Reflections of a ModemJunkie

Culture Shock

I don't really feel like writing right now. What I feel like doing is sitting back in an easy chair and surfing the Web on a giant screen. No keyboard, no supposedly ergonomic desk chair. No reading glasses to squint at the text. Just lying back in the comfy chair and pointing a magic wand across the room.

I did that just the other night. It isn't a fantasy and it isn't out of reach. But to begin this tale, let me go back a few weeks. I was checking out the guest books on a couple of my sites. One of my sites had seven new entries. On closer examination they were all from one e-mail address. The address of a couple I know -- a retired couple of a certain age. A couple which had never owned a computer and, until now, was never likely to own one. And the address was

WEB TV!! WebTV??? Horrors! What is an old modemjunkie like me doing even talking about that toy. Who would want a limited hunk of metal like that? Why not get a real computer and get with the program?

The answer: Lots of people. And they are becoming the program. Just as the Web has drastically evolved in the 3 years since Mosaic first came on the scene, it will continue to change. Although advertising with has become ubiquitous, there is a vast potential audience out there who are afraid of computers and have no interest in sorting out initialization strings and downloading new software ever few weeks. But they have been trained on t.v. to sit back and enjoy. And they will want to see what this is all about.

Many of them would never do this on their own, but one way or another they will get hooked. In my friends' case, their son gave them the WebTV box for a present. Within a few weeks their 19 inch T.V. was replaced by a 32" model. And from looking at my hit record alone, I can tell they are hooked.

We talked about it and they invited me over. "Sure," I said rather condescendingly, "I'll take a look." I really doubted that this could be a worthwhile experience.

But there I was the other night, lying back on a big white sofa, munching snacks and looking up at some of my favorite pages. The beautiful rose filled with snow on one of my pages looked great up there. More to my surprise, my other pages rendered perfectly. The images appeared where I expected them, the colors were great, text was readable, if not really sharp. Zap!! All I had to do was click on the remote and I could move forward or back, up or down. Following links was easy. And it was fast -- with cute but not too obtrusive sound effects and graphics to camouflage waiting time.

Search forms worked, although at first I wondered how I could enter text from the chair. It turns out there are two possibilities. A click pops up an on screen keyboard. Point at the letters and it is possible to type in a primitive fashion. But, my friends were already so hooked that they had bought a standard keyboard (a good old IBM type - remember that metallic click that let you know you had typed something). They had added extension cords long enough to reach that sofa all the way across the room. Click on the wand and zoom! an e-mail from appears. Just type in your message and send it on it's way.

There are some features that are not implemented yet, like frames and the Web TV browser does not like pages that require fixed page widths. If you want to follow the news groups you will have to use an HTML format like DejaNews for now, but WebTV promises new features in the near future. Three is a little slot in the front of the box for upgrades. I haven't looked to see if it takes software or hardware.

[Subsequent to writing this article I have learned that WebTV has added a newsreader and has some frames capability. I am also told the slot is for use with a "Smartcard."]

If they hadn't promised to include frame capability, I would really be pushing it. Nothing could be better for the future of the Web than a vast audience without frames capability. Page developers would have to go back to sound design. But my prejudices are showing, so let me get on with the story.

Is this the way I would want to get online?. Not really -- not most of the time. But for a large segment of the public who are afraid of computers or simply have no interest in them, the Web TV is a welcome tool. We look down our noses at this possible audience at our own peril. And it wouldn't surprise me if many in that audience will find that the Web TV is the Trojan Horse by which computers slip quietly into their every day lives.

And there are sites which work especially well on the giant screen. There are many new "concept" pages which do not require frames or Java which should look great on the large screen. For starters try "Futile" or "Kabbalah" This is the kind of gray, damp, lazy Saturday afternoon on which it would be great to stretch out in that comfy chair with a bowl of chips and a bottle of something and just point a magic wand.

Culture Preservation

The foregoing story is another example of the vast change going on in the culture of the Internet. As I have noted before, a couple of years ago the news groups were full of negative comments about "newbies" destroying the culture. A message with an AOL address on it was sure to get automatic derision regardless of its content. Today that would be foolhardy. But there are aspects of the culture that are worth preserving and fortunately still survive.

Not that long ago a primary aspect of that culture was the concept of sharing. The idea that everything had a price, the idea of commercial sites with passwords and fees was anathema. Well, that is changing, but it also lives on.

The counter service I am using is about to become more expensive so I began to look into ways of analyzing my hits locally. It took some searching but eventually I found Analog2.11, a program in C by Stephen Turner which you can compile in your own web directory. It generates its results by analyzing the access log maintained by your provider and produces its results in HTML. It is very powerful and it remains free. Not just free to evaluate but FREE! To see an example of its output, go to" and take a look. Go to the Analog home page for more information and to download the applicable files. I will give a more detailed discussion of Analog in the near future, after I play with its many configuration options for a while.

And while I am on the subject of the old culture, let me give another example. I was dismayed to discover, just after I registered the great new browser Opera (boy that felt good - - an honest man at last...just like that day, half a dozen years ago when I registered Telix), that Opera does not support gopher. I was surfing weather sites, many of them are in the gopher format and I kept getting error messages asking me to define a gopher proxy. Unfortunately, my ISP, MCSNET, elieves, for good reason, that a good browser should support gopher and doesn't have a proxy available.

I agree with him, but I also recognize that Opera is under tremendous pressure to add new features and at the same time retain its small size. I am also aware that I had been using Opera for some time and hadn't come across the problem. More and more gopher sites are converting to HTML.

So, in desperation I posted a note in a local newsgroup. Within hours I received a note from EnterAct, a competing local ISP. They offered to let my use their gopher proxy. I asked if they mind public thanks for their offer. They informed me they intend to keep it an open server. The old culture still lives.

Copyright 1997 Leonard Grossman

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