DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I’ll try to keep this brief, no more than 1,700 words, but that might be difficult considering the lather I have worked myself into. Two cups of Kona coffee are partly to blame for my frenzy. Two cups would launch anybody into outer space. That is why the Big Island of Hawaii is believed to be an excellent place to launch satellites over the polluted, overtaxed dead bodies of local environmentalists and tax resisters who oppose space projects. I have also heard that a Big Island gang of yahoos called the Crater Heads have taken up snorting Kona coffee crystals when they are not at Volcano National Park inhaling the sulfurous fumes. Whew, way cool, I suppose.
But what really got me going this morning was further evidence that the Internet is not doing what it is supposed to be doing, expanding people’s consciousness. Rather, it is shrinking their brains, and that is especially tragic since I suspect many brains were already severely foreshortened before the Internet became available.
I had just posted ‘Hysterical Woman’, my liberal effort to explain why women have good reasons to behave hysterically, and why men should heed their screams. I think the article is about 750 words in length. I didn’t run a word count, although I suppose I should always do so in this calculating age.
A reader immediately made a comment that my article was too long. He was so kind to advise me that Internet articles should only be 350 words, otherwise people will just pass them by. He didn’t take the time to read my name, misspelling it twice in his comment. And to top it off, his ‘too’ was too short, as he dropped an ‘o’ off his ‘too’ and made it ‘to’, not that I am picky, but I couldn’t help notice it.
I just had to talk to someone about the comment. I disagreed with it, yet I was somewhat worried since my pieces are always more than 750 words, and usually more than 1,000. It just so happened that my friend Valery Valium was at the Coffee Cove where I was churning the “issue” over in my head. I went over and sat down beside her.
“Valery, I’ve got a problem.”
“You mean an issue. What is it?”
“A reader has complained that one of my articles is too long, that it should be only 350 words in length.”
“Talk about the short attention spans on the Internet, but this takes the cake. I mean, why do people even bother to click on my work if they can’t concentrate for the two or three minutes it would take the average 1957 high school graduate to comprehend a thousand words? It’s like people cannot even give you a minute of their time on the Net. So why don’t they just keep on moving instead of leaving a comment beginning with, ‘No offense, but…’ Yeah, right – why say ‘No offense’ if no offense is on the mind in the first place?”
“I know, Dave. You always know they are thinking about offending you when they begin with, ‘No offense.’ The offense invariably comes right after the ‘but.’ But maybe your article was too long for the Net.”
“Damn the Net! It’s the Typhon prophets warned about!”
“What? Typhon?” Valery gave a mock look of alarm. “Sounds like the anti-Christ or something,”
“I mean Typhon, the dragon with the burning heads and millions of long serpent legs, the hurricane, the typhoon, the computer monitors, the wires, the whirling…”
“Dave, calm down. Here, have one of these,” Valery recommended, reaching for her silver pill box.
“No thanks, I’m fine. Val, this so-called reader does not even bother to spell my name right. And of course he doesn’t use his real name, whatever it is. He must be ashamed or just running scared, leaving a ridiculous pseudonym behind, a silly evasive symbol. I’ve seen it all over the place, in snotty, snide little comments on articles and in the forum.”
“He might be a juvenile, maybe SED,” Val interjected. “But no wonder he doesn’t use his real name. Maybe you’d like to belt him one.”
“Nah, I don’t think so. It’s not him really. It’s just that he is so representative of the kind of mice being bred by the Internet culture. I saw his handiwork at the forum the other day. He starts one forum after another, then flits all over the place like a social butterfly trying to regulate everyone else’s behavior. And he writes like he reads, in little discombobulated bits and pieces here and there. He’s a scatterbrain who needs to pull himself together, write a 7,500-word, how-to article on how to organize thoughts. No, it’s not really him. I’ve encountered this many, many times, Valery, and I swear the great dissolution is upon us, the brains are getting shorter and shorter…”
“Don’t complain like that around them, or they won’t bother to click on your work,” Valery advised.
“Somebody had better make a good profession out of complaining about this stuff pretty soon, or the world’s going down the tubes!” I raved. “Short brains, that’s the problem! How do these people get out of school?”
“Dave, chill out, just give them a break, listen to what they say, you might learn something.”
“Learn something from short brains? We worked our brains hard when I was a kid. I already had a college reading level in the fourth grade. Hell, I was reading Dickens at age eight. I wrote my first 5,000-word short story at age ten. We could concentrate back then! But today’s reader is so anxious to click on something else for fear of missing something, all he can do is scan and click, scan and click, clickety, clickety, clack! And what is there but hackneyed hash, so much of it that readers fall asleep if they are not constantly being stimulated by packs of junkyard dogs presided over by bickering trash lords.”
“Dave, you and I know that people who use the Internet a lot are mostly nitwits or people without a life,” Valerie calmly observed, “but just as traders say ‘Don’t fight the tape,’ you must not fight your readers if you are posting on the Net. Amateurs write for themselves, professionals write for their audience. Hey, if you don’t like the Internet audience, then log out. The user is always right, you know, no matter how much you hate him, so follow your reader’s advice and limit your articles to 350 words, or insert 350-word page breaks. Also use plenty of hypertext links in pretty colors for people to click on – make them feel like they are doing something, going places, you know. And stay out of the forums, they are a waste of time, just closets full of moldy mops that need to be rinsed out after being dragged around on the same old floor so long. Anyway, you are dead wrong about the short brains.”
“Because the size of a brain has nothing to do with its capacity.”
“I know, Val, but I was speaking figuratively. Anyway, thanks for letting me vent on you. I just wanted to point out that…”
“Sure you don’t want something to relax before you vomit?” Valery offered a black pill.
“O guess I am spewing forth. Sorry. No, no thanks. I think I’ll have some more coffee, I feel like I’m running down now…”
“That’s better,” Valery smiled broadly. “Dave, lighten up a bit. People do not have short brains in the physical sense.”
“Well, then, they have footballs for brains,” I presented an alternative. “When kids graduate from college, they are handed a football: ‘Here is your brain, use it well,’ they are told.”
“Very funny! A pigskin for a diploma! Still, people can concentrate now just as much as they could thousands of years ago. It’s just that they do not want to concentrate today unless it will get them grades or money.”
“Egads, may Zeus save us from them! No wonder Pythia was shrieking in Miami the other day about the sinister stuff going on in America.”
“Forget Miami. And don’t blame the Internet. It’s just a tool. Just keep writing, keep your stuff short and sweet, and be sure use lots of page breaks.”
“Alright already, I guess I really found a sympathetic shoulder. Say, I just thought of something Herodotus mentioned.”
“Herodotus, an ancient historian. He said that, when Xerxes asked what prize does the victor receive at the Olympian games, he was told the winner is rewarded with a wreath of wild olive. A man named Tritantaechmes then exclaimed: ‘Heavens, Mardonius, what manner of men are these against whom thou has brought us to fight! men who contend not for money, but for honor!’
“I see, I think. What are you writing for?” Valery asked.
“I write to think, to exist.”
“Then why are you complaining? Go ahead and think and exist.”
“But I would also like to break up the cobwebs in people’s minds, set them free.” I said after a long pause.
“Then why are you demanding they conform to your rules? That’s just another cobweb, another trap.”
“But it annoys me that so many people want to be fed with regurgitated pap, to live like termites. Some of them are so lazy they won’t even reach for the breast, for crying out loud.”
“Oh, get off that kick. Just say what you have to say and let them think for themselves,” Valery urged, “then you will be serving your cause. And keep it short.”
“O.K., I’ll take that under consideration when presenting my next tirade. Maybe I’m the guy with short brains. Thanks, Val.”