Web Pioneers

It is still hard for me to accept that the Net has a history. It feels like a very new thing. I am on it all the time, but I am still getting used to it. I still find it magical. It has gone very fast for me. I was here early by some standards, and had a sense of its potential, but then it passed me by somewhat. That “book” about Psyberspace is still a dream. Not a dead dream, mind you. The Wayback Machine (which I have linked to before) has a Web Pioneers feature. And yes, it all looks like the past. Pioneer websites.

What attracted me to the pioneer item was stumbling upon (not with the software agent, but by reading my zine linked earlier) an item we had on the old BBS by Bruce Stirling. This is pioneering work I enjoy, and it reads well now 11 years? later. Nice easy style. I think I’ll quote from it often.

Here’s the President of the United States speaking at a library in 1890.

“The boy who greedily devours the vicious tales of imaginary daring and blood-curdling adventure which in these days are far too accessible will have his brain filled with notions of life and standards of manliness which, if they do not make him a menace to peace and good order, will certainly not make him a useful member of society.” Grover Cleveland hit the nail on the head. I feel very strongly, I feel instinctively, I feel passionately that I am one of those nails. Not only did I start out in libraries as that greedy devouring boy, but thanks to mindwarping science fictional yellow-covered literature, I have become a menace to Grover Cleveland’s idea of peace and good order.

Far too accessible, eh Mr President? Too much access. By all means let’s not provide our electronic networks with too much access. That might get dangerous. The networks might rot people’s minds and corrupt their family values. They might create bad taste. Think this electrical network thing is a new problem? Think again. Listen to prominent litterateur James Russell Lowell speaking in 1885. “We diligently inform ourselves and cover the continent with speaking wires…. we are getting buried alive under this avalanche of earthly impertinences… we… are willing to become mere sponges saturated from the stagnant goosepond of village gossip.”

The stagnant goosepond of the global village. Marshall MacLuhan’s stagnant goosepond. Who are the geese in the stagnant pond? Whoever they are, I’m one of them. You’ll find me with the pulp magazines and the bloodcurdling comics and the yellow-covered works of imaginary daring. In the future you’ll find me, or my successors, in the electronic pulps. In the electronic zines, in the fanzines, in the digital genres, the digital underground. In whatever medium it is that really bugs Grover Cleveland. He can’t make up his mind whether I’m the scum from the gutter or the “cultural elite” — but in either case he doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like cyberpunks.

He doesn’t like cyberpunks. That’s not big news to you people I’m sure. But he’s not going to like cyberpunk librarians either. I hope you won’t deceive yourselves on that score.

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