international commerce with a truly
strong encryption standard with which the U.S. government felt
comfortable. But even if PGP-style products weren’t official, they were
murdering Clipperish schemes before snoop-ready chips and programs could
take root. The world’s governments might well have to join countries
like France and try to ban strong encryption.

But could they? Too many people in too many countries were already using
software such as PGP. Hackers proudly included their public PGP
keys—those weird combinations of letters and numbers—at the ends of
their messages or told how people could obtain them. PGP keys were
becoming status symbols. PGP wasn’t yet built into popular e-mail
programs such as Eudora for easy use, so, if nothing else, the keys
indicated a certain level of technical expertise. They were the new
vanity plates of the dataways. PGP was even becoming a small industry;
for example, you could shell out $20 and officially register your key
with a company in Palo Alto, California, called SLED. And then people
receiving messages from you would know they were really from you.

SLED required a mailed or faxed driver’s license or passport, or a
preprinted personal check. This wasn’t the best proof of identity, but
it would at least let Netfolks spot obvious forgeries immediately. If
nothing else, you could “register” your key with friends who were well
known and well trusted on the net.

With or without formal registration, more and more Netfolks felt lost
without their PGP. Father Bill Morton, the Anglican priest mentioned
earlier, the one who used PGP to accept confessions over the Net, wrote
a parody:

               _It’s one for the money,
               Two for the show,
               Three to get ready,
               Now go, cat, go!
               But don’t you step on my PGP.
               You can do anything, but lay off my PGP_.

Responding to a query I’d posted in several encryption-related
newsgroups, he explained in an e-mail why PGP meant so much to him.
Confessions were just part of the story:

    _In the history of Anglican pastoral care, there is a strong
    tradition of the use of the letter as a means of spiritual
    guidance. Actually this tradition goes deep into the roots of
    the Catholic Church. Some of the books regarded as “spiritual
    classics” are compilations of correspondence between a person
    and their spiritual director. Until the advent of PGP, e-mail
    was not a suitable place for such correspondence. It’s one thing
    to have your correspondence published 100 years after the fact;
    it’s quite another to run the risk of having your personal
    thoughts posted to a Usenet newsgroup or read by the sysop of a
    BBS. Now they know that even if they hit the wrong button and
    send their e-mail to the wrong place, it is secure....
    Legislation that would make encryption illegal or require a
    mandatory backdoor would totally compromise any trust in e-mail
    or any other form of electronic text system such as word

Father Morton’s respect for privacy came through when I asked for
examples of confidences that people had shared with him by way of PGP:
“No matter how I disguise the facts,” he told me, “even if I were to
create a fictitious person, someone somewhere would believe that they
were reading the details of their life story.” And so he was vague,
other than to say, to give an idea of the gravity of what he heard,
“Thoughts, dreams, hopes, as well as lust, anger, and hatred. Sometimes,
actually oftentimes, there are things that you wouldn’t even tell your
spouse. Our lives are based on trust.”

Thanks to PGP, Father Morton could maintain that trust not only with
people locally in Woodstock, New Brunswick, but with Netfolk from
thousands of miles away.

Some people met him in newsgroups. “We’ll have an exchange of e-mail on
a specific topic,” he said, “and at one point it will become evident
that I am a priest.” He neither hid nor played up his occupation. Upon
learning it, he said, the Netter at the other end “may wish to change
the topic and enter into a brief correspondence about a particular
question. That conversation might last one or two posts and is usually,
though not always, in PGP.” In addition, he corresponded with a very
small group of people regularly about significant events in their lives.
These conversations were always in PGP.

“Before PGP,” Father Morton said, “e-mail was guarded in its content. A
typical e-mail exchange might be to set up a phone conversation or
meeting or discuss issues in very general terms. Now, at least in a few
cases, the PGP mail is much more open in its content, and as a result
the e-mail pastoral relationship can be much more productive.”

Father Morton was not alone in his use of PGP to protect personal
secrets. For example, the Samaritans, a group devoted to talking people
out of suicide, said it would accept PGP-encrypted messages.

“The Samaritans,” announced a Usenet post, “have always taken the
confidentiality of callers extremely seriously. Indeed the most
frequently asked question within the movement about our e-mail service
is, ‘What about confidentiality?’” Surely, in an era when more and more
communications happened to be electronic, it would be folly to deny
reliable encryption to the Samaritans and the people they helped.
Although the Samaritans felt more confidence about the security of
unprotected e-mail than did Father Morton, they understood an important
truth: _perceptions_ mattered as much as anything. If their
correspondents lacked faith in the confidentiality of e-mail, they
couldn’t write as freely. And, as I saw it, they might not be as open to
rescue. If Washington banned PGP, if it replaced it with an inferior,
Clipperish arrangement, the Samaritans just might not be as successful
as with truly secure encryption.

Privacy wasn’t just for confessions and for suicide prevention. It was
also for teenagers. Donna—she supplied her real name but I’ll protect
her with a pseudonym—lived in Florida and was a seventeen-year-old
junior in high school who was already using PGP. She e-mailed me:

    _I couldn’t speak for other teenagers and their parents, but
    with my extremely intrusive mother, I use all the privacy
    devices I can get. I’ve kept extensive journals since second
    grade—she’s always read them and nosed around, no matter where
    I’ve tried to hide them. She’s opened letters from friends and
    pokes her nose into anything that she considers unorthodox; we
    don’t quite see eye to eye on many issues. I’m a good student,
    responsible, don’t drink or do drugs, blah blah blah, but she
    has continuously invaded my privacy over the years despite her
    lack of justification._

    _Two years ago I tried a locked drawer where I kept all of my
    papers, letters, and the like, but she has opened the drawer
    with my keys. So now I just do everything on the computer and
    encrypt/password it. I can see how some parents might justify
    searching their kids’ rooms—just as police can under
    circumstances justify searching homes._

But, Donna went on, if a child were doing something _illegal_, there
“would be physical evidence.” That seemed clear: You could encrypt a
diary full of unorthodox musings; you could not encode a marijuana

I would have trusted Donna, but I still had mixed feelings about most
teenagers using PGP without their parents’ sharing the keys. How long
until Senator Exon ranted that the young would encrypt dirty bytes? In
the end, however, just as with children’s use of the Net itself, PGP
should be a family decision, not a federal one; Washington mustn’t turn
into a giant version of Donna’s mother. Risks from a ban, even one
limited to children, so outweighed the benefits. If Donna’s mother
wanted to understand her daughter, then maybe she needed to spend less
time doing a domestic-level KGB act and more time at a computer—seeing
for herself what her daughter was up to. In the process she might
understand Donna well enough to tolerate her opinions. She’d better
learn to brook them; her daughter was almost eighteen, the age of
adulthood in the United States. Soon many parents would be more
comfortable with the technology, and then, family by family, parents
could decide whether to be Big Mama or Big Daddy and look for
PGP-encrypted files. It should be a family, not a government, matter.

If nothing else, parents themselves could use PGP to guard their own
privacy. “I use PGP at home solely for keeping confidential information
from prying eyes—for instance, from my son and my son’s friends, as well
as for keeping their information in one central place,” said Joe
Collins, an employee of an international investment bank based in New
York. It guarded his burglar alarm codes, the codes to the family safe,
all credit card numbers, and all passwords to software on the family
computer. Yes, some popular software came with encryption, and certain
people might have argued that home users such as Collins didn’t need
PGP. But the encryption found in popular software was nowhere near in
PGP’s league. In fact, Crak Software, a company in Phoenix, Arizona,
even sold “password-recovery software” to crack popular programs such as
WordPerfect, Word, Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, and Quattro Pro (for backup

AIDS activists especially understood the possibilities of good, strong
encryption; victims of the disease, after all, were treated about as
fairly as lepers had been in biblical times. In New York a group called
ACT UP tried to get the public health officials to encourage labs to use
PGP to protect the identities of patients. The officials liked the idea.
The program died at the hands of a parsimonious governor; but sooner or
later, I suspected, PGP would be used in one way or another to protect
the privacy of AIDS patients, if it wasn’t already.

In the business area, the advantages of keeping PGP legal—and avoiding
Clipperish solutions—were just as clear as at the personal level. “PGP
is essential,” said Robert David Steele, a former CIA agent whose
passion for legalized encryption and dislike of Clipper must have
endeared him to many hackers.[6.27] “Security is the foundation for
openness. In order for a world of open electronic exchanges actually to
succeed, electronic persons have to know three things, all of which PGP
supports: (a) that the person on the other end of the link is who he
says he is, (b) that the information being received is genuine and not
altered, and (c) that a digital cash payment will be forthcoming,
assuming that this is part of the transaction.” Steele was not just
talking about the benefits of PGP for business alone, but clearly it was
among the major uses that he quite properly had on his mind here.

Many business people on the Net agreed. I was hardly surprised to read
in the _New York Times_ about the use of PGP “in what was apparently the
first retail transactions on the Internet using a readily available
version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee
privacy.” A Philadelphia man had used PGP to scramble his credit card
number and spent $12.48 and shipping costs on a compact disk with rock
music from a New Hampshire company called Net Market. More benefits were
to come. Already other companies were working on digital cash, which
could let bits and bytes go out over the Net in ways that prevented them
from being easily traced. They would be, in other words, just like
dollar bills.[6.28] You could spend them without Big Brother knowing
that you’d bought a _Playboy_, a Rush Limbaugh book, a condom, or
whatever else might somehow cause your neighbors or your boss to take

PGP also made sense for privacy protection _within_ companies. An
accounting firm in Palo Alto, California, for example, used PGP to guard
backup tapes in case of loss or theft, and a Washington accountant
relied on it for client communications.[6.29] And when Zimmermann
himself asked online for PGP testimonials, a man with a
telecommunications firm on the West Coast told him how much he loved it
as an alternative to Clipper:

    _Once it becomes a standard, the competitive software industry
    will have no incentive to continue technical development in
    crypto. And then once Clipper gets cracked by outsiders or
    otherwise compromised, there will still be a lot of bureaucratic
    inertia protecting it and keeping the fact that it’s been
    compromised a secret._

    _We see a serious need for crypto to protect client records
    regarding their telephone systems and computer networks, to
    protect our internal company memos sent via e-mail, and to
    protect strategic business information sent via e-mail. We
    figure that a misrouted piece of client data is a potentially
    serious liability issue, and a misrouted sales proposal or
    similar business document is like leaving a credit card on a
    park bench. Due diligence, fiscal responsibility, and all that.
    The big plus is simply that we will be able to confidently move
    a lot more of our business online, which will make a huge
    difference to us. More efficient handling of client requests,
    more efficient internal discussions, and more effective
    communication with investors. In particular I do a lot of
    strategic business planning online, and it always bugs me in the
    back of my mind—‘What happens if this gets lost on the
    Internet?’ In one sense good crypto is like a good business
    dinner. It facilitates the flow of ideas in a relaxed

At the same time, needless to say, PGP could improve the flow of
_political_ ideas. In 1993 Boris Yeltsin had been at odds with foes
nostalgic for the old Soviet state. “If a dictatorship takes over
Russia,” a message from Latvia had told Zimmermann, “your PGP is
widespread from the Baltic to the Far East now and will help democratic
people if necessary. Thanks.”[6.30] In Burma rebels used PGP against an
oppressive regime. A writer in Thailand said that before PGP reached
them, captured papers had “resulted directly in arrest, including whole
families, and their torture and death.” Activists in El Salvador and
Guatemala also relied on the program. “In this business, lots of people
have been killed,” said Daniel Salcedo, a member of the Human Rights
Project of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science.[6.31] David Banisar of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center told me of PGP being used in Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Egypt, and
Mali, among other countries.

“Wire tapping is conducted in nearly every country in the world,”
Banisar wrote in a paper with the marvelous title of “Bug Off!” “It is
frequently abused.” A 1992 State Department report, for example, told of
governments and private organizations snooping away in dozens of
countries. And it hadn’t happened just in the Third World. “There have
been numerous cases in the United Kingdom which revealed that the
British intelligence services monitor social activists, labor unions,
and civil liberties groups,” Banisar said in a paper written for Privacy
International.[6.32] What’s more, the Canadian Communications Security
Establishment had shelled out more than $1.1 million to scan through
millions of messages and pick out dangerous words and phrases.[6.33]
Would the CCSE abuse the system and routinely compile dossiers on
law-respecting people? And what about the FBI here in the States? Many
Netfolks took it for granted that Louis Freeh’s people were keeping up
with Usenet.

“The FBI has the ability to police the Internet and, indeed, has been
doing so,” David Nadler and Kendrick Fong, two tech-oriented lawyers,
would write later on in _Computer Digest: The Journal of Professional
Development for the Washington-Baltimore Technology Community_. “In
fact, the FBI has been collecting Usenet postings since the late 1980s.”

A formulaic condemnation of all FBI monitoring, however, would be
unfair. I could hardly object to the Feds reading the public messages of
egotistical nuts with a clear-cut predilection for violence. What better
reason _not_ to censor Usenet and any audio and video equivalents that
might follow? Let the kooks rant away, hour after hour, educating Louis
Freeh about their plans. Usenet wasn’t anyone’s living room. Posting
messages there was like publishing a book or speaking in a town square.
Via the free Stanford Netnews Filtering Service, I could receive
electronic mail messages whenever a specified word showed up in a major
area of Usenet. Yes, I could track people by name. I could also choose
words associated with a topic. That was the magic of the Net; it gave us
small-fry many of the same tools available to the intelligence
bureaucracies. The same kind of wizardry that might let Canadian cops
snoop on citizens could allow me to track the utterances of Al Gore on
the subject, say, of the Internet.

One technology, however, may have bureaucrats more uncomfortable than
any other—encryption. A U.S. database expert named Patrick Ball found
this out the hard way when he was in Ethiopia to help the Office of the
Special Prosecutor. Ball efficiently helped build a database of crimes
that had occurred under the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. He was
accomplishing plenty. Then a bureaucratic rival started a turf war with
him. The man falsely claimed that Ball had been using PGP for secret
correspondence, probably with the CIA, even though the truth was a
little more mundane. Ball hadn’t used PGP for anything but test
messages; the people at the other end lacked the technical skills. But
the rival didn’t know. He confused PGP with uuencoding—a way to prepare
programs for accurate transmission via e-mail—and unfortunately the
chief special prosecutor believed Ball’s accuser and forced the database
expert to resign.

So often that was the case with police: They displayed a mix of fear and
ignorance. And they were not totally wrong to be worried. One computer
expert predicted that in the next few years criminals would routinely
use electronic scrambling. “This could signal the end of computer
forensics,” said William Spernow, “before it even gets off the ground.”
A criminal relied on a double set of books, employing PGP to conceal the
accurate one, and dope-peddlers in Miami used encryption.[6.34]

Not only that, just as I was writing part of this chapter, the
newspapers told how terrorists in Japan had killed 10 people and injured
about 5,500 by spreading nerve gas in a Tokyo subway station. Wouldn’t
restrictions on encryption make such acts harder to commit with

Strong counterarguments existed, however, against the jackbooters who
would ban strong encryption or impose the Clipper variety on us. I would
rather that nations not spy on each other. But I fully recall the
naiveté of the past, the fantasy that “gentlemen do not open other
gentlemen’s mail”; whether we liked it or not, espionage and
counterespionage would always go on. In that spirit, instead of wasting
money on Clipperish schemes, countries could spend money developing more
powerful computers to crack encryption, and they could also refine the
unscrambling techniques. That would not be cheap. But since bad guys
wouldn’t let Clipper or successors be the apex of technology, the United
States hadn’t any other choice. Other countries might feel otherwise.
Bureaucrats just couldn’t contain technology. Clipperish schemes would
be brainless in any country.

As one alternative, governments could rely more heavily on open
sources—for example, newspapers and other media outlets, especially
those online. The more journalists out there, and the more independent
they were, the harder it would be for nations to keep secrets and
conspire against each other. The United States and friends had the most
selfish of reasons for encouraging the spread of the free press.

The open source idea was hardly original to me. Others had talked about
it for years, most notably Robert Steele, the ex-CIA agent, who observed
that publicly available material was often far more useful than the
clandestinely gathered variety. I didn’t agree with much of what Steele
said—I wanted more isolation between journalists and government than he
might have liked. But his basic point was sound. Information was most
reliable when it was in the open and could be dissected, rather than
hiding it behind a “secret” stamp. The spread of network technology
could only strengthen this premise.

Yet another approach could be the selective use of agents, in new-style
roles, taking advantage of high technology. Here again I had mixed
feelings. But in an era when countries such as Iraq were trying to
develop nuclear weapons, this option should be kept alive.

What about terrorists? As with child-molesting rings and drug cartels,
Clipper just would not do any good. Secret groups would be the last in
the world to use the chip. Far better for intelligence agencies to work
on more powerful computers and truly effective software for cracking
codes. Breakthroughs might not come immediately, but would sooner or
later, and the civilian sector might ultimately benefit when the
technology finally did reach the world at large. Advanced
supercomputers, for example, could be used for weather forecasting, or
for graphics and design—the same wizardry that had helped make possible
the Visible Human Project described in the last chapter.

Meanwhile an open-source approach could often do the job. The accused
terrorists in Japan hadn’t exactly stayed hidden from the world before
the subway incidents. Shoko Asahara, their leader, had delivered sermon
after sermon with allusions to poisonous gas; in the city of Matsumoto
where he had been at odds with authorities over some land, 7 people had
died and 200 had suffered injuries when a cloud of sarin wafted in the
area. Small wonder that the Japanese government had caught up with the
sect so soon after the Tokyo tragedy. Newspaper databases would have
told plenty, beyond any information that happened to be in the
government’s own records.

Legally authorized bugs might be yet another solution, and so, at times,
might be informers wired to make the best case. In an era of
near-invisible electronics, this approach would be increasingly

What’s more, if Bill Clinton and Al Gore really cared about protecting
citizens in a high-tech age, they would worry less about snooping on
citizens and more about hardening up points of vulnerability. Steele
noted how easily criminals could “maliciously interfere with the
computers that control the power system. It is relatively easy to
destroy computer capabilities—this takes much less skill than to ‘crack’
them and divert computing resources.” Also, terrorists could wreak havoc
with computers that controlled telephone systems in such areas as
communications for government and banking.

He also warned of interference with the computers of Wall Street and the
Federal Reserve. “Trillions in digital data” could vanish into the
ether. “A massive global economic panic” would ensue. Preventative
measures wouldn’t be cheap, but if the American government did care
about security, it would prepare realistically for the threats of the
information era rather than doing an inept Big Brother act.

To rig up a whole nation for wire taps would be both a waste and a
disgrace. I pondered the ironies. Here the NSA and similar agencies were
supposed to protect normality—to guard families against dopesters, sex
perverts, terrorists, and the rest—and yet Phil Zimmermann the husband
and father might go to jail. “I think it’s kind of unreal to him,”
Zimmermann said when I asked how his son felt about this. “I tell him
that I have some talented lawyers working for me, and that we’re doing
the best we can.” And Zimmermann’s wife? “She thinks that they can’t
possibly indict me, because that would be wrong—that somehow they’ll
realize that and just back out. Of course by the time your book is
printed, we’ll know one way or the other whether she was right.”

A Few Words about Library Books,
Democracy, and Socks the Cybercat

The White House in the 1990s was extolling computer nets as a way to
Bring Government Closer to the People. Americans could dial up “An
Interactive Citizens’ Handbook” on the Internet, see a photo of a
teenaged Clinton with JFK, and listen to Socks the Clinton cat meow. But
could Clinton-Gore hear _us_? Just how “interactive” was the White

Clinton boosters formed a group called Americans Communicating
Electronically to improve electronic contacts between mortals and
bureaucrats. Al Gore, meanwhile, had flaunted his typing skills with the
famous visit to CompuServe. But was electronic democracy truly alive on
the Internet and other computer networks? Not quite. All the techish
sizzle notwithstanding, Clinton-Gore might instead be giving us
electronic oligarchy, especially if Republicans followed the horrible
precedents that the White House was setting. Consider the dubious,
somewhat Orwellian process that was shaping the National Information
Infrastructure—the famous data highways and related endeavors.

So far Washington had not worked nearly as hard as it should to drive
down the cost of knowledge for the average American. At the same time a
network-hostile copyright proposal was delighting information
monopolists and imperiling the ability of citizens to share electronic
newspaper clips in even a limited way.

I testified at an official hearing on the NII in 1993, and what most
struck me about Clinton-Gore was the chasm between words and deeds—the
same mind-set that led to Oceania’s propaganda agency being named the
Ministry of Truth. The gospel according to Al Gore was that people of
all income levels would be able to travel the dataways. His musings
later adorned the peach-colored newsprint of _The Mini Page_, a
newspaper insert for children.

“No longer will geographical location, wealth, gender, or any other
factor limit learning,” Gore reassured elementary schoolers. He told how
“a child from my home town of Carthage, Tennessee, will be able to come
home from school, turn on a computer, and plug into the Library of
Congress in Washington, D.C.” The NII would clearly be in the grand
democratic tradition, small “d.”

The next day, however, the _Washington Post_ carried news of a
different stripe from Bruce Lehman, the Clinton-Gore commissioner of
patents and trademarks, who chaired the NII working group on
intellectual property. I learned that “because of the ease of digital
reproduction, Lehman does not foresee that digital libraries will put
copyrighted works within easy reach online the way they do books on a
library shelf. Copyrighted digital materials are likely to be
available only to subscribers—libraries, for example—who pay royalty
fees, he said. People who want the material might have to go to their
local library and use a computer there that would not allow them to
copy or redistribute the work, Lehman said.”[6.35] A few months later
Bruce Lehman would graciously tell the _Wall Street Journal_ that,
yes, he would tolerate children carrying home copyrighted CD-ROMs and
floppies of electronic books.[6.36]

Compared to networked books, however, the CDs and the rest would be
pathetic. Distribution over the Internet and other networks could be the
cheapest way to get the material spread around, while assuring a wide
variety of material for all. When William Buckley likened CD-ROMs to
78-rpm shellac records in the era of the Internet, he couldn’t have been
more precise. And yet this was the future as envisioned by Bill
Clinton’s intellectual property czar. So much for the well-informed
citizenry needed for a Jeffersonian America. Lehman was beating the
bushes for electronic oligarchy.

Once I had felt that the Clinton-Gore people might truly share my own
egalitarian dreams. I’d thought that nonlobbyists like me stood a
healthy chance. I had been writing about computers for close to a
decade; earlier I had covered a poverty beat, and I knew how we could
drive down the cost of small computers so that someday even Head Start
kids could read electronic books on them. What better way to encourage
democracy? The whole country, not just the elite, could grow up
understanding abstract thought. Could the Constitution have been drafted
by a mob of illiterate TV watchers?

Rather than letting Big Brother choose books for us, we could establish
a democratic system with many librarians in many cities empowered to
make acquisitions. Never would bureaucrats be able to do the equivalent
of tweaking old copies of the _London Times_ behind our backs. It would
be too damn hard with so many librarians in so many locations, and with
the same material reposing on millions and millions of tablet-style
computers that individual Americans owned. My vision was one of
electronic federalism, not of Big Brother policing our reading tastes.
TeleRead wouldn’t undermine local schools and public libraries. Quite
the contrary. TeleRead would buy affordable, sharp-screened machines for
them, sending a signal to Silicon Valley and paving the way for similar
computers to go on sale at the Kmart for $99.95 for anyone to buy.

Just as important, unlike the Postal plan mentioned earlier in this
chapter, my TeleRead plan would let schools and libraries use the
hardware without Big Brotherish restrictions. They could store whatever
they wanted on their own computers for local people to dial up. And to
make the national library more useful at the local level, they could add
special, Web-style links designed for the people they served—not just
for whole communities, but perhaps even for individual readers.

What’s more, TeleRead would respect diversity and freedom of expression
in other ways. Publishers could gamble fees up front to bypass
librarians and qualify for royalties, and if censored from the national
library, they could post on the Net itself. I took it for granted that
Washington would try to censor TeleRead. That was the reason I
envisioned a whole network of many librarians, in many places, together
with long-range funding. Besides, my plan reflected the old wisdom from
hackers: When censorship arises, just route around it. Private companies
could make some nice money off officially banned books. Imagine the
promotional opportunities; “Nixed by Washington” could be the new
“Banned in Boston.” What’s more, since TeleRead was public and involved
many librarians, not just a tiny D.C. elite, any censorship would
probably be much more conspicuous than in the world of corporate

In other ways, too, TeleRead would be anti-Big Brother. Americans would
not have to make private companies privy to their reading habits. The
national library could track dialups for the purpose of paying writers
and publishers—you couldn’t retrieve books without reporting past
accesses. But TeleRead would include protections. Records associated
with individual users could be temporary, just a way to prevent
information providers from abusing the system with repeated dialups.
People could buy controversial books by way of anonymous digital money.
In fact, with sophisticated enough fraud controls, the same techniques
might eventually be used to prevent names from being associated with
dialup records even for a short time. If nothing else, people could
entrust TeleRead records to certified private companies that reported
accesses without revealing identities.

TeleRead, then, could provide even more safeguards than public library
records in the paper era—significant, since librarians by habit had
respected privacy much more than had other government officials. “There
was a case back in Nixon’s era,” Phil Zimmermann would eventually remind
me, “where Nixon tried to find out what some of his enemies were reading
at the library, and the librarians were, of course, up in arms about
being asked to supply a list of books that had been checked out by a
particular person or a list of people that had checked out a particular
book. They were able to resist the efforts by the government to obtain
that information. I think that we need to have the same kind of controls
in place for future libraries that are on the Net.” I couldn’t have
agreed more.

Even the hardware could serve to thwart Big Brother by promoting free
expression and democracy. TeleRead would let people talk back to
bureaucrats and among themselves; the machines would work with
keyboards, and someday they might even serve in part as wireless digital
telephones, not just computers. TeleRead would let Americans all be more
uppity. The information in the national library would enrich public
debate; it would at least somewhat blur distinctions between the wealthy
and those who otherwise couldn’t afford top-quality information.

This needn’t be just a dream. The United States had a $6-trillion-plus
economy, and if just some of us used electronic forms for government and
commercial transactions, we eventually would save tens of billions in
time and money. As noted earlier in this book, the same pen interfaces
that were ideal for reading would be great for forms. E-forms could help
flag errors in tax returns and other documents, “interview” users
quickly, and just as quickly narrow down questions to the essentials.
And so the saving in time and money could easily justify a well-stocked
national library. No magic was involved here, just an old principle of
information management. Two applications (smart forms and the electronic
books) made more sense than just one (the books). In fact, the American
Society for Information Science would later approach me to do a chapter
on electronic libraries for an ASIS book from MIT Press, and I would
oblige. Clearly TeleRead was a logical link between Gore’s plans for
reinventing government and his oft-claimed desire to drive down the cost
of knowledge.

I was a writer, not an attorney or information scientist, but a number
of well-credentialed people understood the logic of TeleRead, even when
I showed them a version somewhat less refined than the one just
described. At the urging of a distinguished Washington lawyer, I applied
to testify at the interagency hearings on intellectual property law in
the digital age. But he warned me some bizarreness was afoot. Experts
from the Library of Congress would not run the hearings; nowadays
electronic books would be more within the domain of the Commerce
Department. A Commerce bureaucrat instead would be the main player
here—Bruce Lehman. That should have been my tip-off that the proceedings
would be big and furry and jump, and come with a pocket for joeys; but I
went ahead just the same. The lawyer organizing the hearing seemed
friendly, alert, intelligent, receptive. She said each witness would
testify just a few minutes, and that after the hearings the Feds would
carefully examine our words.

My optimism grew. I expected at least a modicum of electronic democracy,
Gore-style, just as promised. So in November 1993 I joined some thirty
other witnesses in Crystal City, Virginia, across the Potomac from
Washington. Bill Clinton wanted his presidential cabinet to look like
America, and, in fact, a black man was secretary of the Commerce. Gazing
around the room, however, I saw a sea of white lawyers in dark suits,
along with a scattering of women in power clothes. I could have been in
California at an elite convocation of the software and entertainment

I ran into one of the members of the intellectual property group, a
minor White House advisor named David Lytel, who had promised to read my
proposal as sent to him on the Internet. Mr. White House didn’t waste a
nanosecond. “This is like Hollywood,” Lytel said. “Not everyone can be a
star. We can’t use everyone’s idea.”

“I’m not here to star,” I said, “just to testify. Have you read my

He said he had seen the prepared testimony I had left at the entrance to
the auditorium.

“But what about the thousands of words I sent you on the Net? I thought
you’d have a look and—”

“Excuse me,” he said and moved on.

His Hollywood analogy would strike me later as all too apt, for this was
shaping up as a TV-centric NII that favored television and movies over
books. Al Gore later would not hold his grand information summit at the
Library of Congress; no, he would jet off to Hollywood and to a speech
punctuated by jokes with a comedienne.

There in the Crystal City auditorium, I saw a tall, gray-haired man
surrounded by a cluster of other people. Heads bobbed. Stephen Metalitz
was a lawyer and a power in the Information Industries Association, the
IIA. “Welcome, Steve,” Lehman greeted his first witness in a voice that
told me who the true star of the day was. The rest of the hearing
unfolded as I now feared. Witnesses from trade associations pounded away
at the same theme again and again. Copyright law needed to be friendly
to megaconglomerates or they would never bless the dataways with their
_Terminator_ films. It was as if the Internet, already starting to
bristle with small businesses, never existed.

I heard some cogent testimony from some fine people representing
librarians and educators, but all in all, I might as well have been at
an IIA convention. Lehman’s panel of bureaucrats, some of them strangers
to copyright law, just about dozed off during my testimony. Chatting
with me informally, certain industry witnesses were more curious about
my ideas than were the Feds. It wasn’t just to size up the opposition.
For my plan would divert resources from bureaucracy to knowledge, and
could actually _help_ many members of the information industry.

A potential obstacle rose ahead, though: the hostility of real, live

During a break I approached a working-group member from one of the most
bureaucratic agencies of them all, the General Services Administration.
“What do you think of my ideas for electronic forms?” I asked. “I
remember when you guys let a senator benefit illegally from a federal
lease on an office building. Imagine what you could have done with
better technology to help flag stuff like that.”

“Oh,” he said coldly, “we can just train our contracting officers
better.” Better to protect jobs for bureaucrats like him than to offer
affordable e-books for schoolchildren.

My foremost opponent, however, as I learned eventually, just may have
been Lehman himself—the chairman of the Intellectual Property Working
Group, which would help set copyright policy for America’s dataways.

Bruce Lehman was Mr. Politically Correct. As his heroes he claimed the
career-enhancing names of Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King; never
mind the damage that his child-hostile copyright policies might do to
ghetto schools, or the fact that the copyright hearing had been about as
well integrated as a Klan meeting. The _New York Times_ would see in
Lehman’s office “a handsomely framed photograph taken at last year’s
White House Christmas party. Bill and Hillary Clinton stand in the
middle. Mr. Lehman is to the left, under a portrait of George

His clothes were as aggressively fashionable as his choice of heroes.
The _Times_’s Teresa Riordan would write of “stylish suits detailed with
a fresh white handkerchief.” He might display “a touch of exotic color,
perhaps a mint-colored watchband or the ruby background of a Brooks
Brother tie.”[6.37] Lehman needn’t haunt any thrift shops. During a
twelve- to fourteen-month period before joining the Administration, he
had pulled down $430,000 as a lobbyist and lawyer for intellectual
property clients.[6.38]

The patent office’s Web site said he had represented “individuals,
companies, and trade associations in the area of intellectual property
rights as it affects the motion picture, telecommunications,
pharmaceutical, computer software, and broadcasting industries.”[6.39]
His clients had included Lotus and Microsoft.[6.40] The latter was
buying up electronic rights as if they were soft drinks for the
programmers’ offices. No, Microsoft would hardly be the world’s leading
backer of a universally affordable, well-stocked national digital
library of the TeleRead variety. I’d lobby anyone, any company, for my
idea. But could I ever persuade Microsoft? Oh, come on. This was the
company that owned the word “Windows.”

Clinton-Gore campaigners had once talked of “People First.” Based on
Lehman’s background and proclivities, however, a better motto in the
case of intellectual property might now be “Entertainment, Information,
and Software Magnates First.” It was as if Clinton-Gore had turned
national health policy over to a zealous insurance lobbyist who had
spent years crusading for higher premiums.

Even at the local level, Lehman was no stranger to the world of money
and politics. In 1991, while a Georgetown lawyer, he had lent $10,000 at
12 percent interest to Washington city council candidate Jim Zais even
though local law apparently restricted candidates to borrowing only from
the usual lending institutions. Zais at the time had raised less than
$13,000 from other sources. Questioned by election officials, the
candidate had claimed ignorance of the law and promptly paid the money
back to Lehman, along with some $120 in interest.[6.41]

Like many of his ex-colleagues at Swidler & Berlin, Lehman had kept his
checkbook wide open when national politicians needed money. Many months
later I learned that between January 1, 1991, and November 28, 1994, the
S & B crowd had made at least $191,000 in political donations, including
more than $22,000 from Lehman himself during his days there. At least
$146,000 of the $191,000 had gone to the firm’s political-action
committee. Lehman’s personal contributions had reached at least eighteen
congressional candidates. In fairness, let me emphasize that Lehman
didn’t just have direct career considerations in mind—he was the first
openly gay man whom the U.S. Senate had confirmed as a top federal
official,[6.42] and he had given generously to gay political-action

Gay groups, in turn, showed their loyalty. They had wanted Clinton to
appoint Bruce Lehman to _something_, and the White House had made him
patent commissioner even though Lehman knew more about copyrights. Ron
Brown, however, secretary of Commerce, said: “Bruce Lehman is not here
because he’s gay. He’s the absolutely best person for the job.”[6.43]

I believed Brown. If the Clinton Administration wanted library interests
to be kept at bay to placate rich campaign donors, Gore’s dreamy
rhetoric notwithstanding, no one would beat Lehman the ex-lobbyist.

A few weeks after the intellectual property hearing in Crystal City, a
letter arrived from Mr. Reinventing Government himself. I had mailed my
TeleRead proposal and a related _Washington Post_ clip to Al Gore many
months ago in spring 1993, and now he replied: “I am impressed with this
detailed and very professional presentation. The information you
provided certainly appears to contain ideas that merit careful
attention. I will retain this material for future consideration as the
President and I work on related policies and programs.” I hardly
expected a meeting with Clinton and Gore. But was it just possible that
one of their GS-14s might deem me worth five minutes of time, and follow
up with a few questions?

Months passed. An occasional reporter or academic would read my
testimony and call or e-mail, but no one phoned from Commerce.
Meanwhile, seeing my TeleRead proposal on the Net, major vendors
contacted me. Often they asked the big question: “How are you doing in

“Well,” I said in effect, “I hope they’re keeping an open mind.”

“That’s nice, bye,” the answers would more or less come back—assuming I
heard again from people at all. The NII wasn’t just TV-centric. It was
Gore-centric. If you lacked his blessing, and his bland letter to me
didn’t count, you were dead or at least comatose unless the right word
from the White House revived your idea.

Then a “Green Paper” revealing the Clinton Administration’s preliminary
views on data highways and copyright came out. It was even more horrid
than I could have imagined, an insult to the memory of Andrew Carnegie.
The ethos was exactly the opposite of TeleRead’s. For example, if the
paper became law, one could not transmit a newspaper article to a few
friends; the present ambiguities here would be resolved in favor of the
copyright holders. Yes, Washington should not allow anyone to bootleg
newspaper stories or magazine items for hundreds of people in an
electronic discussion group. In fact, I’d once reported a gross offender
to a magazine; I believed passionately in property rights. Clearly
electronic books, of all media, should enjoy protection, which, in fact,
TeleRead would promote by making piracy less lucrative. But we also had
to understand the purpose of copyright law—to help spread information in
a democracy and further the progress of science and the arts. Lehman
either was disingenuous or had let his old $430,000 make him a little
amnesic toward Constitutional tradition.

Ironically, if Lehman’s side won out, writers and journalists would be
among the biggest victims of the very law designed to protect us. After
all, we were not just producers of information; we were also consumers.
To write a book I would absorb millions of words from the Internet,
swapping information with friend after friend along the way, including,
yes, some electronic newspaper clips. But the Green Paper bizarrely
flouted the natural tendency of most people to _share_. Imagine the
effect on teachers and children. Quite rightly, Jim Warren observed that
Washington was cheating the public “to avoid controversy among
‘important’ people.”

“The Draft Report comes down firmly on the side of increased rights for
copyright owners in all relevant contexts, endorsing the goal of
enhanced copyright protection without acknowledging any countervailing
concerns,” wrote Jessica Litman, a law professor at Detroit’s Wayne
State University. In a reply to the Administration she said of the
report: “It appears to be an advocacy document: It at times
misrepresents the state of current law, and gives voice to only one side
of complicated policy debates.”

Another expert, law professor Pamela Samuelson at the University of
Pittsburgh, lambasted the Green Paper in an article for _Communications
of the ACM_, published by the Association for Computing Machinery. She
said that “not since the King of England in the sixteenth century gave a
group of printers exclusive rights to print books in exchange for the
printers’ agreement not to print heretical or seditious material has a
government copyright policy been so skewed in favor of publisher
interests and so detrimental to the public interest.” Contrary to
Washington’s claim, the Green Paper was not just a tweaking of existing
law but a radical revision in favor of publishers.[6.44]

Directly Orwellian questions arose. What about enforcement? How to
thwart the ease of mailing copies over the Net? The Green Paper’s
designers thought that laws against circumventing copy protection would
provide one of the main answers. But in the case of electronic text,
such visions were far too sanguine. People would want the capability to
print out material, and if they could print it out, they could scan it
and put it online again without the protection feature; what’s more,
hackers would inevitably develop software to accomplish the same thing

Yes, the Green Paper would let publishers and others sue makers of
devices that could get around copy protection. But just what gear was
covered? Scanners? Fax machines? And what kinds of software? What about
legitimate programs that also had illicit uses? Were we the new Soviets,
living in fear of the digital equivalent of copiers and other subversive
gadgets? As William Buckley would write, “fax machines and e-mail
outwitted and frustrated even the comprehensive revolutionary orders of
Stalin and Mao. This side of what used to be the Iron Curtain, we should
have the resources to handle our native bureaucracy.” The Green Paper
was nothing more than Big Bureaucracy trying to serve Big Business.

The Green Paper had much in common with Clipper. In both cases
bureaucrats were reducing respect for Washington by trying to control
the uncontrollable. I was hardly a kneejerker crying out for a
pigmy-sized government. My liberalism remained. I favored prenatal
nutrition programs, Head Start, public broadcasting, and a host of other
wonderful anachronisms from the heyday of the Democrats. And yet here
was the Clinton Administration blundering along in the most obnoxious
way and turning so many of my fellow liberals on the Internet into

If nothing else, the White House was complicating my job of trying to
sell the Net on TeleRead. It was not just a question of preempting my
idea in favor of an inferior solution rigged up for Clinton’s powerful
friends in entertainment and publishing. Like Clipper, the Green Paper
was lessening faith in Washington, period—no small concern for somebody
advocating a national program such as TeleRead, even one developed with
local sensibilities in mind. Sometimes I wondered if Lehman might be a
Manchurian Patent Commissioner.[6.45] Had the Libertarians brainwashed
him to sully Washington’s good name?

Again and again I flamed Lehman’s Green Paper on alt.activism and at
least half a dozen other newsgroups on the Internet. I hadn’t any
choice. He hated the bytes-want-to-be-free philosophy of TeleRead.
Clearly, if Lehman had read TeleRead, it would have driven him nuts,
given his apparent belief that copyrighted books must _cost_ readers.
TeleRead, on the other hand, would mean fair treatment of copyright
holders and library users alike. With a TeleRead-style library,
publishers, writers, and private nets could still charge for many
categories of information and earn handsome sums from online conferences
and other services and products, including customized software to guide
people through electronic libraries. Also, they would receive fair
royalties for covered material such as books. At the same time, however,
thanks to the cost justification provided by the e-forms, we could make
electronic books free in this TV-fixated era and thus encourage

Surely TeleRead could be a logical link between Gore’s plans for
reinventing government and his oft-claimed desire to drive down the cost
of knowledge. With TeleRead, the old scarcities could be obsolete; rich
and poor could dial up the same books. It would be a far cry from the
present when Beverly Hills spent many times more on library materials
than did some poorer jurisdictions. TeleRead was not a cure-all; but in
an era of tight budgets, the national library could be phased in
carefully, year by year, topic by topic, with minimal pain. The
reduction of expensive, onerous paperwork would be like a tax rebate.
For once, a program could simultaneously help schoolchildren and small
business people.

Perhaps the NII Advisory Council would see merit in TeleRead. The White
House didn’t necessarily have to follow its recommendations, but wasn’t
this the age of electronic democracy and citizens’ input? A few problems
had arisen, however. Bill Clinton’s people had tolerated just one
librarian among the more than thirty members of the Council. An
overworked teacher was there representing education. But no full-time
professional writers of books, and just one newspaper publisher, had
ended up tainting the Advisory Council.

Nor did any name show up from a distinguished publishing firm such as
Knopf or Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Instead the White House blessed the
NII with Vance Opperman, a friend of Al Gore’s and a money man for the
Democratic Party,[6.46] who was president of West Publishing. By one
estimate West grossed some $600 million a year with pretax margins of
almost 30 percent, or twice those of rivals.[6.47] West-style firms were
famous for Cadillac-priced data. Opperman’s company had set up
collections of court opinions and slapped a proprietary system of
citations on them. The meter typically ran at $4 a minute or more,
adding up to millions from Feds and taxpayers alike.

Haunted by a group called the Taxpayer Assets Project, the Justice
Department had proposed an electronic database with public-domain
citations to help users locate material. But West had lobbied away the
plans. Nothing must deprive Al Gore’s friend, and so many other
politicians’ friend, of a chance to turn a buck. Opperman seemed about
as eager to drive down the cost of knowledge as Bull Connor was to
further civil rights in the days of cattle prods and police dogs.

At the same time the Advisory Council teemed with people from such
library-like outfits as CBS, Black Entertainment Television, and Walt
Disney. Bill Clinton’s people also let the movie industry’s premier
lobbyist sit on the council—Jack Valenti, a former aide to Lyndon
Johnson; yes, the same Valenti who had made history years ago by
sleeping better at night because, he said, LBJ was in the White House.
To the Council, too, went powerful telephone executives, a man from
Microsoft, and John Scully, the former Apple executive who had been a
Clinton stalwart in ’92. A co-chair was a Clinton supporter named Ed
McCracken. He came from Silicon Graphics, a billion-dollar company that
was hoping to make a fortune off the new video technology.

Clearly entertainment was what counted most here. The term National
Information Infrastructure just didn’t suffice. A more accurate
description, given the paucity of librarians, educators, and journalists
on the council, would have been the National _Entertainment_
Infrastructure. Yes, people like Vance Opperman were interested in
electronic text, but, above all, from a business perspective. Let the
masses watch TV. His company would make a fortune selling pricey
information to the elite.

Mass literacy just wasn’t the main show here, not with all the dutiful
suits watching out for the earnings of CBS or Disney or Microsoft or
West, and without enough librarians and others to balance them out.

A host of other issues remained. How fascinating that so many of the
most influential people in the Clinton galaxy were from outfits such as
telephone companies that wanted to profit off both transmission and
content. Despite all the rhetoric, I wondered how attentive the
Clintonians would be to, say, little companies that were more interested
in producing books or folk albums than in financing _Terminators_ or
laying fiber optic cables.

Could money and politics have mattered just a little in the selection of
people for the NII Advisory Council? If nothing else, a few questions
arose in the case of West Publishing, the giant publisher of legal
information. Vance Opperman was friends with Mack McLarty, Clinton’s
first chief of staff.[6.48] What’s more, Opperman cochaired the finance
committee during the 1994 reelection campaign of Dianne Feinstein, a
Democratic U.S. senator from California who sat on a copyright
subcommittee within the Judiciary Committee.[6.49] A study by the
Taxpayer Assets Project, one of Ralph Nader’s groups, revealed how
civic-minded West was. By way of a political-action committee and gifts
from lawyers, lobbyists, and family members, the West crowd in five
years had given more than $738,000 to Congress members and the
Democratic National Committee.

Judges, too, must have loved the company. A West-run foundation had
dispensed $15,000 awards to federal judges for “distinguished service to
justice.” Over a dozen years, the selection committee had included seven
past or present members of the U.S. Supreme Court, the ultimate
interpreter of copyright law. West had paid for trips to places as far
off as Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. Benefiting, according to the
_Minneapolis Star Tribune_, were Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day
O’Connor, John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, and now-retired Justices
Lewis Powell, Byron White, and William Brennan.[6.50]

West impressed me. Via campaign gifts, friends, and favors such as the
trips, Opperman’s crew had cozied up to all three branches of
government—the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary.

Eager to see how representative West was with its people’s political
gifts, I phoned the Center for Responsive Politics, the Washington-based
group from which I simultaneously got information about Lehman. Would
the Center please send me a printout of congressional and presidential
donations from some other members of the NII Advisory Council and from
people and political-action committees associated with their companies?

A list arrived for the period between January 1, 1991, and November 28,
1994, and I scanned down the names on the laser-printed sheets. The Walt
Disney people hadn’t disappointed me. Advisory Council member John F.
Cooke, president of the Disney Channel, had given at least $48,000 to
politicians from coast to coast and to Democratic organizations.
Non-Council member Jeffrey Katzenberg, then with the Disney
conglomerate, had donated at least $63,000 in one way or another.

I saw _at least_ $400,000 in Disney-related gifts—donations from top
executives were just the start. Cook and Katzenberg on their own
couldn’t sway the White House and Congress, nor even could all of
Disney; but imagine what Hollywood and other rich industries could do en
masse to influence copyright and telecommunications policies. What
counted most wasn’t the person but the industry. At one recent gathering
at Steven Spielberg’s mansion—in spring 1995, a time not covered by the
laser-printed sheet—Bill Clinton had raised $50,000 per couple.

Whatever the case, the stray change added up. Over at MCA, Advisory
Council member Alvin Teller gave at least $28,250 between early 1991 and
late 1994, while Lew Wasserman, a nonmember, gave at least $87,000.
Advisory Council member Jack Valenti, Hollywood’s big lobbyist in D.C.,
donated at least $56,250.

Advisory Council member Stanley Hubbard, chairman and chief
executive of Hubbard Broadcasting in Minnesota, also made a good
showing. He and relatives gave at least $74,000 to people on the
Hill, political-action committees, and the Democratic Party.
Confronted with $1,000-per-election limits on political gifts to
members of Congress, Hubbard just spread his money around, as if
using greenbacks like calling cards. His donations reached powers
such as Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who, until the
Republican victory in 1994, chaired the House Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and Finance. Many saw Markey as one of the more
progressive NII players. Just think, however, what such politicians
could have done without the distractions of special-interest
money—donations not only to them but also to colleagues who would be
more susceptible to pressure.

Telephone executives made the NII sugar-daddies list, of course.
Advisory Council member Bert Roberts Jr., MCI’s chairman and CEO, gave
at least $28,000 to an MCI political-action committee and to
politicians, ranging from Senator Bob Packwood to, yes, Edward Markey. A
supporting cast came from the ranks of the MCI employees, including one
of my techie heroes, Vint Cerf, “Mr. Internet,” who contributed at least
$1,000 to the same PAC as Roberts.

Advisory Council member James Houghton of Corning Glass donated more
than $50,000 to members of Congress across the country, and to party,
presidential, and PAC funds. Corning, of course, was rooting for
fiberglass cable—a rival in some ways to wireless technology, which some
on the Internet considered the future.

No, the millionaires on the Advisory Council had not committed crimes or
bribed anyone. Under the law, they had a right to give massive amounts
to campaigns as long as each gift did not exceed the legal limits. To my
knowledge no money had come from anyone’s corporate tills, just from
individuals and the political-action committees to which they had
lawfully contributed. Besides, just like Lehman, many other rich donors
must have had the most heartfelt of reasons for personal donations,
going far beyond copyright and telecommunications issues. Even though
copyright holders had donated to many well-positioned politicians such
as Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was active on intellectual property
matters, that was hardly the only reason why Hollywood millionaires
gave. The woman was a California Democrat. Many people at companies such
as MCA were the same. If a Californian, I myself might have voted for

Likewise, the people of West Publishing must have had varied motives in
contributing.[6.51] Vance Opperman was a former antiwar protester and
probably still saw himself as a force for social good. I suspected, too,
that he loved seeing his old friend Al Gore grow in power. At the 1992
Democratic Convention Opperman had described himself as a “political
junkie” who enjoyed hosting political receptions for fun. “I don’t
expect to get any political benefits out of them.”[6.52]

Replying on February 22, 1995, to questions from the _Minneapolis Star
Tribune_, Opperman’s company noted that all donations were legal and on
record at the Federal Election Commission. “It appears that you believe
the laws regarding these matters should be changed,” West said. “If so,
the proper thing for you to do is to seek to change these laws rather
than criticize those who carefully comply with existing law.” The
company denied any efforts to influence officials improperly. West said
that its employees, its political-action committee, and its counsel all
had “long histories of being active in the political process. It is
inaccurate to tie their donations over the past 20 years to any specific
issue of legislation pending before a government body. Your inference
that such donations have been made as one collective effort is also
totally untrue.”[6.53]

West pointed out to the _Star Tribune_ that people from rival
information companies were also making contributions. But of course!
Money always counted in politics. Vance Opperman had put it well several
years ago as head of Opperman Heins & Paquin, a leading law firm notable
for PAC gifts to Minneapolis politicians. “If we have those who oppose
the interests of our clients,” he said, “we do not support them.” He
said the law firm’s PAC ran under this philosophy: “Support your
friends. Punish your enemies.”[6.54]

Presumably Bill Clinton and Al Gore would rather avoid punishment from
the Oppermans of this nation. While almost ignoring librarians and
educators, the Administration had appointed to its Advisory Council some
members of the elite who were already over-represented in the political
process. Did Vance Opperman, as a friend of Gore’s, really have to worry
about the Vice President reading _his_ letters? I wouldn’t have been
surprised if he had Gore’s private e-mail address. Just how many
electronic entreaties to the Hill, or to the Clinton-Gore area on the
Web, would it take to neutralize the little fortune donated by friends
of West Publishing? I couldn’t have agreed more with Cliff Stoll when he
wrote that Washington often ignored citizens’ e-mail. It all figured.
The Power People were too busy raising donations from millionaires and
political-action committees—hardly the biggest champions of low-cost

Granted, some optimists hoped that the Internet itself could help turn
around Washington. Aided by the Net, a group in Washington State had
gathered $26,000 to help defeat Tom Foley, then the Democratic Speaker
of the House. And NewtWatch, an anti-Gingrich effort on the World Wide
Web, had registered as a political-action committee. Some members of
both major parties were hoping to use the Net to raise money efficiently
from small donors.[6.55]

That was far from a full answer, though. Even before I learned of all
the campaign cash from some members of the Advisory Council, I had
wondered about the group’s odd composition. Not everyone on the council
was rich, of course, far from it. But why had business prevailed so
brazenly over the general public and Al Gore’s little neighbor back in
Tennessee, the one who was supposed to dial up books from the Library of
Congress regardless of family income? Just one teacher and one
librarian? In politer language I’d sent the question on to a White House
staffer, and he had patiently explained to me that Washington had to
serve the needs of the “stakeholders.”

I loved the word. It sounded so innocent, so natural, so philosophical.
What if this were eighteenth-century France, the revolution were on, and
Marie Antoinette looked like guillotine fodder? Armed with such a
marvelous locution, she could forego all references to bread and cake
and simply say, “Stop! I’m one of the stakeholders.”

Now having documented a nice flow of money from “stakeholders” to
politicians, especially Democrats, I remembered how many Watergate-era
ambassadorships had gone to the highest bidders. Wasn’t the same ethos
at work here as Richard Nixon’s? I knew of no broken laws—but perhaps
that was the trouble.

“I remember when I got on Energy and Commerce, everybody jumped for the
Telecommunications Subcommittee first,” Peter Kostmayer, a former
Democratic representative from Pennsylvania, said as quoted by veteran
political journalist Martin Schram. “There was a member sitting next to
me, and every time another member bid for that committee, he went
‘Ding!’—as if a cash register was going off.”[6.56] When politicians
talked about the need for election reform and clean, ethical government,
many were themselves superb examples of the need for action.

Maybe, I’d thought earlier, I could at least enjoy an open-minded
hearing from a nonmillionaire on the Advisory Council. Bonnie Bracey was
the only elementary school teacher. She should have loved TeleRead.

But during an official virtual conference organized on the Net by the
Commerce Department, she went after not Opperman but _me_. “I am not the
least interested in the TeleReader,” she said in a public message, “and
I don’t have any money after trying to do this job to invest anyway.” I
was and am a writer. Last I knew, I had not been selling computers.
Bracey needed to scrutinize my proposal. Maybe she could then dismiss it
as a nefarious writer’s plot. TeleRead did, after all, propose a massive
shifting of resources from bureaucracy to various forms of knowledge,
including—_gasp!_—electronic _books_.

At times, Bracey would e-mail me that my proposal intrigued her, but
somehow she would never get around to _study_ it, or at least to telling
me that she had gone beyond summaries. She would repeat the usual
clichés that citizens didn’t want to spend money on schools. Toward
TeleRead’s cost-justification mechanisms, toward the support that it
could win among frugal, business-oriented conservatives such as William
Buckley, she was unresponsive. Granted, she wasn’t callous about the
children TeleRead could help. At the personal level she had been
exemplary, spending hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars on
hardware and software that she could use in her classes. But TeleRead
for her could have been a bother. Offensively, perhaps, it meant a
national library online for all, regardless of whether they happened to
be students anywhere.

TeleRead, however, was hardly antischool, given all the new
possibilities it could open up online for teachers and students. Looking
back, I just wished that Bracey had seen a note I received from a
teacher in Illinois who had asked more than sixty magazines for
permission to reprint articles for her small class at no profit. Only
twenty-five publications had gone along. “We were ignored sometimes,”
the woman had e-mailed me, “and once I was told, by phone, never to use
any articles from that publication. That was _Windows Magazine_, and I
didn’t renew my subscription.” Of her anthology, she had said: “It’s a
better textbook because it’s more up to date.” Clearly we could never
separate “educational” uses of the NII from the rest; an article from a
commercial magazine could actually prove so much more valuable than an
instantly obsolete textbook. TeleRead would make back issues of
magazines available for free, make current ones easier to obtain, and,
above all, allow free textbooks to be updated instantly, complete with
hypertext links to the rest of the national library.

But predictably the NII Advisory Council ignored TeleRead and more or
less green-lighted the Green Paper. The council for the most part came
out in favor of publishers enjoying control over transmission rights. In
effect these people were kissing off the idea of a comprehensive,
cost-justified library that all Americans could afford to use online,
whether for school or for self-improvement. As I was concluding this
book, it wasn’t certain that the Green Paper would slither its way into
law in more or less the original form. But the news from Capitol Hill
didn’t cheer me. The Republican Congress appeared to be at least as
skewed in favor of copyright holders as were the Democrats.

Even diluted (and renamed the White Paper in the final version), the
Green Paper might well be a disgrace. I worried about the rest of the
world. Imagine the Australians or Europeans looking to the United States
for leadership in Net-related copyright matters. To me, the Green Paper
bore the stains of greenbacks. People around D.C. had a polite little
word, “access.” It didn’t mean legal violations, but rather purchases of
policymakers’ ears. Information magnates had access. I wondered if the
little child in Al Gore’s hometown gave so faithfully to major
politicians, flew Supreme Court justices to Hawaii, and doled out
$15,000 “justice” awards.

The Green Paper, alas, was just one indication of many big shots’
willingness to work against the citizenry. Again and again the denizens
of Capitol Hill bragged about Americans being able to dial up the text
of proposed legislation through a service called Thomas. And yet some
Congress members still hoped to work out deals before the public saw the
results on the Net. Friends of West Publishing used exactly such tactics
on the Hill to try to reduce the amount of information that the
government released for free. West and similar companies wanted to be
able to profit off public data. So their congressional allies were
hoping to cancel out the Freedom of Information Act in cases where
federal contractors had created records.

Any weakening of the act would make me _very_ grouchy; it had opened up
many kind of government information for free or at affordable costs. I
had benefited. Two decades ago the General Services Administration had
tried unsuccessfully to charge me $20,000 to learn details about the
government’s office-leasing program. Using this first-class muck, I had
shown that then-Senator Abraham Ribicoff secretly owned a stake in a
building that the GSA leased for the Central Intelligence Agency. I had
learned, too, of a friend of Spiro Agnew who had been able to avoid
building a half-million-dollar cafeteria required by the lease for the
headquarters building of the Environmental Protection Agency. Because of
the Information Act, I had been able to report both stories and get them
out in the press and on network television. I had spent months camped
out at the GSA, perusing documents; imagine what I could have done with
a computer to ferret out digitized muck. And so I was dismayed to learn
that some in Congress wanted to weaken the Information Act—this in an
era when the Internet supposedly would open up Washington. If not fully
Orwellian, such hypocrisy didn’t promote democratic alternatives to Big

Uppity activists used the Net to thwart West at least for the moment. A
bill introduced by Representative William Clinger, a Republican from
Pennsylvania, was to be heard in a subcommittee and rushed through a
committee edit in just a few days with West-friendly provisions. But
James Love of the Taxpayer Assets Project caught wind of the
shenanigans; Jim Warren pitched in with his own jeremiads in _Government
Access_, his online newsletter; and furious Netfolks called and faxed
the Hill. West may have really lost when the Republicans found out
through the Internet about the firm’s generosity toward the _Democratic
Party_, to which its executives gave far more than to the competition.
“Why are we doing this?” the Republicans, in effect, may have wondered.

Only because of some extraordinary diligence by Love and allies did the
public win here. Newt Gingrich could talk all he wanted about the Net
putting citizens and lobbyists on an equal footing, but without a
constant watch on the Hill, scene of so many crimes, the same power
cliques would keep winning again and again, banana-republic fashion.
West might yet succeed.

Around this same time, Sally Katzen, a top bureaucrat with Clinton’s
Office of Management and Budget had asked Congress to make certain that
the Feds could charge more for information in some cases than the cost
of spreading it. They would be able to do this after posting notices in
the _Federal Register_. And then, if insufficient protests ensued, the
info-gouges could begin. Katzen’s proposal didn’t fly, but its very
existence was bothersome enough. The idea hardly jibed with all the nice
rhetoric from the White House about using the Net to promote open
government. So much for freedom of information, Clinton style.

Meanwhile I forged ahead with my TeleRead efforts, perhaps not for this
Congress and this White House, but maybe for those in the future—once
enough voters understood that we mustn’t replicate online the “savage
inequalities” of our schools and libraries. TeleRead if nothing else was
a handy litmus test to find out which policymakers were sincere when
they talked about the need for true public libraries in cyberspace, as
opposed to just digital storefronts with links to publishers. Good
people could disagree with me. But when politicians and their flunkies
did not bother to hear me out despite my idea’s credentials, I was
reminded of how democratic Washington was toward Power People and how
oligarchic it was toward the rest of the cosmos. Sometimes I felt that
my location, in Alexandria, Virginia, was metaphorical. My apartment was
just inside the Washington Beltway.

The question of the moment wasn’t just one of copyright. It was also one
of democracy itself, both the decision process and the aftermath. What
about the Copyright Gestapo? In the future might the Feds monitor the
activities of Republicans more closely than they would those of
Democrats? Would Republicans be more susceptible to charges of
intellectual piracy when they did the inevitable and tried to share old
newspaper clips over the Net? Or vice versa? Would the Democrats suffer
discrimination? What about Italy, where the machine-gun-toting cops had
invoked software piracy laws against leftist bulletin boards but not
against conservative ones? But the Clintonians, so eager to serve their
political friends, were just as cavalier toward these possibilities as
toward the civil liberties risk of Clipper.

Ultimately the copyright-holders’ victory just might be Pyrrhic. Someday
the political terrain could shift and millions of children might grow up
on free, government-commissioned books. Or, perhaps instead, videos in
too many cases would replace text. So we were better off if, as soon as
possible, we used networks to spread _privately_ originated books
through a free, well-stocked library system. TeleRead could indeed help
many in the information industry. From Lexis-Nexis to Random House,
companies could turn profits off dial-up fees, either from works they
commissioned directly or from rights they bought from authors. TeleRead
wasn’t a threat to information companies if they truly added value such
as editing or marketing. Even West could benefit. TeleRead would let
Opperman’s company reap many millions off dial-up rights—not only to
legal writings but also to other kinds—if the market favored it.

No, the real losers would be the bureaucrats, whose work, after all,
would be less in demand in an era of electronic forms in mass use. And
even they could have a soft landing. TeleRead would hardly take place
instantly, and it would remove much of the scut work from the remaining
jobs in government. TeleRead was anti-bureaucracy, not anti-bureaucrat.
For the moment, however, as shown by the obtuseness of the GSA man at
the hearing, the resistance was there.

Some lessons were emerging. Hundreds of people had e-mailed me for
copies of TeleRead. “Even anti-taxers like me would be willing to foot
the bill for something so practical and knowledge infectious,” a home
schooler in Illinois had said. The head of the Digital Publishing
Association, an organization consisting mostly of small publishers and
writers, had loved TeleRead. “Instead of flooding the young mind with
yet another sitcom or soap,” he had said, “TeleRead would allow video to
present them with quality reading materials.” And yet our wishes had not
meant squat.

David Lytel, the White House staffer, may have pressed his delete key
almost as soon as the TeleRead proposal reached him over the Net. He and
his colleagues at the Lehman hearings hadn’t followed up my official
testimony with a single question in person or by phone or e-mail. The
hearings had been a big farce, a caricature of a public relations
exercise. I might as well have been Winston Smith deviating from the
plot and making a few friendly suggestions to one of Big Brother’s TV
cameras. No one would shoot or torture me for saying the wrong things,
but on the major NII issues the Clinton people were about as open as Big
Brother to ideas from below, Net or no Net.

I wasn’t the only writer with a few feelings on the subject of Executive
listening skills in this networked era. A _New York Times_ columnist
later told how cavalier the White House crowd had been toward the e-mail
from her. I’d actually gotten farther than she had. At least Gore had
sent me a higher class of boilerplate. Perhaps that was because I had
actually used conventional rather than electronic mail, and had enclosed
a photocopy of a TeleRead article from the _Washington Post_. Article or
not, however, the White House had thumbed its nose at me. While Clinton
and Gore couldn’t reply to every citizen, the composition of the
citizens’ advisory council had made clear what the NII priorities were,
even in the age of Cyber Socks: Big Government serving Big Business.

Clinton-Gore had better change if they wanted my vote in ’96. Rather
than just sharing Sock’s meows and feeling ever so smug about high-tech
democracy, they needed to spend time more listening to us nonlobbyists
and a little less time keeping Vance Opperman happy. Democracy should
not mean just a dialogue between the White House and the usual

                  *       *       *       *       *

As is obvious by now, intrusive government officials love to fixate on
net.sex. But something else is happening as shown in the next chapter:
net._love_. Let’s hope that Exon and company can tell the difference.


    The Electronic

Gregory Smith* had yet to kiss Susan Olson* good night or run his
fingers through her hair. But he could do something else with his
fingers: type to her. Greg was a library and information-management
student in Adelaide in South Australia, she worked for a real estate
firm in Kansas City, Missouri, and they were carrying on a romance by
way of the Internet. “We write letters constantly,” he said, “and
exchange our thoughts on newspaper clippings, music, all manner of
things. About the only thing we haven’t exchanged are marriage vows.”

The outcome, as I began this chapter, wasn’t clear. If the Smith-Olson
affair was like many on the Net, they would pull the plug long before
all the typing destroyed their wrists. “For every good story,” Greg said
of love on the Internet, “there are at least 100 bad stories—people
meeting and realizing there’s a major difference between virtuality and
reality.” A few months later, I decided, I would check back in with Greg
and Sue and report the results at the end of “The Electronic

For the moment I was optimistic. Greg and Sue had been at this for a
good two years; they spent several hours a day pouring out their
thoughts to each other, Greg at his UNIX workstation, Sue at her lowly
Packard Bell computer. He had bought her a diamond ring on a layaway
plan; she was giving him a ring. She would fly Down Under at some point,
and then the next summer, Greg would to go to Kansas City and meet Sue’s
family, including her father, a retired auto worker who, ah, had a few
surprises ahead.

I think of good people like Greg and Sue when I read the tacky, hacky
stories about unhappy affairs online and Net sex. While many
politicians and reporters delve into the sleazier areas of the
Internet—and, yes, regions can look like Silicon-era Sodoms—something
wonderful is also happening on the Net. It’s connecting lovers with
uncannily matched interests and values. Remember, the Internet teems
with more than 12,000 newsgroups. If you’re quirky and picky, if you
insist on a lover whose hobby is Esperanto, the international
language, try soc.culture.esperanto. If you want to find a fellow
Peace Corps alumnus, you can choose from among several newsgroups and
lists. If you’re a Libertarian stalwart and insist that your
girlfriend be nothing but—well, the search may take longer.

Some philosophies just don’t hold out as much appeal to women as do
others. But that has not daunted a smart young Libertarian in
California, Eric Klien, who started what may have been the Internet’s
first matchmaking service, an operation later taken over by Electric
Classifieds. Match.Com offers a long questionnaire that should appeal to
many of the detail-oriented habitués of the Internet.

Whatever your taste, the Net probably has a dating service if that’s
what you want. Operating with a French address on the World Wide Web,
Babb’s Personals shows up with a photo of a green-eyed, dark-complected
woman, and a number of free, anonymous ads in French and English.
Christie’s Internet MatchMaker claims to reach more than 14,000 users in
seventeen cities. On the Net, too, you’ll find HIV Positive Dating
Services (“Meet other positives, negatives, and neutrals locally,
regionally, nationally, and even globally”), Web Personals (“Now over
4,200 different visitors each day!”), and Virtual MeetMarket (“I believe
that the people who browse through here, and more importantly the people
who bother to publish personals here, are somewhat intelligent and
Internet-savvy enough to know the difference between FTP and FTD—you
know, the flower delivery guys?”).

I found some of the catchiest ads on Virtual. One showed a beautiful
twenty-five-year-old brunette in Los Angeles touching an empty set of
casual clothes labeled “Your picture here?” “I’m looking for somebody
who’s [_sic_] personality has a shelf life longer than a month,” she
said, and California spelling notwithstanding, she clearly deserved just
that sort of person. A graduate student, hungering for a “sweet SWM of
my dreams,” inserted a picture of a knight in armor. Seeking “a
Scandinavian beauty,” a graphics designer from South Carolina posted an
almost magazine-quality layout with photos of himself and his cats and
even an aerial shot of Charleston. The prose wasn’t the most
imaginative, and his Scandinavian requirement was rather limiting, but
in a flash the ad showed women what kind of life he could offer them.
Other possibilities exist on the Web. Instead of just saying you like
certain musicians or artists, for example, you might write Web links to
take people to an area with sound or graphics files.

The best matchmaker is the Internet itself, with all its ways of
bringing well-meaning people together. If Greg married Sue, this would
hardly be the first Australian-American marriage born on the Net.
Australia is the e-mail capital of the universe, or at least the
romantic regions thereof. Until surpassed by the United Kingdom and
Canada, Australia had more Net connections than any country except for
the United States. Recently the Aussies’ telcom people started charging
institutions for net connections according to the amount of use, and
that just might crimp future Gregs and Sues. But at least in mid-1995,
Australia’s e-mail laurels remain unthreatened.

American women love Australian men because they speak the same
language—more wittily than we Yanks do, of course—and because they all
carry huge knives with which they can defend their girlfriends against
crocodiles and muggers. Isn’t that so, just as in the movies? American
men worship Australian women because we know they are unappreciated down
on the sheep ranch, they’re literate, and have brilliant careers ahead
of them. Don’t knock stereotypes if they help bring the right people

The film _Crocodile Dundee_ may or may not have been on the mind of
Laura Goodin when she was wandering through soc.culture.australian. She
saw “a message from an Australian composer studying in the U.S.,” who
told of “an alternative tune to ‘Waltzing Matilda.’” Laura asked for the
music. Within months the Aussie proposed, right over the Net in the same
newsgroup. “Congratulatory messages came from all over the United
States, Australia, and New Zealand.” Today Laura Goodin and Houston
Dunleavy are married and living together in the Washington, D.C., area,
with a baby on the way. They exchanged more than 1,500 messages during
their courtship, not to mention countless sessions of typing together in
Teletype fashion, just as Greg and Sue have done. It is not the same as
talking the old-fashioned way but can save enough in phone bills to pay
for an engagement ring or maybe a more powerful computer. “A
long-distance relationship is hellish,” Laura says, “but the pain is
eased somewhat by the Internet.”[7.1]

This isn’t just happening on the Internet itself. When a New York City
woman was testing a service that became America Online, marriage was the
last thing on her mind. Nevertheless she ended up married in Virginia to
a lover she met via e-mail. Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host,
met his wife on CompuServe, where, supposedly, she had sought his advice
on coping with a liberal professor. A chef and a substitute teacher met
on Prodigy and flew off to Las Vegas together, thinking they would enjoy
the video poker if nothing else; they won $4,000 and each other.[7.2]

A psychiatrist has even written a novel about online relationships,
_Virtual Love_. “E-mail has been called the singles bar of the 90’s,”
Dr. Avodah Offit told the _New York Times_. “And that concept intrigues
me a lot. The traditional ways that people meet now do not allow much
access to each other’s minds, and that has not led to enduring
relationships.” What’s the best place to find out about your potential
spouse? By sitting silently through movies or boozing it up in noisy,
smoky nightspots, or by sharing intimacies over the modem? “I find
people are more open on e-mail,” she says. And I agree.

The Internet, to be sure, is hardly a romantic nirvana, and although
this chapter will be positive about net romance for the most part, I’ll
mix the praise with some lengthy warnings. Some sections of the Net will
please fundamentalist preachers no more than will the red-light areas of
New York or Calcutta. From alt.sex.bondage I called up a digitized photo
fit for the Marquis de Sade. The caption accurately read, “Japanese girl
tied to rack while master pours hot wax on her breast. Looks very
painful and her face shows it.” Just about all of those posting to the
forum are male despite the heterosexual orientation of the typical
messages. This area of the Net is about as woman friendly as _Hustler_.
Offensively, too, the Internet also comes with sections devoted to
bestiality, and, yes, discussion of adult-child sex. In every case, of
course, society must distinguish between shared fantasies and real acts.
(As indicated in chapter 6, Exonian laws aren’t the solution—parental
vigilance and access-control software are.)

A more serious worry, from the viewpoint of women hoping for romance on
the Internet, is the locker-room attitudes that can show up even in some
respectable areas. Consider the cause of this: the numbers.

If you go by one network veteran, fewer than one in twenty of the early
Netfolks were female. By popular belief, maybe a tenth of the people on
the Net are female, a far smaller percentage than on other services such
as Prodigy and America Online. The truth, however, is a bit more
complicated. John Quarterman and Smoot Carl-Mitchell of Texas Internet
Consulting, which regularly tracks the demographics of the Net, reported
in the May 1995 issue of their publication _Matrix News_ that according
to a survey in October 1994, 64 percent of Netfolks were male and 36
percent female. And among educational institutions the percentage of
females was as high as 41 percent. Borders between the Internet and
commercial services are breaking down Berlin Wall fashion, so you can
expect the Internet to show an increasing amount of female influence.

The old stereotype, however, that the Net is male dominated, would seem
to hold up for the moment. Even the virtual dating services tend to have
far, far more men than women despite, in some cases, better terms for
female customers.

The reasons for the ratios are world famous. Computers in the past were
to girls what trucks and catchers’ mitts were also: the province of
boys. Thousands of men in the computer industry are still oblivious to
the existence of another sex. When I write popular-level computer books,
male editors often demand that I stick to the technology rather than
show how _people_ use it. Most women, however, recoil from the Internet
and other high tech unless they see practical reasons for bothering with
UNIX commands and similar horrors; they have been raised to favor humans
over gadgetry. Let’s hope that the old fears vanish as more women
befriend computers and programs grow easier for both genders.

Meanwhile, however, on some areas of the Internet, women can be treated
like females in Asian countries that pamper baby boys but all too often
let sickly girls die or even kill the fetuses. A few men ignore female
Netfolks except for purposes of humiliation, sex, or combinations of the
two. Although messages from women tend to draw more replies on the Net
than those from males, the end results can dismay; one man reportedly
welcomed a woman to a discussion group, launched a political dialogue,
then shifted in a nanosecond to a request for a swap of nude pictures.
Women tell of weirdoes stalking them via e-mail, flooding their Net
accounts with unwanted messages. One victim, as reported in _Mother
Jones_ magazine, suffered “an untraceable e-mail ‘bomb’ containing
hundreds of sexual and violent messages, the mildest of which was ‘Shut
up bitch.‘”

At the same time women on the Internet can enjoy less of the sort of
attention they desire. Some Netfolks don’t pay as much attention to the
public messages of women, and besides, female Internauts may not want to
post anyway in some areas, given the outright insults and sarcasm that
may await them. Women seek harmony and compromise; much of the Net
thrives on controversy.

My wife, who, like most of her gender on the Internet, hates flame wars,
has even run across a newsgroup whose people venture forth to start
arguments in other groups. What is a hobby to some men can be an
antisocial practice to women. Many women hesitate to speak up on the
Net, whatever the topic under discussion. Disturbing statistics come
from Gladys We, a graduate student at Simon Fraser University in
Vancouver, Canada. Writing in the magazine _Virtual Culture_, she says
at least four-fifths of several hundred postings to alt.feminism were by
men. She tallied figures almost as lopsided in soc.women. “Only in
soc.feminism,” We writes, “amid accusations of censorship, were there
comparable numbers of postings from women and men.”

Given the obstacles that women often face on the Internet, then, it is
amazing at times that _any_ romances happen there. When they do, yet
another danger arises—the risk of missed cues. A friendship online may
cause either sex to ignore mismatched words and gestures that might put
them on guard. One Los Angeles women met her boyfriend on a BBS and
suffered a disaster that could just as well have happened by way of the
Net. He got her pregnant, begged her not to abort, married her, and made
life a real hell, not just a virtual one, until they divorced.

Worrisome, too, are the eternal tensions that go on in cyberspace
between sincere Befrienders and not-so-sincere Gamesplayers, who the
former have trouble detecting. The Befrienders seek friends and lovers;
the Gamesplayers would just as soon toy with a human as hack a program.
An argument might even be made that high tech attracts more than its
share of people who thrive on impermanence. You do not last long in
computers if you believe that Pentium-level chips are forever, or that
28.8K-bps modems are more than throwaway technology in the general
scheme of things. Faster chips, higher speed modems, and new girlfriends
or boyfriends are sure to come along. That’s the mind-set. Let’s just
hope that the girlfriends and boyfriends will last.

“I am burning with a need to talk with you, to share with you my fears,
my joys,” one Australian women cooed via modem to a man in the Canadian
province of Alberta. Within two weeks her ardor did not just cool, it
inexplicably froze. “This is the very last time I will write to you,”
she said. Very possibly—we can’t say for sure without ESP—the Australian
woman was a Gamesplayer.

Gamesplayers enjoy at least one big advantage on the Internet. They can
post their electronic want ads through computers, known as anonymous
servers, that strip their names and other compromising identifiers.[7.3]
And replies can come through anonymous servers. The same technology used
to protect privacy can let Gamesplayers fool victim after victim, and
even mask genders. Particularly in fantasy games on the Net you can
never be sure if you’re typing to a woman or a man who just wants more
attention—abusive or not. What’s more, for the skillful there are ways
to forge messages to unsuspecting neophytes.

Another negative is that the Net can be as helpful to adulterers as to
the moral and sincere. A techie has just poured out to me a story of the
kind that Carson McCullers would have written if she had fixated on the
Internet rather than on the American South. His wife, the mother of two
children, has been using the Net to cheat on him in a massive way. She
befriended two alcoholics by way of her modem, the marriage counselor
says he has done all he could, and now comes word that she just might
have the AIDS virus; I hear it’s too early for a conclusive HIV test.

If sexual excitement is the only goal of _certain_ Netfolks, and if the
crowd in alt.sex.wanted is too creepy, some professional women just
might meet their needs. As noted earlier in this book, a little outfit
called Brandy’s Babes advertised on the World Wide Web—complete with
hints of more than just visual stimuli. The babes are apparently off the
Net now, but some would say that successors are inevitable. In _limited_
ways the Net and the world of professional sex are much alike: both have
their jargon and, for those who seek it, their anonymity.

Both worlds are rich in eccentrics. For example, I recently ran across a
woman in her late forties who was about to bear a baby with a computer
scientist she met on the Net “an hour before April Fool’s Day.” She says
the child was accidentally “conceived about two weeks after meeting ‘in
the flesh.’ We are having the baby first. _Then_ we will talk about
marriage on a serious basis. I’m delighted at the prospect of being a
mum at last, and I am not your average clunky woman at all. I generally
feel much better about myself. I introduced Tom to sex, and he says he
had no idea how cuddle-deprived he was. He’s now quite addicted to me.”
Tom and his computer are now part of her household; like many Netfolks
he can use his modem to work virtually anywhere, which in some cases is
yet another advantage of online romance.

Like most denizens of the Internet, the e-mail lovers just mentioned are
well educated. And, although the woman was between jobs, Netfolks are
normally at least affluent. If they are students, their parents are
middle class or better. While the price of Internet service is coming
down, and while access is free in some cities and at many American
colleges, the Net doesn’t exactly teem with welfare mothers.

So what other patterns emerge among lovers who meet through the Net? “I
haven’t done a study of the personality curve, the introvert-extrovert
ratio,” Avodah Offit, the psychiatrist who wrote _Virtual Love_, told
me, “but my experience is just the opposite of what one might expect My
‘high user’ contacts are all very sociable types who hate being out of
contact with others at any time of day or night. Of course my
correspondents are not generally engaged in romance with me, but they do
write to others online in a variety of relationships.” My own
observations suggest that while many net.lovers may be introverts, her
thoughts would hold true.

Judging from lovers whose photos I’ve seen, the plugged-in couples are
neither more nor less attractive than the world at large. But the
plainer ones can use prose to compensate for looks; this is a medium
where words are everything.

I hope that the people’s love letters don’t just vanish, because the
output of _some_ Netfolks can be charmingly Victorian in style, feeling,
or sheer volume. “My family took it pretty hard at first and were a bit
skeptical, especially my Mum,” says an Australian college student who
fell in love with an American more than a decade older than she is, ”but
then I gave them some of the early letters to read, a pile of 100, the
only ones I had time to print out, and the next day my mother came up to
me and said, ‘I am very happy for you. I am glad you have Frank.’ I was
waiting for the ‘But,’ but it never came.” A New England woman, who
married a fellow clarinet player she met on the Internet, says he once
showed her a $1,000-plus telephone bill. That’s Love, capital L. Maybe
the nineteenth century is alive in some quarters, whatever the medium,
voice or e-mail.

Below I’ll tell stories of Greg and Sue; a bachelor who was looking for
a woman who wouldn’t treat him like “a peripheral”; and a man who, to
his distress, found himself cuckolded more easily because his wife was
on the Net.

Greg and Sue

Adelaide was where Greg Smith majored in library studies at the
University of South Australia. It was a graceful port and state capital
with a Mediterranean climate, a population of a million, the Torrens
River in the center, and swarms of college students from three schools.
Named for Queen Adelaide, the wife of England’s King William IV, the
city dated back to the 1830s. Kangaroos still hopped around in the
countryside, but Adelaide itself was both urban and urbane. It was full
of churches and bars alike, along with trendy shops in Rundle Mall and
elsewhere. The State Theater put on Shakespearean plays at an
internationally known festival center.

Not surprisingly, Adelaide has been described as the Boston of South
Australia. While some young locals may shrug off the place as too
churchy and sleepy, others might disagree. Adelaide in many ways is a
young person’s town—a good place to meet the opposite sex. Greg Smith,
in fact, did find women in the corporeal world around him, but the
relationships never took root, and in the early 1990s he was still on
the lookout in the bars (“universities are great for this”), the parks,
the buses, the mall—you name it. He had his attractions. Greg, in fact,
was on the handsome side, if you went by the digitized photo and other
information conveyed over the Net. He stood six-foot four, weighed
around 190, kept in shape by walking, and had thick, dark brown hair,
and a winsome smile.

“I’m a physical person,” Greg told me. “I like to be with people. I like
‘reading’ people for body language and all that.” From the very start he
was aware of the perils and limitations of the Internet in such areas as
love. You had to trust the words of strangers, not sharing their own
reality. “Relationships are established where one party is totally
sincere and all that, and the other one is just getting a laugh out of
it.” Just the same, he could not resist touring the Internet and the
bulletin board to which his international connections led.

Young people like Greg Smith, who sought out new places on the Net,
whether bulletin boards or electronic libraries, were vaguely like the
Jack Kerouacs of the ’50s who liked bumming around the United States for
its own sake. Some would describe the high-tech Kerouacs as “net
surfers.” But the phrase “net surfing” has become so trivialized in the
media that perhaps we should return to the Kerouac analogy.[7.4]
_Kerouing_, not surfing. Stark differences, of course, existed between
the international Internet and the American towns of _On the Road_, the
famous Kerouac novel. Greg had spent some time in the United States when
he was ten years old and loved to keep up with American sports, but he
was very much a creature of Australia, with a distinctly Aussie flavor
in his accent and values. Nor was he a rebel in the true Kerouac
tradition. You could be a library science major and still soak up the
culture of the Net; you didn’t have to hop on and off freight trains and
risk poverty or a severed leg.

In fact, while hooked into an established institution such as a
corporation or a university, you just might do better than if you had to
buy all the gadgetry yourself—just so you didn’t flunk out while you
were partaking. A _teacher_ might even encourage your wanderings. And
that was how Greg ended up on the Net for the first time in 1992. He
found himself logging onto electronic bulletin boards all over the
planet, with bizarre names such as “Badboy’s Better BBS System” or
“Chatsubo.” He was at least partly drawn to such places because they
were so much like neighborhoods or small towns. Each came with its own
set of friendships, love affairs, and feuds that could reach an
intensity even greater than those on the discussion areas of the main

The woman who married Rush Limbaugh is said to have exchanged tart words
with Limbaugh on CompuServe at the start of their relationship, and the
same happened with Greg and Sue. They did not attempt an
alt.personals-style romance. Via Chatsubo he and she were just patterns
of dots on each other’s cathode ray tubes. In fact, the two even butted
heads over the question of whether certain people were abusing computer

Sue, it should be noted, was not a true technophile; she could fire up a
modem and use easy UNIX commands and that was about it. Even so, the two
shared much else. Greg was around twenty at the time, just a year or so
older than she was. Sue was a college student, at Northwestern Missouri
State University. “I like her intensity, her sarcastic wit, her humor,
and her, I dunno, just her way of seeing things,” Greg would say of the
Sue he came to know. “Politically we’re very similar, as regards
political policy and all that. Our tastes in music are close. Our
pleasures are drawn from simple, similar things. For example, we are
both mad about long walks, NFL football, curling up in front of fires,
walking in the mall, playing in the rain, and on and on it goes.” Sue
had been thinking about teaching, among other possible careers
(political work and diplomacy happened to be others), and she enjoyed
museums. Greg’s father had taught Shakespeare once, and his mother had
also been a teacher. So while nothing Oedipal was at work here, Greg
might well be more comfortable with a woman who shared familiar

Just as important, both Greg and Sue could breeze along on a keyboard
and say _plenty_ online. In the near future, people might be able to
speak into a microphone with those at the other end seeing words pop up
on the screen, but for the moment the Net was friendliest to good
typists, especially those who could write well, as Greg and Sue could.
They could almost be playwrights, the way they loved stage directions
such as “Hugs” and “Wave good-byes.” If a feeling occurred to either,
they could transfer it from their brain cells to the keyboard and make
the recipient _see_ their thoughts. When Sue sent a letter to Greg and
me, it was obvious she wanted to get back to her private correspondence
with him. She ended her note: “*hugs greg* hold your horses sweetie, I’m
typing as fast as I can :-).” I could see that techie or not, Sue felt
at home at the computer keyboard.

Without trying to woo each other across fourteen time zones, the two
friends grew closer as they made the rounds of the BBSs on the Net. One
of the boards carried a gallery of digitized photos, and Greg enjoyed
Sue’s face. The look was American-Midwestern. Her light blonde hair
flowed in a way that must have pleased him.[7.5] She had green eyes
broken up with what she has described as a “strange shade of yellow.”
The skin was pale, the Scandinavian in her. In one of the shots she
posed with a knee resting on a well-padded armchair. She wore a
crocheted sweater, pants, and flats, and looked sexy but in a fresh,
friendly way that would not have threatened a schoolteacher’s son. Greg,
in turn, pleased Sue; in fact, even more so later on when she learned of
his height; she herself stood five-feet ten and favored tall men.

Sue especially relished his sense of humor. “I could log in after a
totally crappy day in classes and I’d have some corny e-mail from Greg
that would send a smile to my face no matter what I felt like. He was,
still is, and probably will be, the only person who can really cheer me
up no matter what the circumstances are.” Love, however, just wasn’t on
the minds of Greg and Sue in those early days. She had family and
friends in Kansas City and counted on braving the frigid Missouri
winters while she went to college. Meanwhile she had experienced her
share of romances off the Net, including one with a shy friend who
helped introduce her to the online world by suggesting that they _type_
to each other. Sue may or may not have been ready for yet another

Even if she and Greg were just friends, they were paving the way for
something more by slowly trading secrets about themselves. Lois Shawver,
a California psychologist often online, warned me of the lack of trust
that can afflict many long-distance relationships via computer. And yet
paradoxically, the Net could bring people closer to each other. “It’s so
easy to end a relationship,” Shawver told me, “you simply stop
corresponding.” So “people seem to be more willing to take a chance and
disclose intimately. That helps to create trust. I do think that also
explains the medium’s ability to help people bridge cultural gaps.” It
was all certainly true in the case of Sue and Greg.

Helpful, too, was the emphasis that they placed on the platonic at the
start, without even meaning to do so. Is it just possible that horny
young men and women on the Internet and elsewhere could declare a
one-year moratorium on the raunchier forms of “cybersex” where men and
women exchanged lewd remarks with each other, Teletype fashion, in group
settings? Ditto for the online world’s many homosexuals and bisexuals.
Ironically the aftermath might be _more_ sex and better sex after some
true friendships developed by way of electronic mail and one-to-one
chats. One test of friendship, of course, might be this: Would a couple
still write to each other if their Net connection ended? And Sue and
Greg had passed so far: Her Internet account had vanished after she left
Northwestern Missouri State University to work and go to school
part-time. She ended up at an insurance company. Letters written on
pulped trees, comic strips, editorial cartoons, music cassettes,
material of all kinds, had traveled between Australia and Missouri. “We
got closer and closer with each postage stamp,” Sue told me, “and
believe me, there were a bunch. The post office likes me a _lot_.”
Finally, however, Sue had returned to the Net, this time with a private

On August 7, 1994, she had to break off an online chat to leave for
work. “And I had one more question for her,” Greg recalled. “She asked
what it was. And I asked her plain and simple, ‘Will you marry me?’
There was a pause of about thirty seconds, and she asked me if I was
serious. I said, ‘Yes, never more so,’ and she said ‘Yes.’” Sue let her
mother and a sister in on what was happening. She told certain friends,
too, but not her brother and father. “It’s just going to be
incomprehensible to them,” Greg told me, “that this could happen over a
chunk of cable. Add to that I’m stealing away their last child, not just
out of the home, or the state, but out of the country, and I can
understand why her father is not going to understand.”

The same shocks would presumably await Greg’s mum and dad. “I think it’s
more the medium than anything else. It’s way new to them, but for me
it’s just part of the way we do things now. *Grin*. Mum’s department
just got Lotus’ cc:Mail,[7.6] and she was telling me about it and I was
like ‘Yeah, so?’ but she was really excited about it.” Although Greg did
talk to Sue from home, not just his university, he could do so without
his parents knowing, because of the late hours he keeps, and because he
lived in a converted shed out back of his house. I pondered the ironies
here. Suddenly the Internet held out a new peril for parents. Having
fretted about electronic pornography, Mom and Dad could now worry about
children with more noble but equally secret activities. Parents might
erase porno from a hard drive; it was not so easy to wipe out love as
sincere and intense as Greg and Sue’s.

But had the two actually _talked_, telephone style, over a real phone?
“We’ve had a grand total of one phone call,” Greg told me. Sue dialed
him up. He said she’d kept putting it off because she was scared. “I
know, I know,” he wrote, “we should talk more but I’m just a poor
student.” Greg inserted the computer symbol for a smile to show he was
kidding. “The one thing that surprised me about that call was how
naturally the conversation flowed. I think it came from the fact that we
are friends first and a couple second—that the pressure of the
relationship was negated by the fact that we are such good friends. I
seem to recall impressions more than anything else, like the lilt of her
laugh, the timbre of her voice, the accent. We just talked about
stuff—us, love, Clinton’s screwups in Congress, sports, everything. Very
tough to put the phone down.”

“Still,” I asked Sue by telephone, “won’t it be quite a transition from
the American Midwest to Australia?”

In a friendly, steady voice she told how she had overcome her
hesitations. When Sue toured the local museums now, she saw graffiti on
statues, and she said the neighborhoods were slipping. I thought of my
grandmother’s old place in Kansas City years ago, how it had been
block-busted by sleazes who frightened the whites away and resold the
houses at handsome profits to Afro-Americans. Hotrods had roared up and
down Chestnut Street; Grandma had been the last white holdout. The
memory still enraged me. Although I hadn’t been to Kansas City in years,
I believed Sue.

“My brother and sister are quite a bit older than I am,” she went on,
”and they both have children of their own, and I’m not crazy about the
idea of leaving them to know their aunt through phone calls and video
tapes. But I have no intention of staying in the Midwest just for my
family’s sake.

“It’s my life and what I want to do requires more than the Midwest has
to offer. I can fit in well wherever I go. And I’ve gotten a few books
on Oz. From what I’ve read, I’ll like Australia just as long as I don’t
have to wear one of those damn hats and worship Paul Hogan. I have Greg
to worship. They may drive on the wrong side of the road and drink beer
with lunch, but it’s not like I’ll have to learn a whole new language.”
Besides, she loved the idea of the children growing up with an accent as
delightful as the one she heard from Greg.

I asked Greg if his virtual romance with Sue had changed him. “It’s
relieved a lot of the pressure that exists between myself and women,
because it’s no longer that I’m looking for something more than
friendship—I have a relationship which satisfies those needs and so
don’t need anything from those friendships. What is most interesting is
that change that I haven’t picked up but that other women must have. In
the two-and-a-half years I’ve been at the university, I’ve been ‘hit on’
a grand total of zero times that I can remember. In the twenty days or
so that I’ve been engaged, I’ve been hit on three times. And for the
life of me, I can’t figure out exactly what is making women see me as
attractive. And they weren’t friends or acquaintances either—completely
unknown to me. Weird.”

So how much had Greg changed Sue? “A lot,” she e-mailed back. Sue said:
“Being with Greg has taught me, if anything else, that my life doesn’t
have any boundaries, be they physical or emotional or geographic.” This
was more than lover’s mush; I noticed her use of “With Greg,” as if they
were in the same room.

Asked for love letters—no pressure, let me emphasize—the two obliged
with thousands of words just from their August 1994 writings alone.
Mostly the letters were from Sue whose feelings were more conveniently
preserved in digital form than were the letters from Greg. He wasn’t
holding back: He was the one who had contacted me about their romance.
What followed from Sue was more affecting than anything I’d read in a
novel, for it was real, and I learned about it in the same way that Greg
did, through a series of pixels on a computer screen. Reading this one
message would help explain why she was willing to leave Kansas City; why
she felt that, regardless of a father with heart trouble, she had felt
free to move on; perhaps even why she was willing to share her life so
openly with me through this book, for a chronicle was an affirmation of

New to me but old to Greg, the revelation did not come immediately.
Sue’s August letters started out mainly with the routine, the glue of
long-range relationships, the confirmation that she wanted Greg to know
her life and likes. There was talk of food (“I love you more than I love
munching on peanut butter and crackers”), diets (“I splurged on Chinese
and probably regained the three pounds I lost”), art (at the Nelson
museum she favored the impressionists), friends’ babies (“Barbara went
to the doctor this morning to check and see how the baby was doing—she
was about ten weeks along, and she had a miscarriage”), school (Sue was
attending community college and could not resist sharing a few
unabashedly corny jokes about her anatomy course), places to go on
vacation (“Hey,” she said, in a discussion of Mount Rushmore, “do you
Aussies get weird and chisel the faces of dead leaders onto
mountainsides, or is that a distinctly American thing to do?”), and jobs
(“this working full time and college at night is starting to wear me
down a bit, but for the time being it’s what I want to do”).

Like almost any woman she _planned_. The word was that Greg should wrap
some paper around his fingers and snip it off at the right place and
send the results on to her so she’d know the size of his ring. And
should it be silver or gold? They discussed pajamas. “I always thought
it would be cool to share a pair of PJs with someone,” Sue wrote. “I’d
wear the tops, you’d get the bottom. Okay, so I’m cheesy, but I guess
it’s the American upbringing :). Shrug.” In her mind Sue saw the “really
cool chapel in Rapid City, South Dakota, where my grandparents on dad’s
side renewed their vows for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.” “I
wanna get married in it,” she wrote Greg. “There’s a place where you can
light a candle for a loved one and say a prayer to keep them safe. Well,
I lit a candle for Barbara, and then I lit one for us. It felt weird to
be in a church for a good reason. Seems that all the last ones have been
for funerals.”

Another close friend had died some time back, and she reflected on the
connection between that and a period of heavy activity on the bulletin
board circuit. “When I logged on, I could just be some faceless
person—no one had to know that my best friend was in the hospital room
semicomatose because he had developed full-blown AIDS. There were so
many people in my life that just up and left because Ralph* got sick; it
was almost as if I had AIDS just by association. So I got online and
became everyone’s favorite sweetheart.”

Then a signal fact emerged in the correspondence, something that
explained who Sue was, and why Sue felt like Sue, although I believed
that she and Greg would have wanted to be together even if her
circumstances had been different. “I had just found out,” she told him,
“that I had won a fight against a terminal illness while Ralph was
losing his. I don’t talk about the fact that I am a cancer survivor very
much, because I haven’t been in remission that long. It will be two
years in September.

“All I want to do is make it to the five-year mark and forget the pain
and the tears and the chemo and the treatments,” the letter said. “I
want to look forward and be able to see a future without constant trips
to the hospital, to days and nights when I can just be healthy and
happy. I have a tendency to block out when I was sick because if I don’t
think about it, I don’t remember it, and if I don’t remember it, I don’t
worry about it coming back. If you ask, I will tell you everything.”
Very early on in their friendship, Greg had known that the cancer was
cervical; any children would have to be adopted. Sue ended the message
by assuring him that she no longer wanted “the foreign policy degree
from Georgetown anymore, or the chance to have the President asking my
opinion on things.” Her goal now was Greg, an affordable flat, and a
roomful of kids to teach.

The rest of her letters went on to discuss such cosmic questions as
Sue’s love of long showers in the mornings, her tendency to roll around
a little in her sleep, and Greg’s hatred of his cataloguing duties.[7.7]
“I love love love love love you,” he wrote, and heated up the wires some
more while he and Sue dreamed of hugs at the airport, unstoppable
passion, and a wedding.

“Know,” he told her, “that there’s a goofy, tall, dark, Australian,
madly-in-love man here dreaming of you, and us, and the future.” I was
betting right now that they’d make it to that South Dakota church.

Lee Chen: The Lover as a Peripheral

He was a hacker, a true denizen of the Internet, and a poet at times.
A word in one poem told all: “peripheral.” It means a printer, a
modem, a scanner, or any other gadget that plugs into the main
computer, yet is not one of the _very_ most important parts. And
that’s how some women on the Net saw him, the human equivalent of a
printer, someone on the peripheries of their minds. He was among their
friends but not their lovers. His own love went unreturned. So he
called his poem “Song of a Peripheral”; he posted it to alt.romance,
soc.couples, alt.support.loneliness, and alt.support.shyness. It read,
in part:

 _You feel you’re nothing special in her life.
 You never get a sense that she wants you to be close to her.
 You’re just a pleasant, polite friend around the periphery of her world.
 But you still care for her, because she is that special woman—_

 _A sweetest heart who cares for the well-being of others.
 A most sensuous soul who is full of life and passion.
 And a beautiful intellect who brings realist precepts to balance out
    those disillusions in the world._

 _... It’s painful to feel you’re just a Peripheral, isn’t it?_

“How could I _not_ print part of ‘Song’ in this chapter,” I thought, and
wrote Lee Chen for permission. Back came a letter from the Department of
Computer Science at the University of Calgary in Canada. People on the
Internet love to end messages with “signatures” telling how they see the
cosmos, and Lee had picked a quote that looked as gentle and logical as
his poem. The speaker was the President of the United States in the
movie _Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Love the
Bomb_. And the words went, “You can’t fight in here, this is the War

Sometimes I thought that in the battle of the sexes, certain areas of
the Internet could be that war room. No man could claim to be a
superhunk or millionaire without risking a female retort in the vein of,
“Yeah, sure.” The Net was rich with put-downs worthy of an old
Tracy-Hepburn movie. Clearly the men had started this war, however.
“When a female shows up,” said the author of an explanatory file on
alt.sex.wanted, “clueless folks tend to e-mail ‘wanna fuck’ messages no
matter _what_ she has said. This means many of them don’t post, only
listen.” Fights had also broken out between the gays and certain
heterosexuals, who came up with the witless fag jokes, and who, in turn,
had drawn equally stupid remarks about “breeders.” In this sexual war,
the biggest losers were SMHGs. That was Netspeak for Straight Male Horny
Geeks, who, as noted earlier, suffered from the laws of supply and (lack
of) demand.

Lee Chen was an SMHG in a nice way. His style had been to try in
alt.personals rather than one of the tackier areas. When Lee had placed
a recent ad, he had described himself as “a romantic dreamer,” and he
wanted “a single woman between the ages of nineteen and thirty-three who
is sincere, intelligent, attractive,” and “passionate” as well. Lee was
twenty-six and entitled to feel his age. Moreover, based on his
self-description, women would have no more reason to run away from him
than they did from Greg Smith in _his_ lonely days.

“I’m five feet eleven inches, 185 pounds, have dark brown eyes and short
black hair,” Lee said. “And I’m a healthy, disease-free nonsmoker and
considered attractive looking.” He told me he held a master’s in
computer science, was continuing his studies, and obviously was destined
to earn a comfortable living at the very least. Lee enjoyed “going out
to movies and romantic dinners, discussing current events and politics,
visiting museums and natural parks, walking along the rivers, listening
to various kinds of music, giving and receiving pleasures with a
sensuous partner.” So far, however, Lee lacked a woman—he was new in
town. Maybe a minor part of his problem, at least among females off
campus, was the kind of place that Calgary was. He saw it as “a cowboy
city, big in the oil business, very similar to Dallas culturally, except
for the cold winter climate.” This particular SMHG might have felt more
comfortable in a more intellectually minded city such as Boston or San
Francisco. But he was no snob and still held out hope of meeting one of
the locals rather than confining the search to university people (“I’m
sure there are many wonderful women in this town”). Simultaneously he
decided to try the Net.

The first time out with a personal ad, Lee heard from a woman in, yes,
Australia—E-Mail Central. Dozens of love letters threatened to melt down
any fiber-optics on the Net; in fact, she sent Lee her erotic poetry and
encouraged him to reply with the same. Through it all, he was high
minded. “I believe in the mutual respect between women and men,” he
said, “but am also saddened by the gradual decline of romantic chivalry
in our society. I feel they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.” His
poet in Australia seemed to feel the same. Within a month she promised
to fly to Canada.

“My darkest knight, my love,” she called him. She was “burning with a
need to talk with you, to share with you my fears, my joys. I ache to be
able to brush a falling raindrop from your cheek and hold your handsome
face close to my heart. I miss you already though we have not met.”

This woman could have been crafting bodice-rippers for Harlequin Books.
“I thrive on every word that falls from your sensuous lips,” she wrote
Lee. “I feel I am being too bold for a lady of my breeding, but what I
feel has gone from my control before I was aware of my feelings.” More
letters followed, more fire, more steam. And then, out of nowhere: “This
is the very last time I will write to you. You have to leave me alone.
Any future mail you send me will remain unanswered. We do not know each
other. Words across a net aren’t a firm basis of a relationship and it
takes time to form a friendship. We have neither and I cannot currently
give either to you. I have strong personal commitments at the moment
that leave me unable to commit to anyone, especially a man in a romantic
way. Please understand. It may have been special and beautiful, but it
has to be over. One day I may be in a position to explain further, but
currently I cannot. I apologise once more and wish you well in your

“Maybe,” Lee looked back, “it was just a game for her.” And, no dummy,
he had learned from such experiences. Nowadays Lee was wary of anonymous
addresses with low numbers that suggested their owners had been cruising
alt.personal for a long time.

He had also learned of the usefulness of friendship as a prelude to
love. “Of all those ladies who answered my original personal,” he said,
“only one is still corresponding as a friend.” Another female friend was
also in his life online, somebody he met in an unrelated newsgroup. She
typed out an popular opinion and he wrote in to agree, and they found
they shared interests. But neither saw romance immediately ahead. Nor
was that true of the other friendships he had online. Although vague
about them, he suggested that he was still on the periphery.

Reached some months later, Lee told me he had gone on to befriend “quite
a few nice women around this campus.” In person and on the Net, however,
he had yet to meet just the right one for those river walks, museum
tours, and “giving and receiving pleasure.”

“Well, sorry, David,” Lee said, “but I didn’t have a happy ending. I‘m
sure there are some people who actually find their true loves this way.
Although I didn’t find true love, I’ve found many sincere friendships
via the Net. So I’m glad that the Net has worked for me.” I was, too,
and I wished him all kinds of wonderful surprises ahead. Chivalrous
SMHGs like Lee Chen should be more than peripherals.

Net Adultery

Places like New York or Tokyo abound with museums, art galleries, movie
houses, universities, and large pools of single people who hope to meet
the same. Something else, however, awaits those looking for it—more
opportunities for adultery than in small towns. And it is the same with
the Internet. It isn’t just that straying wives and husbands can use
those identity-stripping computers in Finland to make swap shopping
easier. More importantly, the Internet teems with bright, funny, people
who hate convention, including, in some cases, marriage.

For a stretch, a support-style mailing list came across as a Peyton
Place in cyberspace. A man and a woman met there. He told her he would
be leaving his wife and children. She spent that weekend with a _third_
member of the list; after the original man publicly confessed, she
popped up out of the blue to give her side. If anyone doubted that
computers could bring people together in person, this was proof positive
in the worst way. Most members of the list were horrified. They pleaded
for Peyton Placers to go offline. Clearly the Internet does not turn
people into saints—it just makes it easier to do what comes naturally,
good or bad.

But some context, please. The same Net could bring together
old-fashioned romantics. As shown by the Smith-Olson pairing, the Net
could actually _strengthen_ traditional values among those who so

Besides, much of the illicit action on the Net was by the mutual consent
of husbands and wives. When I ventured into a seamy area called
alt.personals.poly, I saw an ad posted by a swinging couple from
Florida. “I am 6′3″ brown haired, considered attractive,” said Hank*,
the husband. “She is 5ʹ0″ busty, blonde, blue eyes, very pretty. We’re
not weird or disturbed or wanting to beat people, hahaha. We are very
sensual, passionate, and are good at ya know the fun stuff.” Was this
the ’Bahn that Bill and Al had in mind for us? Not quite. But it wasn’t
as if some pervert was cheating on his wife and hiding behind an
anonymous server while lusting for a nineteen-year-old coed who was new
to both life and the Net. Although I did not condone Hank’s swinging, I
actually felt a little sorry for him after he wrote me a short but
touching letter: He told how a woman had stood him up and the Missus.
Better luck next time, Hank.

Suppose, however, that a man and woman had been married for fifteen
years and had two children, he was a straight-arrow programmer type, she
was funny and sexy, he introduced her to the Internet, and she got
crushes on men whom she befriended over the wire—a marriage just might
fall apart because a stranger might actually fly in from out of town
wanting to get to know her in a biblical way. Such was the case of Phil*
and Jayne*. While I have scrambled the details of the story, it is
entirely true in spirit. They lived in Cincinnati, and Bill worked as a
programmer and an Internet administrator for his employer. He had
arranged for his wife to be able to dial up the office computer from
home and send and receive e-mail. That, as we’ll learn in a moment, was
a key fact.

In many ways Phil and Jayne were a contrast. He could “readily repair my
hurt emotions when it comes to betrayal, be it from friends, or from my
wife.” Phil held himself to the highest of standards no matter how
low-minded the rest of the cosmos was. Jayne, on the other hand, was
wild and loved to party and speak up. “She can drink anyone under the
table,” Phil said. “She has a loud voice and a happy disposition. She
can talk to anyone and make them feel at ease. She is a joy to be with.
A blonde with striking blue eyes. She has the attitude of a redhead but
we never fight. She rarely sports a smile, but when she does, it is
radiant. She has an excellent body, but she keeps on thinking it is not
quite desirable. She has gone in for plastic surgery because of her low

For some years in her life, Jayne suffered from another
problem—stodginess, of all things. Taxiing children around, nagging them
to do their schoolwork, playing the good mother, had made her too
conservative. Phil wanted the old sparks back. So he introduced her to
“an e-mail friend of mine who had been a catalyst for many parties as
well. I hoped this would spur her into action.” It did. She began a love
affair over the Net. “I often ran to the computer room after getting
home from work to find Jayne engrossed in some letter writing. She would
immediately cover the screen and ask me to leave. I could see the
discomfort in her face. This was one of my clues to ask around and to
check up on what might be happening. I caught them in the act in a swank
hotel.” For the sake of the children, however, Phil forgave her and did
not divorce. He even revived his friendship with his e-mail friend.

A second man, however, cuckolded Phil a few years later, and like the
first, he was an alcoholic. “He would hound her,” Phil said, “and send
copious amounts of e-mail, call her from wherever he was regardless of
how distant. He had an attitude that ‘no one can tell him what to do,
even if it is an affair.’” So Phil, despite his forgiving nature, did
what many red-blooded men would have done in his place as a local
Internet administrator. He deleted their electronic mail from the office
system. “The second affair rekindled after the lover’s wife left him,”
Phil says. Lawyers successfully pried Jayne and the man apart.

“She has ‘fallen’ into love with other people on the Net,” Phil said,
however, “and some have even taken the trouble to fly in to meet her.”
Fortunately the moon and the stars and the hormones weren’t right. So
where on the Net did Jayne hook up with these winners? Alt.sex.wanted?
No, Phil said—rec.humor. And he actually feared rec.humor more than he
did the plain, sex-oriented areas of the Net, because it might pave the
way for a relationship based on more than carnal impulses.

I asked, “As a local Net administrator, do you think that people on the
Net play around more or less than does the general population?”

“About the same,” Phil said. “But there are a lot more insecure
personalities acting out an alternate personality on the net. This will
often lead, I think, to more misunderstandings. Someone can appear to
love you a lot, over e-mail, but cannot carry through in person.” And
then Phil came up with another fascinating insight, which could also
apply to some relationships on the Internet between single people. He
observed that certain Netfolks really didn’t care that much about the
men or women at the other end. Rather they used electronic mail as a
diary. “Jayne cherished the e-mail she got from one of her lovers,” Phil
said, “but in person he is a lying, cheating, and abusive drunk with a
far more shallow agenda.”

Phil and Jayne were doing what they could to repair the damage. The two
had undergone marriage counseling. “Stop trying to think so much,” Phil
was told. “This makes you appear to be walking on eggshells, making it
harder for Jayne to be honest with you.” I hoped the counseling would
work. As if her infidelity weren’t enough, she now cried because she
might have contracted the virus that causes AIDS. “One of her lovers has
slept around a lot and shot up drugs,” Phil said. “He hasn’t seen a
doctor in ages because of his alcoholic tendencies, and on one occasion
he has said he could have the HIV virus. I assured Jayne ... we will
handle any result from the test one day at a time.” The same thought
might apply to his life with Jayne. One day at a time. In the future, I
hoped, she won’t be so secretive about the dots on her computer screen.

Greg and Sue, an Update

I promised to update you on Greg and Sue. In late May 1995 Greg told me
they were still moving ahead, except that they’d decided it would be
much easier for her if they lived in the States. He would arrive at the
Kansas City airport on Wednesday, July 12, at 11:11 P.M. on American
Airlines. “My parents know,” he said. “On the surface they’re bitchy
about it—well, Mum is—but underneath they’re cool with it. Especially my
dad. He wants to come too.” The older Smith had taken his family to
Colorado years earlier during a teacher-exchange program.

“Work?” Greg went on. “Heck, I can do a lot of things. My preference
would be systems administrator or network maintenance or even Internet

Jokes about Adelaide’s sleepiness notwithstanding, Greg would miss life
down under. He cherished “the laid-back nature of Australia. I spend a
lot of time talking to people, and in 99 of 100 cases, the shopkeeper
will take time out to have a chat about something going on in the world.
People are so open and friendly, gosh darnit. I mean friendly, not
lazy.” He would hate to give up, too, the summer days at the sea, the
music festivals of Adelaide, and the programs of the Australian
Broadcasting Commission (“it’s government funded and turns up some
really cool and alternative stuff”). He would also miss Australian Rules
Football. “Mostly that’s an art form,” Greg said. “Unlike NFL, every
player has to be able to do every other player’s job. There’s no offense
or defense, and it’s such a quick game that offense can turn into
defense in the blink of an eye.”

E-mailing me on a rainy, thundery day—from “America’s Heartland soon to
be changed to America’s Flood Plain”—Sue wrote: “Thoughts and hopes?
Well, I think the one thing I’ve had to struggle with lately is facing
up to the fear that we won’t get along. I know there’s a chance. I’ve
pretty much come to grips with it, so I think that’s a good sign. I
think we’ll work it out. I _hope_ we will, but that’s yet to be
foretold—I’m just looking forward to finally meeting my best friend.

“Where we’ll live is a little uncertain. I’m still making the rounds of
apartment complexes, trying to pick one that I like, that I think he’ll
like, and that is central to work and school.

“Telling people about Greg and me is a little tricky. Most of the people
I work with understand the basic concept of the Internet, but don’t
really understand the idea of love at first talk session. I’ve pretty
much just told people I met Greg through friends. It just makes things a
lot easier, seeing as how I don’t have to explain things over and over
again. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but everyone knows how committed I am to
Greg regardless of how we met, and that’s the important thing.

“My father remains in the dark,” she said. “My mom and I had a big
discussion about things and she felt that was the best way to handle
things with him. I’m just taking things one step at a time and dealing
with them as they come. I don’t want to throw it all in his face. He’s
still my daddy and has the best interest of his baby girl at heart.”
Earlier I’d told Sue that the hassles would vanish when she met Greg,
and she had agreed. “’Cept maybe the fact Greg will be the tallest one
at family reunions *grin*. We’ll all be arguing over whose side of the
volleyball net he’s on. Mine of course. :-) *grin*.”

Sue brought me up to date on work and school. Recently she’d switched
jobs and was now a file clerk for an appliance company where the pay was
higher and the boss friendlier. “I can pretty much study during the slow
periods, which helps a great deal, *brandishes her grade card*. Got it
in the mail today—all A’s. I’m framing this sucker—I actually pulled an
A in algebra!”

Her net.lover was getting a cc of the note to me. “Oh, Greg,” she
couldn’t resist adding, “I did some rearranging for you today. I think
you might be able to have a drawer or two in the dresser *grin* just
kidding. I cleaned my room today and vacated one-half of my drawer
space, a major accomplishment almost tantamount to the A in algebra.
Just don’t look in the closet.”

Redirecting the note back to me, Sue said: “I’ve always been up front
with Greg about who I am and how I look and how I act and all that
stuff. There’s going to be a lot of rough edges we’ll need to smooth
out, but I’d say we’ve got a strong foundation to build on.” Concluding,
Sue said she had undergone a round of antibiotic-hormonal treatments for
an ulcer and gained weight. “The bad news is the weight gain that went
along with it. Least now I have the bust to fill out my bathing suit.”

A few days later I heard from Greg. Uh-oh. “To put it bluntly,” he
wrote, “I am not a happy camper.” I hoped I hadn’t offended him. He and
Sue had given so much of themselves by sharing their letters with me. As
I read on, I found out the true reason for his dismay. It wasn’t an
ever-curious writer, or parents, or friends, or professional colleagues:
Greg had graduated from school and was doing fine with temporary
consulting work. “Visa—problem, big problem. My visitor’s visa has been
denied on the grounds that I have insufficient reason to return to
Australia. The upshot of this is that our wedding and my travel plans
have been severely disrupted, delaying us by anything upwards of about
two months—gawd, I hate the sound of that. I talked to Sue on the phone
last night-her morning, and we’re confident we can make it through

In character Greg was using the Net, and specifically the newsgroup
alt.visa.us, to help him cope with the visa’crats.

“It makes no sense to me that the U.S. government won’t let in someone
with a college degree that’s in demand in this country,” Sue wrote, “and
who speaks English with such a sexy accent.”

She had one last update later in June: “There’s one thing you _have_ to
change in your chapter, and it’s just one line. I went to the oncologist
and he said I’d had enough tissue regeneration that was healthy to give
me some hope of being able to have kids. So I guess I just might get to
explore the world of labor pains and stretch marks after all. _Ugh._

“And I know this sounds cheezy, but would you mind altering names?”

I was happy to oblige.

“The press here in Kansas City,” Sue said, “has an absolute field day
with stuff like this. A guy got a mail-order bride from Russia a year or
so ago, and they had a five-part segment on his life story in the paper
and on the news. I’d just rather not be looked at as someone who had to
go to a whole other country to find a date. Which is how my father puts
it *sigh*.”

Oh, she had finally told. I wished I could see her father’s face when
Greg actually materialized in K.C. In the most direct way Fred Olson*
might understand how fortuitously the Net had enlarged his daughter’s
range of choices. What counted wasn’t her finding a man, but the best
man for her—whether he was next-door or an ocean away.

                  *       *       *       *       *

So that was how matters stood with Sue and Greg as the presses were
about to turn. I pondered the visa problem. Damn the feds. Already the
ayatollahs of the Senate had been trying to turn the Internet into _Mr.
Roger’s Neighborhood_, while the crew in the White House was crusading
to make the Net more snoop-friendly. Now Washington was getting in the
way of both a romance and a more definitive ending to my love chapter.

As I typed those words I was listening to a RealAudio replay of Senator
James Exon pushing his censorship bill on the Senate floor—an outrage
that could harm not only net.sex but net.love, given the major danger of
abusive enforcement. I loathed the man’s voice. The bullying
selfrighteousness struck me most of all. Exon’s tone was too close to
that of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, the anti-communist zealot from
Wisconsin. In a very narrow way I regretted that the Cold War was over.
Now the bigots and bullies could focus on _domestic_ troublemakers.
Listening to the digitized Exon, I heard him say that a Nebraskan
football coach had cheered him on. I reflected. Perhaps the senator and
the coach could do a RealAudio broadcast from the locker rooms and show
that in their territory even the after-game talk was G-rated.

My thoughts drifted. RealAudio reminded me of another recent wrinkle,
The Internet Phone, which let Netfolks talk all over the world for free
if they paid flat rates for Net service. What a joy this might be for
people like Greg and Sue in the days before they rushed into each
other’s arms at the airport.

There were a few catches. You needed a deluxe Net connection, alas,
which Sue lacked.

So she and Greg would still have to reach out and touch type to each

That wasn’t so bad, actually. They were saving their e-mail, and someday
the files would remind them of all the promise, all the anticipation,
that the Net had held out for them in the form of each other.

Although I tinkered with The Internet Phone, I preferred electronic
mail, just as I’d normally favored international Morse code over voice
during my amateur radio days. Now that art might be lost. Code didn’t
matter as much on the airwaves as before. The U.S. Coast Guard was
phasing it out. Any future SOS would apparently be in bits and bytes
rather than in dots and dashes, assuming the initials remained at all.
What would also perish—writing on screens, eventually? Just what would
happen to typed words on the Net?

Whether seriously or just as a discussion provoker, a Seattle columnist
had imagined the following: “It’s the year 2020; your daughter Emily is
nine years old and she can’t read or write. Is this your worst nightmare
about our schools come true? Nope, Emily just doesn’t need to read or
write anymore.” That, of course, was exactly the kind of nightmare I’d
had on my mind in proposing TeleRead. We needed graphics, not just
words; but surely we could do better than the Emily scenario.

I’d asked Avodah Offit for comments on net.love rather than on the
effects of the technology in general, but she couldn’t help warning
about the almost inevitable transition of the Net to sounds and images
for all.

Delighted by the renaissance of writing on networks, she’d e-mailed me:
“I think two-way TV will bring us down to earth. It will be a loss
rather than a gain to those of us who enjoy using our imaginations and
our writing skills. Right now we all have an opportunity to use the
literacy that humans have spent thousands of years developing.”

That was how I felt, too, whether the topic on the Net was romance or
gerbil care. An old pop lyric came to mind: “These are the good old
days.” I wondered about the Snubbites and how they would have felt about
Greg and Sue and the many others the Net had brought together; about the
leather-jacketed kids up in Nova Scotia who, for the first time in their
lives, were looking forward to _writing_, however rudimentary the elite
Snubbites might have considered the children’s prose; about all the love
letters that might go unwritten if TV-centric politicians let Emily and
friends live out their lives as illiterates without electronic books or
keyboards or equivalents.

Some things were forever worth our being reactionaries in an enlightened
way. Literacy was one of them. We mustn’t ever let the romance and
civility of the written word die on the Internet.

Once again I recalled some e-mail Sue had sent, in which she had not
meant to be profound but was. Sue the cancer survivor had reminded us of
the need to enjoy both Life and Net, and I wanted similar thoughts to
grace the screens of many lovers, in many countries, and for many years.
“*hugs greg* hold your horses sweetie,” she had written, “I’m typing as
fast as I can....”


Chapter 1—The Terrain

Footnote 1.1:

  The three Net-hostile quotes are from Joshua Quittner’s “Back to the
  real world: New books from the front lines of the information
  revolution urge cyberspace cadets to get a life,” _Time_, April 17,
  1995, page 56.

Footnote 1.2:

  Luddites, of course, were the loom smashers of the nineteenth century
  who protested automation.

Footnote 1.3:

  Goldberg is author of the book _Questions and Answers about
  Depression_ (Charles Press, 1993), but the book is clearly _not_ his
  main reason for being on Walkers—mentions of _Questions_ have been
  well within limits. Sheer altruism is clearly his true motive.

Footnote 1.4:

  Reid Kanaley, “Computers to the rescue: Internet becoming a worldwide
  safety net,” _Philadelphia Inquirer_, January 17, 1995, page 1.

Footnote 1.5:


Footnote 1.6:

  John Schwartz, “On the information net, creativity is its own reward,”
  _Washington Post_, April 10, 1995, page 23 of the “Washington
  Business” section. Schwartz is a _Post_ reporter and columnist.

Footnote 1.7:


Footnote 1.8:

  Stoll himself noted the Maine-Texas allusion.

Footnote 1.9:

  Irwin Lebow, _Information Highway & Byways: From the Telegraph to the
  21st Century_ (Piscataway, New York: IEEE Press: 1995), page 17. A
  good book. Highly recommended. It even comes with the _Walden_
  allusion, although from a rather different perspective from that of

Footnote 1.10:

  Thanks to my friend Andy Oram for the buffalo analogy.

Footnote 1.11:

  With hypertext links, readers could click on mentions of the _Star
  Tribune_ and immediately go from my area of the World Wide Web to the
  one where the newspaper had posted the West article. I didn’t
  reproduce the material; I just pointed my readers in its direction.

Chapter 2—Business on the Net:
From White Rabbit Toys to “Intel Inside”

Footnote 2.1:

  The physical description is based on photographs in local newspapers.

Footnote 2.2:

  _Advertising Age_, January 9, 1995, page 22 of the “Interactive Media
  & Marketing” section.

Footnote 2.3:

  Peter Lewis, “Prodigy is leading its peers onto the World Wide Web,”
  _New York Times_, January 18, 1995, page D1.

Footnote 2.4:

  _Interactive Publishing Alert_ is available for $195 for 12
  monthly issues via e-mail, and $245 by regular mail. Contact
  71333.1473@compuserve.com or rosalind@harrison.win.net for more
  information, or write Rosalind Resnick at 1124 Harrison St.,
  Hollywood, FL 33019.

Footnote 2.5:

  _The Cook Report_, written for the Net savvy and dealing heavily with
  local and state Net issues, costs $85 for individuals and $350-$650
  for corporations. Cook’s e-mail address is cook@cookreport.com; his
  physical address, 431 Greenway Avenue, Ewing, NJ 08618.

Footnote 2.6:

  Rates for new customers increased after the _Times_ article on Larry
  Grant appeared in mid-1994.

Footnote 2.7:

  Mark Lyon, “Firm gives air freight a lift on Internet,” _Air Commerce
  Special_ supplement, page 8, distributed with the _Journal of
  Commerce_, December 19, 1994.

Footnote 2.8:

  Of course, on occasion, electronic mail can be delayed for several
  hours and maybe even longer. So Telnet or the World Wide Web would
  probably be better in situations where couriers are on tight

Chapter 3—EntertaiNet: A Few Musings on Net.Rock,
Leonardo da Vinci and Bill Gates, Bianca’s Smut Shack,
and David Letterman in Cyberspace

Footnote 3.1:

  ISDN means Integrated Services Digital Network, which allows
  transmissions faster than the 14.4 Kbps and 28.8 Kbps rates so common

Footnote 3.2:

  Barry Walters, “The Internet is a punk rocker now,” _San Francisco
  Examiner_, February 27, 1974, page D3 (Style section).

Footnote 3.3:

  Laurel Taylor, “The speed of sound,” _Good Times_, August 18, 1994.

Chapter 4—Pulped Wood versus Electrons:
Can the Print World Learn to Love the Net?

Footnote 4.1:

  A.C.’s work is on the Net, but in the strictest sense he himself
  isn’t. His daughter at a paper in Florida can enjoy his columns online
  but can’t even swap e-mail with him. Perhaps she’ll eventually conquer
  his technophobia. A.C., I’m rooting for you.

Footnote 4.2:

  Frank Daniels III, “One newspaper’s journey on the Internet,” _T
  Leaves: A Newsletter for NAA Members_, October 1994. NAA is the
  Newspaper Association of America.

Footnote 4.3:

  David Streitfeld, “Book report,” _Washington Post_, September 25,
  1994, page 19 of Book World section.

Footnote 4.4:

  Lewis and many other journalists here do not necessarily serve as
  official spokespeople for their publications.

Footnote 4.5:

  Teresea Martin, “Like a newspaper, but better: Tablets will succeed
  where others have failed,” _Digital Media: A Seybold Report_,
  September 13, 1994.

Footnote 4.6:

  Jonathan Seybold, “How the rise of electronic media is affecting paper
  prices,” _Digital Media Perspective_, March 27, 1995.

Footnote 4.7:

  To Baker’s credit, he seems to have learned about the new media since
  writing the article. Commendably he came out for an online
  royalty-collection approach that would be less onerous to readers than
  the approach favored by the Clinton Administration.

Footnote 4.8:

  As usual, for aesthetic reasons, I’m using italics to show emphasis in
  place of the original capitalization.

Footnote 4.9:

  Not to be confused with the former speech writer for Ronald Reagan.

Footnote 4.10:

  I’m not beating up on the late professor, one of the best teachers I
  ever had. In his place, I’d have given the same advice. The
  limitations of 1960s technology made it difficult to think otherwise.

Footnote 4.11:

  E-mail from Bruce Siceloff.

Footnote 4.12:

  Katherine Fulton, “Heirs to newspaper make unlikely pioneers. So why
  is Frank Daniels III out on the frontier?”, _Poynter Special Report:
  Converging Technologies_, 1994, pages 5-7.

Footnote 4.13:


Footnote 4.14:

  Daniels, in _T Leaves_.

Footnote 4.15:

  The speculation about _Time_’s role in the cable trade is my own. Jim
  Kinsella, one of the organizers of Pathfinder, told me that he liked
  this approach but was not necessarily speaking for the company.

Footnote 4.16:

  In Raleigh, a locally oriented arm of Time Warner might enjoy a big
  advantage over the _N & O_ someday if the newspaper lacked access to
  cable for Internet purposes. Cable will probably be much better than
  phone connections, the kind the _N & O_ uses. The best cure, of
  course, would be laws that (1) assured the _N & O_ a place on local
  cable and (2) also let the phone companies there go into the cable
  business. Then the _N & O_ could choose between Time Warner and its
  phone company allies of the present. Perhaps such laws will be on the
  books by the time you’re reading this. Meanwhile, I’ll hardly blame
  the people at Time Warner for unofficially talking up cable for the
  Internet; as noted before, I’d do the same, given the technical

Footnote 4.17:

  Conspiracy theorists may take note that another arm of the Newhouse
  interests, Ballantine Books, is distributing _NetWorld!_ for Prima

Footnote 4.18:

  Laurie Flynn, “Getting on-line—the Microsoft way,” _New York Times_,
  November 20, 1994, page F10.

Footnote 4.19:

  The Stahlman and Smith quotes are from “Time Inc. raises its
  multimedia profile with an Internet test,” by Deirdre Carmody, _New
  York Times_, October 24, 1994, page D10.

Footnote 4.20:

  Laura Fillmore, “Online publishing: Threat or menace,” speech to the
  Online Publishing Conference, Graphic Communications Association,
  March 1993.

Footnote 4.21:


Footnote 4.22:


Footnote 4.23:

  Fillmore, “Slaves of a new machine: Exploring the for-free/for-pay
  conundrum,” Fifth Conference on Organizational Computing,
  Coordination, and Collaboration: “Making Money on the Internet,”
  Austin, Texas, May 10, 1994.

Footnote 4.24:


Footnote 4.25:

  Vannevar Bush, “As we may think,” _The Atlantic Monthly_, July 1945.

Footnote 4.26:

  Interview with Fillmore.

Footnote 4.27:

  Fillmore, “Slaves.”

Footnote 4.28:


Footnote 4.29:


Footnote 4.30:


Footnote 4.31:

  Rory J. O’Connor, “News firms plan on-line network,” _San Jose Mercury
  News_, April 20,1995, page 1F.

Footnote 4.32:

  Reuter Information Service, “Newspaper executives see online services
  as prime competitor,” carried by _The NandO Times_, June 9, 1995.

Footnote 4.33:

  David Streitfeld, “Cyberstrokes: For authors, e-mail offers some novel
  reader feedback,” _Washington Post_, June 9,1995, page B1.

Chapter 5—Wired Knowledge:
When They Let a Murderer Loose on the Internet

Footnote 5.1:

  Ronnie Crocker, “Executed killer lives as computer image,” _Houston
  Chronicle_, December 18, 1994, page A1.

Footnote 5.2:

  To be technical, these weren’t true physical slices, just images taken
  of the remaining surface as researchers ground down Jernigan.

Footnote 5.3:

  From an essay that Chris Gazunis wrote in a 1994 contest sponsored by
  the National Center for Education Statistics, the NASA K-12 Internet
  Project, and the National Science Foundation.

Footnote 5.4:

  Randy Hammer was another contestant in the competition that Chris
  Gazunis entered.

Footnote 5.5:

  Peter West, “Wired for the future,” _Education Week_, January 11,
  1995. The senior analyst quoted was Kathleen Fulton.

Footnote 5.6:

  The University of Colorado got a great package deal. While I couldn’t
  rate Helen according to her medical knowledge, she appeared to know
  her computer imaging cold.

Footnote 5.7:

  Not to confuse detachment with callousness. In Pelster’s place—working
  with the cadaver day after day, not just writing about him—I’d have
  coped the same way.

Footnote 5.8:

  The Associated Press quoted Oxford and Nelson.

Chapter 6—Governments and the Net:
Making Sure Orwell Was Wrong

Footnote 6.1:

  Encryption is the scrambling of messages into codes.

Footnote 6.2:

  Simson Garfinkel, _Wired_, March 1995, page 44.

Footnote 6.3:

  To simplify a bit, cryptography is the study, or the technique, of
  making secret messages.

Footnote 6.4:

  Peter Huber, _Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest_ (New York: The
  Free Press, 1994).

Footnote 6.5:

  Sandy Sandford, “The intelligent island?” _Wired_, September/October

Footnote 6.6:

  Rosalind Resnick, “Cyberbiz” column of July 3, 1995, published in the
  _Miami Herald_, on the Knight-Ridder wire and her Web site,
  http://www.netcreations.com. One of the best sites on the whole Net.
  Drop by!

Footnote 6.7:

  Exon has announced plans not to run again—his term ends in 1997. But
  who knows what can happen in the meantime?

Footnote 6.8:

  My favorite observation on the passion for censorship comes from Phil
  Kirby, a former editorial writer for the _Los Angeles Times_, by way
  of Nat Hentoff, in the book _Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee_.
  “Censorship,” Kirby said, “is the strongest drive in human nature; sex
  is a weak second.” Thanks to Rob Chatelle of the National Writers
  Union for bringing this gem to my attention.

Footnote 6.9:

  The example of messages violating local standards comes from a
  syndicated column by Lawrence Magid that appeared in the _Washington
  Post_ on March 13, 1995.

Footnote 6.10:

  Buckley and George Will are the most famous conservative journalists
  in the United States. Among other accomplishments, Buckley is founder
  of the _National Review_. His comments appeared in an “On the Right”
  column released through the United Press Syndicate on February 24,

Footnote 6.11:

  Perhaps the idea will have been changed by now to allow more freedom
  to librarians and the public.

Footnote 6.12:

  David Buerger, “Our lives are quickly becoming an open book,”
  _Communications Week_, May 9, 1994, page 52.

Footnote 6.13:

  Simson Garfinkel, _PGP: Pretty Good Privacy_ (Sebastopol, California:
  O’Reilly & Associates, 1995), page 88.

Footnote 6.14:


Footnote 6.15:


Footnote 6.16:

  William M. Bulkeley, “Cipher probe: Popularity overseas of encryption
  code has the U.S. worried; Grand jury ponders if creator ‘exported the
  program through the Internet’; ‘Genie is out of the bottle,’” The
  _Wall Street Journal_, April 28, 1994, page A1.

Footnote 6.17:

  “Tidbits on the PGP/Zimmermann case—Protecting Americans’ privacy,” an
  item that Jim Warren released in the March 6, 1995, issue of his
  online newsletter, _Government Access_.

Footnote 6.18:

  Steven Levy, “Crypto rebel,” _Wired_, February 1993.

Footnote 6.19:


Footnote 6.20:

  Garfinkel, _PGP_, page 112.

Footnote 6.21:


Footnote 6.22:


Footnote 6.23:

  As of this writing, it looked as if Warren wouldn’t testify—perhaps
  because his remarks would have been so helpful to Zimmermann’s side.

Footnote 6.24:

  To its credit, the White House at least called attention to the First
  Amendment nightmares of the Exon “decency” bill. Given how bad the
  bill was, however, that was a little like denouncing slavery.

Footnote 6.25:

  If the case is still on, contact Hugh Miller at hmiller@luc.edu for
  information on making donations.

Footnote 6.26:

  “Another chop at the Clipper chip,” _Business Week_, February 13,

Footnote 6.27:

  “I oppose the Clipper Chip and all forms of key escrow because it’s
  impossible to use bad legislation as a substitute for bad
  engineering,” Bob Steele told me. Yes, he’s the same CIA alum as in
  chapter 4, the one with whom I agreed in a friendly way to disagree.
  Hi, Bob—you’re right on about Clipper!

Footnote 6.28:

  Peter Lewis, “Attention shoppers: Internet is open,” the _New York
  Times_, August 12, 1994, page D1.

Footnote 6.29:


Footnote 6.30:


Footnote 6.31:


Footnote 6.32:

  Privacy International is an international human rights organization
  founded in 1987 to oppose privacy invasions worldwide. It led the
  campaign to fight a national card proposal in Australia that ended up
  causing Parliament to dissolve in 1987.

Footnote 6.33:

  _Ottawa Citizen_, January 31, 1994, as reproduced by David Banisar in
  his “Bug Off!” paper for Privacy International.

Footnote 6.34:


Footnote 6.35:

  Elizabeth Corcoran, “Bit by bit, an online collection of the Library
  of Congress to digitize artifacts,” the _Washington Post_, October 10,
  1994, page A1.

Footnote 6.36:

  Junda Woo, “Big copyright curbs sought by industry,” the _Wall Street
  Journal_, December 27, 1994, page B5.

Footnote 6.37:

  Teresa Riordan, “Profile: Even in a ‘Big Tent,’ Little Insults, Little
  Compromises,” the _New York Times_, May 29, 1994. The _Times_ is the
  source of information on Lehman’s heroes. To answer the obvious
  question—yes, I asked Lehman for comment on a number of topics ranging
  from campaign donations to his use (or possibly nonuse) of the
  Internet. No reply came. I also asked him about his controversial
  $10,000 gift to a local politician, the one described in this chapter
  and in chapter note 41.

Footnote 6.38:

  Saundra Torry, “Many of Clinton’s chosen earned big bucks in private
  practice,” the _Washington Post_, October 18, 1993, page F7.

Footnote 6.39:

  Found at http://www.uspto.gov/combio.html.

Footnote 6.40:


Footnote 6.41:

  Pamela McClintock, “D.C. council candidate returns questioned $10,000
  loan,” the _Washington Times_, February 19, 1991, page B4. In a
  “Notebook on Politics” column on February 21, Rene Sanchez of the
  _Washington Post_ described the loan as “apparently in violation of
  D.C. campaign finance law, which sets a $400 ceiling on individual
  campaign donations.”

Footnote 6.42:

  Riordan is the source of the “first” information.

Footnote 6.43:


Footnote 6.44:

  Pamela Samuelson, “Legally speaking: The NII intellectual
  property report,” _Communications of the ACM_, December 1994. On
  the Web at http://gnn.interpath.net/gnn/meta/imedia/features/

Footnote 6.45:

  _The Manchurian Candidate_ was the film in which the Communists
  captured a GI, brainwashed him, and groomed their man to be president
  of the United States.

Footnote 6.46:

  Marcia Berss, “West will always be three,” _Forbes_, November 21,
  1994, page 47.

Footnote 6.47:


Footnote 6.48:


Footnote 6.49:


Footnote 6.50:

  Sharon Schmickle and Tom Hamburger, “West Publishing and the courts:
  U.S. justices took trips from West Publishing,” _Minneapolis_ _Star
  Tribune_, March 5, 1995. In of July, 1995, at least, the lead article
  showed up on the Web at http://www.startribune.com/westpub/west.htm.
  The home page for the _Star Tribune_ is http://www.startribune.com/.]

Footnote 6.51:

  I can only speculate since, like Lehman, Opperman refused to answer my
  written queries about donations and other matters.

Footnote 6.52:

  Bill Salisbury, “Minnesota ‘bit players’ enjoy the show; Democratic
  colleagues happy with their role at convention,” the _St. Paul Pioneer
  Press_, July 14, 1994, Page 1A.

Footnote 6.53:

  West’s 6,000-word letter of February 22, 1995, was available on the
  World Wide Web at the following address in July 1995:

Footnote 6.54:

  Jack B. Coffman and Thomas J. Collins, “Bankrolling the legislature
  part 6: Who has the clout,” the _St. Paul Pioneer Press_, April 17,
  1992, Page 1A.

Footnote 6.55:

  Margaret Engle, “Virtual money trail: The Center for Responsive
  Politics on the Internet,” _Capital Eye_, June 15, 1995, Page 2.

Footnote 6.56:

  Martin Schram, _Speaking Freely: Former Members of Congress Talk about
  Money and Politics_ (Washington, D.C: Center for Responsive Politics,
  1995), page 85.

Chapter 7—The Electronic Matchmaker

Footnote 7.1:

  The Goodin quotes appear in the paper “The Net and Netizens: The
  impact the Net has on people’s lives,” by Michael Hauben

Footnote 7.2:

  The America Online example is from a personal interview, the
  CompuServe one from online messages, and the Prodigy example from
  _People_ magazine.

Footnote 7.3:

  Although anonymous servers protect privacy in most cases, this could
  be happening only up to a certain point. Many on the Net take it for
  granted that national security agencies in the United States can
  monitor traffic to and from the servers and determine the identities
  of the senders.

Footnote 7.4:

  I won’t even bother here with the term “Cyberpunk,” which nowadays can
  mean anyone from a rebellious hacker to a technophobic teenager who is
  trying to make a fashion statement.

Footnote 7.5:

  Sue tells me her hair is shorter these days, “a little past my chin
  now.” I doubt the change will imperil Greg’s ardor.

Footnote 7.6:

  A program for sending and receiving electronic mail over a network.

Footnote 7.7:

  I look forward to an era of electronic books where librarians can
  function more as book reviewers and information hunters, and less as



 Ackerman, Michael, 103, 181, 188, 190, 192
 ACT UP, 255
 Adleman, Len, 226-227
 Adultery on Internet, 316-323
 Agnew, Spiro, 286
   HIV Positive Dating Services, 293
   PGP and activists, 255
 Air freight business, 68
 Alicia Patterson Foundation, 235
 American Memory Project, 126
 Americans Communicating Electronically, 263
 American Society for Information Science, 267
 America Online, 31, 32, 123, 128
   Elmer-DeWitt’s message on, 148
   _Time_ magazine on, 148-149
   WAIS Inc., 169
 Amnesty International, 211-212
 Andreessen, Marc, 44
 Anonymous servers, 221
   gamesplayers using, 299
 Antitrust actions, 168-169
 Apple Computer
   Internet gadgets, 31
   Scully, John on NII Advisory Council, 277
 Art on Internet, 83-84
 Aryan Nation, 242
 Asahara, Shoko, 261
 ASCII e-books, 163
 Ash, Danielle, 83
 At-risk students, 198-202
 AT&T, 54
   encryption chip, 240
 Attention deficit disorder, 161
 Austin Code Works, 232
 Australia, 293-294


 Baker, Nicholson, 112-113, 170
 Baker, Stewart A., 241-242, 246-247
 Ball, Patrick, 259
 Banisar, David, 257
 Barcroft School page, 17
 Barlow, John Perry, 240-241
 Barnhart, Aaron, 88-89
 Barry, Dave, 123
 _Being Digital_ (Negroponte), 114
 Berners-Lee, Tim, 155
 Besser, Jim, 19, 122
 Bianca’s Smut Shack, 63, 84-85, 220
 Biden, Joseph, 228-229
 Bidzos, Jim, 227, 228, 230, 232, 249-250
 Big Sky Telegraph, 176
 Bitnet, 2
 Bix, 2
 Black Entertainment Television, 277
 _Bless This Food: Amazing Grace in Praise of Food_ (Butash), 159
 BMP files, 214
 Bookport, 170-171
 Book publishers, 110
 Books online, 151-165
 Bookstore, online, 121
 Bracey, Bonnie, 284
 Branch Mall, 50
   customers of, 52
 Brandy’s Babes, 29-30, 299
 Brennan, William, 279
 Brookman, Scott, 101-103
 Brown, Ron, 272
 Buckley, William F., Jr., 222-223, 247
 “Bug Off” (Banisar), 257
 Bush, George, 231
 Bush, Vannevar, 155
   Federal Express, 34-35
   hazards for, 76-79
   Intel, 73-76
   MCI, 34
   and Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), 255-256
   3-D style, 42-43
   White Rabbit Toys, 27-29, 35-48
 Butash, Adrian, 159
 Butler, Robert, 181, 191, 192
 Butzer, Tim, 185


 Cable modems, 143
 Cable News Network, 123
   government intervention, 220-221
   Park View Education Centre, 195-207
 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 87
 Canter, Laurence A., 23-24, 54, 116
 Caras, Sylvia, 12
 Carl-Mitchell, Smoot, 296
 Carnegie, Andrew, 222
 Carvin, Andy, 176
 Case, Steve, 215
 CAT images, 186, 188
 CBS, 87-88
   on NII Advisory Council, 277, 278
 CD-ROM, Visible Human Project and, 188, 190
 Censorship, 215-216
 Center for Responsive Politics, 279
 Cerf, Vint, 55
   political contributions by, 280
 Chen, Lee, 311-315
 Children. _See also_ Education,
   molestation on Internet, 214
   NandOLand for, 130
 Christie’s Internet MatchMaker, 293
 Christopher, Susan O’Hara, 17
 Civic League page, 17
 ClariNet, 122-123
 ClarkNet, 112
 Clinger, William, 287
 Clinton, Bill, 20, 211, 231, 279
 Clipper chip, 78, 116, 147-148, 234-242
   Green Paper compared, 275
   key escrow technique, 238
   PGP software and, 225
   terrorism and, 260-261
 Collins, Joe, 254-255
 CommerceNet, 72
 Compression software, 94
 CompuServe, 2, 31, 123
   Gore, Al on, 263
   Limbaugh, Rush and, 247, 295, 303
   “Umney’s Last Case” to, 158
 Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, 229, 240-241
 Condom stores, 30
 Cook, Gordon, 49
 Cooke, John F., 279
   _The Cook Report on Internet_, 49
 Copyrights, 118-119
   digital libraries and, 264
   Lehman, Bruce and, 268-272
   United Kingdom regulations, 223-224
   victories for, 288-289
 Corning Glass, 280
 Crak Software, 255
 Crichton, Michael, 123
 Crimenet, 18
 Cronin, Mary, 32, 34
 Crystal City, Virginia, 268-269
 _The Cuckoo’s Egg_ (Stoll), 6
 Cyberia cafe, 25
 Cyberia (legally oriented mailing list), 243
 Cyberpunks, 230-232
 Cyberspace Development Company, 31-32
 _CyberWire Dispatch_ (Meeks), 9
 Cygnus Group, 39-40


 Daniels, Frank, III, 106, 124, 125-126, 126-128, 130, 131-142, 165-167
 Daniels, Josephus, 125-126, 166
 _Dateline NBC_, 117
 Dating services, 292-293
 Dean, David, 192
 Dearth, Jeffrey, 144-145
 Delphi, 2, 123
 Depeche Mode, 91
 Depression, 4-5
 Dern, Daniel, 33
 _Der Spiegel_, 109
 _The Diane Rehme Show_, 6-7
 Diffie, Whitfield, 233-234
 DigiCash, 78
 Digital Equipment Corporation, 79
 Digital Publishing Association, 289
 _Doing Business on the Internet_ (Cronin), 32
 Dole, Bob, 216
 Doran, Jeff, 197-207
 Doubleday, 112
 Dubois, Phil, 248
 Dunleavy, Houston, 294
 Du Toit, Michael, 181


 Echo, 6
 EcoGopher, 40
 EcoNet, 40
 Education, 172-207
   Park View Education Centre, 195-207
   writing skills on Internet, 198-202
 800 numbers for business, 48
 Electric classifieds, 292
 Electronic cafes, 25
 Electronic Frontier Foundation, 209, 218
 Electronic Frontier metaphor, 33-34
 Electronic libraries. _See_ Libraries
 Electronic Newsstand, 144-145
 Elmer-DeWitt, Philip, 147-148, 218
 _Elmer Gantry_ (Lewis), 216
 E-mail, 14, 59-60, 154
   from Australia, 293-294
   confidentiality of, 252-253
   with NandOLand, 130
   Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) for, 208-211
   religious confessions via, 224-225
   reporters interviewing with, 119
 Encryption software, 209-211, 224
   _See also_ Clipper chip; Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)
   National Security Agency and, 233-234
   subpoenas of makers, 232
 Engel, Margaret “Peggy,” 235-236
 Engst, Adam, 144
 _Entertainment Weekly_, 109, 146
 Envirolink Network, 40
 eWorld, 2
 Exon, J. James, 214, 215, 216, 217, 218, 220, 323


 FBI, 228-229
   Usenet postings, collection of, 258
 Federal Election Commission, 281
 Federal Express, 34-35, 67-73
 Feinstein, Dianne, 9, 281
 Few, Sue, 100-101
 Fidler, Roger, 151
 FidoNet, 213-214
 File Transfer Protocol (FTP), 14
 Fillmore, Laura, 121, 151-165, 163
 Firewalls, 78
 Flaming, 118
 Foley, Tom, 282-283
 Fong, Kendrick, 258
 Forms, 267
 France, encryption rules in, 238-239
 Freedom of Information Act, 222, 286
 Freeh, Louis, 219
 Freelancing, 153
 Fry, David, 47, 54
 Fry Multimedia, 54
 FTP (File Transfer Protocol), 97
 _The Future Does Not Compute_ (Talbott), 3


 Gamesplayers, 298-299
 Garfinkel, Simson, 227, 232
 Gatekeepers, 122
 Gates, Bill, 84
 Gazunis, Chris, 177
 General Electric
   hackers and, 78
   Web area of, 35
 General Services Administration, 286-287
 GEnie, 2, 123
 GenNet, 99
 German encryption regulations, 239
 Gilder, George, 17, 247-248
 Gilmore, John, 215
 Gingrich, Newt, 219, 247, 287
 Glaxo Inc., 181, 190
 Global markets, 120
 _Global Net Navigator_, 144
 Goen, Kelly, 229
 Goldberg, Ivan, 5
 Goodin, Laura, 294
 Gopher, 14
   for business, 41
 Gordon, Mike, 129
 Gore, Al, 156, 263, 269, 272
 Gore, Tipper, 92
 Gores, Luciana, 35-36, 47
 Government. _See also_ Clipper chip
   and encryption software, 209-211
   information on Internet, 212
   TeleRead and, 268-274
 _Government Access_, 245, 287
 Gramercy Press, 56-64
 Grant, Larry, 33-35, 38, 48-54
 Grant’s Flowers, 33-35, 48-54
 Graphics, 10
 Grassley, Charles, 215, 219
 Green, Jordan, 119
 Green Paper, 96, 273-276
   Clipper chip compared, 275
   NII Advisory Council on, 285-286
 Gribble, Paul, 144
 Grove, Andy, 74


 Hackers, 78-79
   Clipper chip and, 240
   public PGP keys, 250
 _The Hacker’s Dictionary_, 156
 Hamilton, Robert, 71-72
 Hammer, Randy, 177
 Harmon, Dave, 7-11
 Harnad, Stevan, 174
 HarperCollins, 112
   News Corps, 170
 Harris, Eric, 136, 140, 142
 Hart, Gary, 216
 Hellman, Martin, 233-234
 Helms, Jesse, 107-108
 Helsingius, Johan, 221
 Henderson, Bill, 3
 Hertz, J. C., 3, 16
 Hesseldahl, Arik, 120
 High school use of Internet, 179
 HIV Positive Dating Services, 293
 _HotWired_, 113-114, 144, 147
 Houghton, James, 280
 _How to Make a Fortune on the Information Super-highway_ (Canter and
    Siegel), 24
 Hubbard, Stanley, 280
 Hubbard Broadcasting, 280
 Hubert, Martin, 69
 Huffman, David, 93-94
 Huffman coding, 94
 Hypertext, 161
   _Bless This Food: Amazing Grace in Praise of Food_, 159


 Images, 10
 Information Industries Association (IIA), 269
 Information kiosks, 222-223
 _Insider_, 135
 Intel, 35, 73-76
 Intellectual piracy, 288
 “An Interactive Citizens’ Handbook,” 262-263
 _Interactive Week Publishing Alert_, 110
 Internal Revenue Service, 223
 _International Teletimes_, 144
 _Internet Companion_ (LaQuey), 155-156
 Internet Engineering Task Force, 55
 Internet Phone, 324
 Internet Relay Chat, 14
 Internet Sleuth, 217
 Internet Underground Music Archives, 13, 22, 80-81, 86-87, 90-104
   “Arbeit Macht Frei,” 96-97
   World Wide Web, discovery of, 98
 Isaacson, Walter, 148-149
 ISDN phone connections, 86
 Italy, 213-214
 IUMA. _See_ Internet Underground Music Archives


 J. C. Penney, 141
 Japan, terrorists in, 260-261
 Jargon guide, 14
 Jernigan, Paul, 172-173, 179-185


 Katz, Jon, 123
 Katzen, Sally, 287
 Katzenberg, Jeffrey, 279
 Kennedy, Anthony, 279
 Kerouac, Jack, 302
 Key escrow, 238
 Killen & Associates, 32
 King, Stephen, 157-158
 Kinsella, Jim, 149
 Klien, Eric, 292
 Knight-Ridder, 129, 169
 Kostmayer, Peter, 283-284
 K12Net, 176-177
 Kuster, Sharon, 194


 Lande, Jim, 17
 LaQuey, Tracy, 155-156
 _The Late Show._ _See_ Letterman, David
 Learning Connections, 197
 Legal issues. _See also_ Copyrights
   MCI and, 62-63
   of RSA, 227
 Lehman, Bruce, 20, 96, 222, 268, 269-272.
   _See also_ Green Paper on National Information Infrastructure, 264
 Leno, Jay, 2, 82, 89
 Letterman, David, 2, 75, 82, 87-89
 Levy, Steven, 230-231, 234
 LeWebLouvre, 83-84
 Lewis, Peter, 106-107, 118-119, 217
 Lewis, Sinclair, 216
 Libraries, 112-113
   copyrights and, 264
   information kiosks, 222-223
   national digital libraries, 22, 24, 118, 121, 162-165
   TeleRead-style libraries, 162-165, 265-268
 Lilienfeld, Bob, 27-29, 35-48, 77, 141
   MCI and, 65
 Lilienfeld, Jo Ann, 27-29, 35-48, 77, 141
 Limbaugh, Rush, 247, 295, 303
 Liquor advertising, 217
 Litman, Jessica, 274
 Lobbyists, 20-21
 Local-standards principle, 219-220
 _London Telegraph_, 109
 Lord, Rob, 80, 86-87, 90-104
 Loser Records, 102, 103
 Love, James, 287
 Lowry, Stuart, 37, 47
 Luce, Henry, 146
 Luddites, 3-4, 6
 Luini, Jon, 98, 102
   business and, 50
   print media and, 119-120
 Lynx, 15
 Lysator, 8
 Lytel, David, 268, 289

 .nf c

 McCarthy, Joseph, 323
 McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., 166
 McCracken, Ed, 277
 McGraw-Hill, 110
 McLarty, Mack, 278
 Macmillan, 13, 110
 Madness, 12
 Magazines, 142-151
   barriers to publishing, 150
 Magid, Larry, 56
 Mailing lists, 7-8, 14-15, 115
 Mammoth Records, 140-141
 Mariam, Mengistu Haile, 259
 Markey, Ed, 280
 Marriage through Internet, 301-311
 Martin, Teresa, 107
 MasterCard numbers, 77
 Match.Com, 292
 Matchmaking on Internet, 291-325
   adultery on Internet, 316-323
   Chen, Lee, story of, 311-315
   marriage through Internet, 301-311
 _Matrix News_, 296
 Max, T. J., 113-114
 May, Timothy, 230-231, 242-244
 MCA, 280
 MCI, 34, 54, 55-67
   e-mail, 59-60
   fees, 66
   Murdock, Rupert and, 169-170
   political contributions by, 280
 MCI Mail, 2, 64-65
 Meeks, Brock N., 9, 147
 Mendel, Gregor, 176
 MendelWeb, 176, 189
 Metalitz, Stephen, 269
   copyrights and, 270-271
   Internet gadgets, 31
   newspaper online service, 129
   NII Advisory Committee, representation on, 277-278
 Microsoft Network, 168-169
 _The Mini Page_, 263
 Mitnick, Kevin, 238, 244
 Money, electronic, 78
 Moriarty, Michael, 82
 Morton, Father Bill, 224-225, 250-252
 Mosaic, 15, 22, 155
   _Raleigh News & Observer_ on, 132
   The Internet Adapter and, 31-32
 Moss, Kate, 90, 94
 Mozilla, Netscape, 44
 MPEG compression, 94-95
 MRI images, 186, 188
 Multi-User Dungeons, 85-86
 Murdock, Rupert, 170
 Music, 86.
   _See also_ Internet Underground Music Archives


 Nader, Ralph, 278
 Nadler, David, 258
 NandOLand, 130
 NandO.Net, 131-135
 _NandO Times_, 165
 National Information Infrastructure, 263-264, 269.
   _See also_ NII Advisory Council
 National Institute of Technical Standards, 235
 National Security Agency, 229-230, 233-234
   authority of, 236
 Negative advertising, 79
 Negroponte, Nicholas, 114
 Neilsen, Lorri, 204, 205-206
 Nelson, Marc, 192
 Nelson, Ted, 155
 _The Net_, 2, 82
 _Netiquette_, 171
 Net Market, 256
 Netscape, 15, 22, 169
   business and, 43-44
   WebSpace with, 42
 Net surfing, 302
 New Century Network, 168
 News Corps, HarperCollins, 170
 Newsgroups, 7-8, 15
 _News & Observer._ _See_ _Raleigh News & Observer_
 Newspapers, 105-109, 121-142
 _Newsweek_, 2
 NewtWatch, 283
 _New York Times_, 108
 Nicely, Thomas, 74
 NII Advisory Council, 276-278
   on Green Paper, 285-286
   political donations by members of, 279-281
 _1984_ (Orwell), 211-212
 Nixon, Richard, 266
 Noonan, Peggy, 119-120
 Nova Scotia Technology Network, 198-199


 O’Connor, Rory, 168
 O’Connor, Sandra Day, 279
 Offit, Avodah, 295, 300, 325
 Oklahoma City bombing, 8
 _Omni_, 110
 Online Bookstore, Rockport, Massachusetts, 151-165
 _On the Road_ (Kerouac), 302
 Opperman, Vance, 276-277, 278, 281, 282, 290
 O’Reilly, Tim, 169
 O’Reilly and Associates, 160, 169
 Orwell, George, 211-212
 _Orwell’s Revenge_, 246
 Oxford, Gerry, 192


 Packwood, Bob, 216
   political contributions to, 280
 _Palo Alto Weekly_, 109
 Parental control, 132, 215
   Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and, 253-254
 Parents Music Resource Center, 92
 Park View Education Centre, 195-207
 Parrella, Bernardo, 213
 Password recovery software, 255
 Patent Office Web site, 270-271
 Pathfinder site, 142, 145
   connect fee for, 149
   planning the, 147
 Patterson, Jeff, 80, 86-87, 90-104
 _PC Magazine_, 109, 114-115
 Pearl Jam, 193
 Peek, Robin, 111-112
 Peightel, Joseph, 178
 Pelster, Helen, 185, 188
 Pelster, Martha, 103, 185
 Pentium chip, 73-76
 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 193
 _People_ magazine, 109
 Pettit, Mark, 57, 63, 64, 65
 _PGP: Pretty Good Privacy_ (Garfinkel), 227, 232
 Phair, Liz, 12
 Pictures, 10
 Pioch, Nicholas, 83-84
 Piracy of music, 99-100
 _Playboy_, 1
 Political activists and PGP, 257
 Pornography. _See_ Sex areas
 Postal Service, 222-223
 Powell, Lewis, 279
 Powers, Julie Ann, 136-138
 Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), 208-211, 224-262
   AIDS activists using, 255
   businesses using, 255-256
   political ideas and, 257
   religious communications, 250-252
   teenagers using, 253-254
 Privacy, 116.
   _See also_ Clipper chip;
   Security of e-mail, 252-253
   Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), 208-211
   Samaritans and, 252-253
 Prodigy, 2, 31, 124, 128-129
   matchmaking on, 295
 Doctrine Publishing Corporation, 110, 152
 Prostitution, 18
   “Brandy’s Babes,” 29-30
 Public key, 226-227
 Public Key Partners, 227


 Quarterman, John, 154, 296
 “Quick Reads,” Time Warner, 171


 Radio on Internet, 81
 Radio Shack, 141
 _Raleigh News & Observer_, 105-106, 120, 121-142, 165-168
   Discoveries column, 136-138
   Lawson execution story, 138-139
   NandO.Net, 132-135
   sports areas, 136
 Random House, 13, 110
 Rathje, William, 39, 40
 Ravensburger, 36
 RealAudio, 81-82, 323-324
 Resnick, Rosalind, 49, 131, 215-216
 Ribicoff, Abraham, 286
 Rice, Donna, 216-217
 Right-O-Way, 69, 72-73
 Rimm, Martin, 218-219
 Riordan, Teresa, 270
 Rivert, Ronald, 226-227, 228
 Roberts, Bert, Jr., 280
 Romance on Internet, 291-325
 Rovner, Sandy, 214
 RSA Data Security, 227, 230
 RSA encryption, 226-227
 RSCPublic Key Partners, 250
 _Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage_ (Rathje), 39


 Sackman, Gleason, 35-36
 Sailor, 178
 Sais, Jim, 271
 Samaritans, 252-253
 Samuelson, Pamela, 274
 _San Jose Mercury News_, 108-109
 Scalia, Antonin, 279
 Scams on Internet, 73
 Schlukbier, George, 128-130, 130, 140, 141
 _Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier_, 22
 Schools, Park View Education Centre, 195-207
 Schwartz, John, 12-13, 117-118
 Scully, John, 277
 Security, 77.
   _See also_ Privacy Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) for, 208-211
 Selverstone, Katy, 64
 Sex areas, 17.
   _See also_ Matchmaking on Internet
   alt.sex.bestiality, 18
   government intervention in, 214
   local-standards principle, 219-220
   on NandO.Net, 132
 Seybold, Jonathan, 108
 Shamir, Adi, 226-227
 Shein, Barry, 155-156
 Siceloff, Bruce, 126
 Siegel, Martha S., 23-24, 54, 116
 Silicon Graphics, 188
 _The Silicon Jungle_, 61-62
 _Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway_
    (Stoll), 1, 6, 16, 106
 Singapore, 212-213
 Sitton, Claude, 126-127
 SLED, 250
 Smith, Richard M., 150
 Smokin’ Joe’s tobacco products, 217
 Snow, A. C., 105, 135
 Snubbites, 3-4, 6
   on WebMuseum, Paris, 83
 _Sound Check_, 100-101
 South Africa’s _Weekly Mail & Guardian_, 109
 Spamming, 23
 Spearman, Walter, 121-122
 Spernow, William, 259
 Spielberg, Steven, 279
 Spitzer, Victor, 185
 _Sports Illustrated_, 109
 Spyglass Enhanced Mosaic, 42
 Stacker, 94
 Stahlman, Mark, 150
 Stakeholders, 283, 290
 Stanford Netnews Filtering Service, 258
 Stanley Kaplan, 29
 Steele, Robert David, 115-117, 255, 260, 261-262
 Stevens, John Paul, 279
 “Still Suck” (Katz), 123
 Stith, Pat, 127
 Stoll, Clifford, 1, 4, 6, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19-20, 83, 106, 112, 174-175,
 Suicidal persons, 10-11
 Sun Microsystems, 158
 _Sunset_ magazine, 146
 SunSite UNC, 140-141
   Internet Underground Music Archives on, 98
 Support groups, 4-12
 _Surfing the Internet_, 3
 Surfing the Net, 302
 SurfWatch, 215
 Sweden, regulation in, 245
 Swidler & Berlin, 271
 Symbols for e-mail, 119


 Tablet-size computers, 151
 Talbott, Stephen L., 3
 Tankersley, Nancy, 17
 Taxpayer Assets Project, 277, 278
 Teachers, 174-175
 Telephone companies, 54
 TeleRead, 21, 22, 162-164, 265-274
   Green Paper and, 275-276
   NII Advisory Council on, 284-285
   profits from, 288-289
 TeleReaders, 150-151
 Telnet, 15
   into Right-O-Way, 69
 Terrorism, 260-262
 _The Terrorist’s Handbook_, 8-9
 Texas Internet Consulting, 296
 The Internet Adapter, 31-32, 76
 Thoreau, Henry David, 22
 Ticer, Mark, 183-184, 194
 Tidbits, 144
 _Time_ magazine, 2, 13, 109, 142-151
   cyberporn article, 218
 Time Warner, 13, 109, 110, 121, 142-151.
   _See also_ Pathfinder site
   “Quick Reads,” 171
 Tobacco advertising, 217
 Treasury Department, 235


 Ugly Mugs, 80, 93
 _ULS Report_, 40-41
 “Umney’s Last Case” (King), 157-158
 United Kingdom, 223-224
   political activists in, 258-259
 UNIX commands, 297
 _U.S. News & World Report_, 146
 Usenet, 122, 127
   censorship of, 134
   FBI collecting postings, 258
   political freedom of, 133-134
   sexual areas of, 132


 Valenti, Jack, 277
 ViaCrypt, 228, 232
 Videotext, 124
 Video transmissions, 82
 _Virtual Love_ (Offit), 295, 300
 Virtual MeetMarket, 293
 VISA numbers, 77
 Visible Human Project, 173-174, 179-195
   ideal candidate for, 182
 VLSI Technology encryption chip, 240


 WAIS Inc., 169
 _Walden_ (Thoreau), 22
 Walkers in Darkness, 4-11
 Walt Disney, 277, 278, 279
 Warren, Jim, 18, 229, 244-245, 273, 287
 _Washington Post_, 122
   avoidance of Internet, 141
 We, Gladys, 297-298
 WebMuseum, Paris, 83
 Web Personals, 293
 WebSpace, 42-43
 The WELL, 6, 147-148
 West Publishing, 20, 25, 277-279, 286
   political contributions by, 281-282
   thwarted on Internet, 287
 White, Byron, 279
 White Rabbit Toys, 27-29, 35-48
 Whitlock, David, 185
 _Windows Magazine_, 285
 Windows 95 operating system, 31
 Winter, Peter, 168
 Winterbotham, Russ, 25
 _Wired_, 147
   Max, T. J. on, 113-114
   Singapore, article on, 212-213
   “Still Suck” (Katz), 123
 Wire tapping, 257-258
 Wirt, Richard, 74
 Wojtowicz, Ian, 144
 Wolfe, Michael, 47
 Women on Internet, 296-298
 World Wide Web, 15
 .nf c
 Xerox, 107


 Yellow Pages, 54
 Yeltsin, Boris, 257


 Zappa, Frank, 92
 Zeeff, Jon, 53-54, 55
 _Zen and the Art of the Internet_, 156
 Zimmermann, Phil, 208-211, 224-230, 232, 238, 256-257, 262, 266
   government harassment of, 244-245
   legal costs for, 248-249


                           Transcriber’s Note

Errors deemed most likely to be the printer’s have been corrected, and
are noted here. The references are to the page and line in the original.
The following issues should be noted, along with the resolutions. FedEx
is referred to three times with the space (e.g. Fed Ex). These have been
removed where it occurs to facilitate text searches.

The quotation at 143.12 (see below) is misprinted, but it is not clear
how. We’ve chosen to retain the opening quote and provide the missing
close. A similar thing happens at 310.14. The sense would dictate that
the quotation continue from ‘really cool chapel’. The added closing
quote is harmless to the sense.

On p. 259, the technical term ‘uuencoding’ is almost certainly meant for
‘unencoding’, which makes no sense in the context. We suspect an
over-zealous but not very technical editor/proofreader.

  6.34     _The Diane Rehm[e] Show_                       Removed.

  13.21    [“]Business on the Net                         Removed.

  44.16    the browser’s technical wizardry[,] was        Removed.

  45.22    it[’]s a social phenomenon.                    Inserted.

  64.19    a little boilerplate from their Dar[e]lene-bot Removed.

  69.1     same services that Fed[ ]Ex could.             Removed.

  71.8     check out Fed[ ]Ex’s service availability      Removed.

  83.36    Within Le WebLouv[r]e>—there, I’ll say it      Inserted.

  94.5     routines of one kind or another are de         Inserted.
           rigue[u]r for

  94.6     the space that the material require[s]         Added.

  95.21    for I[MU/UM]A to give MPEG one of its biggest  Transposed.

  96.17    because you’ll be working.[’]                  Removed.

  113.21   M[u/o]st of the time I don’t know              Replaced.

  123.24   I spent several week[s] talking                Added.

  143.12   its duties to its stockholder[s]               Added.

  149.3    “with advertising it should be in the black    Added.
           within a year.[”]

  152.35   to get special permission to use Fed[ ]Ex.     Removed.

  170.6    just as the fledg[l]ing rockers of IUMA did    Inserted.

  172.8    More than [a ]decade had passed.               Inserted.

  181.11   than on using [the ]them                       Removed.

  222.22   American[s] can educate themselves             Added.

  230.17   the Nation[al] Rifle Association               Added.

  233.34   authenticate their identi[f/t]ies from the     Replaced.

  238.4    by way of moronic exp[e/o]rt controls          Replaced.

  242.23   postings to the Cyp[h]erpunks’ rather public   Inserted.

  244.28   innocent citizens and law-a[b]iding businesses Inserted.

  247.8    millions of younger American[s] who surfed     Added.

  251.9    In the history of Anglican pastoral ca[s/r]e   Replaced.

  257.8    It facilit[i/at]es the flow of ideas           Replaced.

  257.27   used in Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Egypt, and       _sic_:
           [Mali]                                         Somalia?

  259.12   He confused PGP with u[n/u]encoding            Replaced.

  302.27   like the Jack Kerouacs of [the ]’50s           Added.

  310.14   for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.[”]     Added

  315.30   [“]I‘m sure there are some people              Added.

  329.15   _Digit[i]al Media: A Seybold Report_,          Removed.

  334.1    [In of July], 1995, at least, the lead article _sic_: the
                                                          edition of?

                        Sample Chapter heading.


                          Complete Dust Jacket


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