education and research

Sometimes you say something that turns out to be so profound in its stupidity that you never actually live it down; it just keeps coming back like a bad virus.

I’m the king of saying stuff like that.  

But it’s not just me.

One time while at WSAM, we booked Jello Biafra to come deliver a spoken word performance at the University of Hartford.  It was the “main event” in our “Day of Decency;” a statewide anti-censorship event that we spearheaded in Connecticut.  The day was filled with cool stuff – lots of PSAs recorded by artists at various labels (John S. Hall actually recorded his with a guitar and vocals: “Censorship is lame/Censorship is lame/We hate censorship/it’s a very stupid game.”).

When Biafra rolled into the Lincoln Theater at U-Ha, he was alone (surprisingly), and after he checked out the venue and did a quick soundcheck, he told us that he was feeling kind of grubby and would like a shave.  So he asked if any of us had an electric razor he could borrow.

We brought him back to our apartment, because Walt used an electric razor.  We asked Walt to fork it over, and, in his awe, he hands it to Biafra and says “Umm – it’s a Norelco.”  That’s the only thing he could think to say to this guy who was, in our 1990, an icon at WSAM for his work with Dead Kennedys, Lard, the Alternative Tentacles label, and his spoken word work.

Anyway, I digress, which is my way of making it very clear that I’m not the only guy in town with a proclivity towards saying stupid things.

We had, at this point, joined the growing throng of people signing up with America Online.  AOL had not yet opened its gates to the greater Internet, but I had some experience with Usenet and the University of Hartford VAX, through which I occasionally conducted whatever research was available on the net in the late 80s.  I loved the idea that students could interact with one another online, share research, and participate in the educational process, using this awesome electronic tool, spewing forth data at twelve hundred bits per second.  

So thrilled was I, in fact, that I invested some of Dromedary’s money in a 2400-baud modem, mainly so I could play Slingo online (Rad’s father was one of the inventors of Slingo, so we sort of had a vested interest).

Anyway, about this time, some forward-thinking companies began creating websites for themselves.  Car companies, mostly, and you could go onto Toyota.com and, using a simple inbound form, request a brochure be mailed to you.  It was awesome.  Request it online, and you’d have a brochure in your hands as soon as two weeks later – no need to go to the dealership.

/Sarcasm off

The whole thing pissed me off, actually, between Al Gore sputtering about the “information superhighway” and companies beginning to put “http://www.mycompanyname.com” in their TV commercials, I hated what I saw as Corporate America co-opting a non-profit resource.

One night we were watching TV, and Rich said “I think it’s really cool that the car companies have websites.”

I looked at him for a second, and spewed forth this profound bit of wisdom:

“The Internet is for education and research!”

Rich looked at me and laughed.  Hysterically, as if he had seen the future already.  Remember, this is the guy who built his zine in Hypercard, in late 1993.

This dazzlingly stupid statement dogged me throughout the 90s, as we embraced technology more and more.  But the day I uttered it, it sparked an argument that was a classic one, where everything Rich said turned out to be prophetic, and everything I said turned out to be wrong.

Certainly wasn’t the first time, nor was it the last.

Rich envisioned a day that looked oddly like today, when every company had a website and most people preferred their business communications to be via email.  The FAX machine, a relatively new invention, would quickly become obsolete, as people transferred large documents, brochures, and even bought things online.  The 4MB of RAM in my computer – the maximum you could buy with a decent-sized budget – wouldn’t be enough.  And my 10MB hard drive would barely be large enough to store my operating system.  Which was, at the time, System 7 for Macintosh – a world-beater of an OS that had no rival (and choked the shit out of my computer to the point where I had to finally uninstall it).

In my world, you walked into a store and spoke with a human being, purchased something at a cash register, and walked out with it in your hands.  Nobody would buy something sight unseen, and trust that it would just come.

“What about the Sears catalog?” Rich asked.  “People buy from catalogs all the time.”

I had no answer, of course.  So I reiterated again, “Education and research.  It’s like saying that you’ll start to hear commercial radio stations broadcasting at 89.1 FM.  The government won’t let it happen.  The whole backbone of the system wasn’t built so that companies could steal it and use it for their own sales – it’s there for the military, and for education.”

He laughed again.

~ by Al on April 14, 2009.

One Response to “education and research”

  1. I hope you saved some of Jello’s shavings. You might be able to clone him. We need a few more that think like him.

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