Shonky Documents: Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams.

This was written in 1995 in response to a news posting I saw. It wasn't really meant as an "idealistic vision" more of a rant, but it seems to have been quoted a lot and a lot of people latched on to some of the issues. In a way, it's a shame a lot more didn't. These days, now most of the prophecies have come true most people won't remember what it was like in these Internet adolescent years - Lucky sods!

Date: Tue, 21 Nov 1995 14:17:33 BST
From: "Michael Lawrie, Systems Manager" ([email protected])
Subject: Field of Dreams.
Newsgroup: demon.local

I don't often post to news, I can't really say that I have sent a serious posting to news for about 4 years, but I thought that since Hicom is about to die, and for me at least, it marks the passing of an era, I may as well send a final word.

I guess I may as well establish some credentials, not that people will take any notice... I am Michael Lawrie, I am an Internet consultant specialising in what is best described as 'policy'. It basically means I sit down and work out how people are to use (and not misuse) available resources. I started using public networks from home in 1982, on a 110 baud acoustic coupler, I started using Prestel and Micronet in about 1984 and then went onto PSS, JANET (The Joint Academic Network, now UKERNA) and then onto the Internet in about 1989. Between 1987 and 1991, before the Internet was opened up in this country, I pretty much controlled most of the "leisure" activities on JANET, the ones I didn't run personally, I would often be invited to oversee - I was good at what I did, anything 'illegal' (this usually meant running on a university site where it wasn't meant to be running) I would have shut down, anything legal I would keep legal - People didn't like me because I did what I did well, and I had this degree of "power" that I guess a lot of people wanted. When Demon opened up the Internet in this country (And it was Demon who opened it up) any power and control I had slowly dwindled. I still ran services like Hicom that provided a lot of people with their access to the Internet and I still had some influence in academic circles, but in the long run, and for the purposes of this text, I am now a "normal user" excepting that I have probably seen a lot more, and been round longer than all but a few people who will read this.

To me, the "Internet" is really made up of a few things. The Official Information Services, which never really have an "opinion" - These are the libraries, the databases - What we'd all class as public utilities. Then there's News, the "Leisure" services (IRC and Muds) and finally, the relatively new World Wide Web, which allows anyone who wants to to put out information to people, give access to files and, tell the world their opinions.

The Global Internet, as a resource for people who aren't 'elite' users (academics, networking processionals, systems people) is young still, it's only been around 3 or 4 years and it's changed a lot in that time. The analogy I like fits in well with the Superhighway analogy. The "pioneers" (of which I guess I am a very late arrival) have created this motor-car thing, that allows people to travel on these roads. The only people taking advantage of these new cars, like in the early days of motoring, are the rich and the people who like new technologies. Like the early motorists, a lot of you are convinced that you own the roads, and you drive around, tooting your horns noisily at anything that seems slower, or less able to control their vehicles than yourselves. Soon, there will be a good distribution mechanism for cheap cars. Soon, there will be more and more roads... Very soon, you new breed of pioneer motorists will be drowned out by families travelling, and people commuting to work. The odd one of you may remain as the BMW driver in the outside lane who insists on flashing his daft little headlights, but I guess that's human nature.

Meanwhile, the rot is really setting in isn't it. Look at IRC, people who were once sane now want their pound of flesh whenever someone annoys them. If someone new came onto a channel in the past and annoyed people, it would be pretty much ignored, folks may kick them off and ban them, but that was about the limit. Now people want to mail their site master, and failing that their domain masters - What on earth has gotten in to you? Do you honestly think for one that the domain masters care what someone says on IRC? And what if the someone is a student and gets thrown out of University because of your (more than likely heated, and overly exaggerated) complaint. Would you be proud of that? Do you like to ruin people's lives because they make mistakes? Is it worth it? If you have genuine complaints use proper channels. If you don't know what the proper channels are, ask someone who does. We don't lynch people any more in the real world, why should we on IRC?

News? I haven't read it for years really. I was a newsmaster for a major site once, I had to, and apart from the antics of groups like alt.flame, most of the groups were at least civilised. Sure there were arguments, sometimes, they got personal but never in my experience did they stoop to the levels that are becoming more and more common every day. I guess I have to refer to the postings between Paul Allen and Paola Kathuria on this group. I like a good gossip, I am well known for it. But this isn't gossip, this is malicious, libelous, uncivilised and primitive warfare, there is no place for it, it is plain rude. No-one gains anything, everyone loses something. I think Paola did well leaving when she did, at least she kept some dignity, unlike some other people. I guess a lot of you will be suprised to hear me effectively defending Paola, but that's life.

Why are you all so confrontational? I wrote an article once about the life cycle of Bulletin Boards and Muds, I put forward the theory that people who have been on BBS or the Net for a short time (the boy racers?) are naturally aggressive to the new arrivals because it reminds them that they used to be like that themselves - I guess there's a school mentality about it, the 2nd and 3rd years think they run the school and bully the first years and the 6th formers just keep out of it. Does it really matter to anyone if someone has a signature bigger than 3 lines? What pleasure do you get out of being rude to someone you don't know and ruining their perceptions of this wonderful technology so early on? If they make a mistake, tell them gently, don't shoot them, remember, we are meant to be civilised!

I am not trying to achieve anything, I am not on a mission, I'll leave that to someone else. I will 'win' in the end anyway, because there will just be too many people around for you all to show how streetwise you are to. Your mates may appreciate the fact that your Ford RS Turbo is tuned to perfection, but frankly, I don't think you'll find the family of 6 in the Renault Espace will give a toss.

For now, the roads and the playgrounds are still yours, enjoy them whilst you can - It's not too nice to see a world you once knew change so dramatically and that will only make some of you behave worse. If this message makes one or two of you think, then I guess it'll have been worth the hour or so it took to type. If it makes you think "What a tosser Lawrie is" then it's no skin off my nose, just don't bother wasting bandwidth and disk space saying so on news, because frankly, I am not interested.


Michael Lawrie: Systems Administrator, Hicom Services. ([email protected])
"Vanish into the void of thy empty Heaven, for thou wert never,
nor shalt thou ever be"

Michael Lawrie's 'Lorry' homepage. Email: [email protected]