We had our bi-weekly gaming session this Sunday; a few friends come over to play one or another board/card game….in this case an awesome little number called Zombies!!!, in which you and your fellow adventurers are stuck in a zombie-infested city and each player must either find the way to the helipad and escape the city or else kill 25 zombies to win the game. Many opportunities for screwing over your fellow players, which fits quite well into both the philosophy and playing style of several of our more cold-blooded members…..assholes. 😉
Anywho, we were all in top form this morning, fueled as we were by Shawn’s lopsided idea of a brunch menu: five or six boxes of various radioactive sugar cereals. (Everyone was duly impressed/repelled, with the exception of Matt, who won’t eat the stuff on a bet, and Shannon, whose response as near as I recall ran something like, “Yeah, so what, I have a box of Corn Pops in the kitchen cupboard at home.”) We were all a little high from the sugar, or perhaps the artifical coloring, and cracking jokes left and right. A respectable chunk of the humor in this crowd consists of dredging up catch phrases from countless books, comics, movies, TV shows and even live comedy performances and inserting them in a timely manner into the running banter. Hudson from the movie Aliens yelling “Game Over, man!“, for instance, or Homer Simpson blurting fretfully, “I probably shouldn’t have eaten that packet of powdered gravy I found in the parking lot!”, or even a childhood Bill Cosby listening to The Chicken Heart That Ate New York City on the radio suspense program Lights Out screaming, “He’ll never find me through the smoke and fire and Jell-O!” This is by no means the extent of our humor–we are all funny, intelligent people (and attractive too, purrrrrrrr), not to mention loudmouths, so we’re all capable of salting our conversations with truly original material–but the quotes form other sources tend to add a little extra spice to the mix. Never hurts to go with a proven winner.
What I kept noticing as we threaded our individual paths through the wraith-choked streets of the city was that a whole class of humorous references and sound-bites was eluding me, and that these were coming almost exclusively from the coterie of players who were also avid players of World Of Warcraft. The references were not, I should add, WoW-specific. Though there are doubtless jillions of catch-phrases and bon mots specific to the realm of this game, the three key WoWsters (Matt, Shannon and Patrick) are socially-minded creatures who would never intentionally alienate the rest of the group by launching into an extended exclusively Warcraft-related laff fest. No, as I listened, polite but blank, to the unfamiliar witticisms, it seemed to me that the real shortcoming here was not in my knowledge of World of Warcraft, but instead in my comparatively low exposure to Net culture.
This would seem to some of my friends and particularly my family to be a ludicrous assertion. Among many of the latter, I am commonly known as the Tech Guy, which to many of them would necessitate the corollary that I am also the Internet Guy. After all, I am the one who plays the officious email jerk, blandly responding to incoming questions/warnings about gang initiations, virus alerts, online petitions regarding prospective email taxation systems, etc with a link to the appropriate Snopes article dismissing said electronic missive as bullshit, and scolding people for USING ALL CAPS IN THEIR EMAIL BECAUSE THEY’RE TOO LAZY TO WORK OUT THE PROPER GRAMMAR FOR THE WRITTEN PAGE. I regularly read Slashdot, Macslash, xlr8yourmac, Fark and half a dozen other sites to keep abreast of recent developments in news, technical innovation, pop culture and humor. But that sort of behavior does not bear any resemblance to the herculean act of remaining patched into the vast, varied realm of Internet news, culture and–perhaps most difficult of all–humor.
Net humor, and the waxing and waning popularity of any given instance of same, is not merely vast and varied; it is positively metastatic. It waxes and wanes, grows and mutates according to no pattern whatsoever. No one can predict what the body intellect of the Internet will find amusing and worthy of further dissemination, nor which of the inevitable spinoffs, apes, counterfeits and copycats will enjoy similar favor. Many a hopeful and hubristic advertiser has tried to spark the interest of the Infobahn with some viral Internet marketing campaign based on a projection of what surfers out there will like and pass on to others, with varying degrees of success. Trends pass through the membrane of Net consciousness like buckwheat through a goose, and riding this four-dimensional tsunami of data is more than any but the most die-hard of Internet-based life form can handle with any grace or aplomb.
Hence the tie to World of Warcraft. No, I’m not saying that every participant in WoW is a lifeless wonder, a pathetic Web trawler straining content from the ether like a baleen whale straining krill from the ocean. My point is more that a vast network of hard-core Netizens like WoW acts as a natural concentrator of pop Web content, filtering and amplifying the colossal and undifferentiated well of words, sounds, pictures and video for the consumption of the entire community. This effect can be seen in other online forums besides MMORPGs: message boards, chat rooms, anywhere where a large group of Net-savvy computer users regularly gather to exchange information can act as a mediator/repeater for this sort of stuff.
My real point for ruminating on this subject matter is not to identify and evaluate the sources or nodes of popular Web content. The main purpose of this post is to ask the question: does it in fact matter that I am not nearly as intrinsically linked with the ebb and flow of Net culture as I otherwise might be? Does not being so make me a worse Netizen? Tech Guy? Human being?
In my Internet salad days, I was pretty tuned in. Fungi Perfecti got on the Web in 1995, and had our own domain name in 1996. We were early adopters in this field, and that made me want to absorb as much of the neonatal Internet culture as I could. It was new, it was way, way different, and it was–for the moment–pretty exclusive. But after a while the whole exercise began to chafe. After you had received the same well-worn email joke from a dozen people, or told the twentieth well-meaning neophyte to stop sending you the latest bogus PBS petition, which was in fact just a rehashing of the last bogus PBS petition, after you had answered the twentieth email from a family member, friend or co-worker asking if this or that Net rumor was true–as though the search engine had yet to be invented, as though said person had not in fact used a search engine at least twenty times that day to look something else up, but for some reason did not think it worth his/her (okay, his) time to do so in this instance when
(s)he could instead drop me an email and demand that I spoon feed the information directly to them–the allure of Internet culture started to fade.
And the geometric expansion of the infosphere only makes constantly updating one’s personal content database that much more problematic. Not only do you have to struggle constantly with the volume of humorous hyperlinks thrombosing your inbox; you also have to manage the volume and quantity of stuff you let back out. How many times in oh, say, the last five years must some poor n00b have stumbled across the now-famous (and by Net standards, practically paleolithic) Flash animation “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” and forwarded it to three dozen people in his address book, only to be shot down by one or more antisocial respondents for having passed around re-re-recycled crap? In a medium where trends have a half-life of days or weeks, everything old is new again, and a lot of what is old and busted to you is teh new hawtness for many others, and vice versa.
So my desire to dip my cup into the fast-moving river of Net culture has waned a bit in the years since I first logged on. This is, on its face, just fine with me. Like my tastes in music, movies, recreation and just about everything else, my taste and tendencies in Net culture have started to atrophy as I have gotten old (my father is even now spray-painting the screen of his iMac with his morning coffee at my use of the term “old”). Like many of these other arenas of personal taste, the problem isn’t really that I don’t like anything new so much as it is that I don’t have the time to find much that is new that I like. There’s just too much to see, hear, read and experience to just dive in and soak it up; not if I also want to be paid for services I render unto my employer. So stanching the flow of Net culture past my eyes and between my ears is, in a very real sense, an act of self-preservation. It also fits well with my ever-growing sense of myself as a curmudgeon.
But on another level, such a development speaks ill of me, or at least my perceived future as a Tech Guy. Like it or not, I am the (untrained, self-taught, totally inadequate) Information Technology Officer for my company. Until cyber-Ronin David rode his horse (okay, Vanagon) up to our castle gate one day, I was the first line of defense for Fungi Perfecti’s corporate network….hang on, have to shudder…..hhhhhuuUUUUBLHUBLHUBLHUBLHHhhhhh….and may once again be the first line of defense some day in the future. In addition, I do happen to run a Web server out of my home, which means haveing to be entirely too familiar with the latest news on Windows exploits, botnet attacks, router vulnerabilities, et-oh-my-God-cetera. So while I may consider it acceptable to lag behind in one area of Net culture, it is extremely important that I maintain at least a decent awareness and depth of knowledge in another. And to be frank, I’m not sure I know where the boundaries between the two seemingly disparate arenas may lie. If I don’t know why people are yelling “Chuck Norris!” in a chat room, does that mean I will also miss the discussion about the latest backdoor exploit for the D-Link DFL series firewalls, either because I am not in the right place at the right time or because the nomenclature for describing same has shifted underneath me without my knowledge? How lame, in other words, is too lame for my own good?
Shit, you didn’t come here for answers, did you? Move along, Buddy, nothing to see here…. 😀