The Rhizoid Amanuensis

When I first was thrown up again­st the the inter­net, I was in grad­u­ate school at USC in 1993. Stu­dents were given elec­tron­ic mail accounts, though none of us actu­al­ly used them. I rarely sent nor­mal mail, and I couldn’t under­stand how doing it dig­i­tal­ly would make it any more palat­able. I for­get the par­tic­u­lars, but there was also a way to access an ear­ly ver­sion of the Mosaic browser, but again, I don’t remem­ber much that you could do with it oth­er than access the department’s phone num­bers and office hours. The 300 baud modem I had attached to my Mac Plus didn’t add any juice to the idea.

I’ve nev­er been a futur­ist, because I think nest­ed with­in that idea is a sort of unbri­dled opti­mism, and that’s some­thing I’m more sus­pi­cious of than prone to, but I could dim­ly under­stand the promise smarter peo­ple saw in the dis­sem­i­na­tion of inter­net access. Peo­ple like me, writ­ers, artists, musi­cians, would no longer have to cre­ate in iso­la­tion. We would be able to con­nect with each oth­er ; work could become com­mon to all of us, and each per­son would become an author of every work, a sort of rhi­zoid amanu­en­sis.

I do remem­ber one of the first web­sites I stum­bled across though. It was a col­lec­tion of vorarephil­ia fic­tion and art called some­thing like Swal­lowed by a Whale. I read sev­er­al sto­ries that all cen­tered around the extreme plea­sure of either swal­low­ing some­one whole or being swal­lowed whole by anoth­er. My mem­o­ry is famous­ly spot­ty, so for the­se sto­ries to be still so vivid today indi­cates how deeply they were scarred into my cor­tex. I didn’t real­ize it at the time, but that was already the begin­ning of the end of the promise of the inter­net and the begin­ning of some­thing much more famil­iar and dis­ap­point­ing.

Today, I write alone, in iso­la­tion, some­times by hand, some­times on an old type­writer, or some­times with the wi-fi turned off — a fire­wall between me and the world — and the idea of oth­ers tak­ing my work and turn­ing it into some­thing com­mon to all sounds like a shit­ty smart­phone com­mer­cial. I’m not nos­tal­gic, and I’m not opti­mistic. I am how­ev­er, deter­mined to make what­ev­er is left of the inter­net work for what I want to do. This is the begin­ning.

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