Bold knaves thrive without one grain of sense,
But good men starve for want of impudence.
I guess this requires some explanation, especially that use of "I" in the current sentence and what follows. We don't usually speak in the first person singular here at EGR World HQ, but you see this was originally written for another publication and saying "we" all the time would have confused the crap out of those other readers. So I changed it. As it turned out, we (i.e., RageBoy® and myself) decided to publish this here instead of there for reasons too complex to go into. Actually, we don't quite understand them ourselves. And no, it didn't get rejected. In fact, the editor loved it. It was just that he loved it so much we figured it might be worth something, so we got jealous and snatched it back. Make sense?
We didn't think so.
So this is... hell, we don't know what this is. From all the mail we've been getting lately, though, we're sure you'll have a theory. Just don't tell us it's too mild mannered. We already know that. But where else were we going to put it? Isn't wonderful to realize that your mailbox has become our personal trash basket?
And oh yeah by the way? This is all true.
Just about four years ago -- roughly three centuries by current web tally -- I was brewing up a business with the unmelodious moniker of "Mecklerweb." Now long since forgotten, my plans at the time were first broached in the March '94 issue of Fortune along with news of what the magazine was then touting as the latest "killer app" -- something called a web browser from a redhot startup named Mosaic, soon to be re-christened Netscape.
Mecklerweb was an early web commerce offering and, hard as it may be to grasp today, there was nothing else like it on the Internet block back then. Except, that is, for Global Network Navigator from O'Reilly & Associates. In contrast to GNN, I was targeting Fortune-1000 companies and often made arrogant, disparaging remarks about GNN's collection of nascent webling wannabees. "If that's e-commerce, we might as well all hang up our sneakers and go home," I told the press. And the press listened, because I'd gotten some fairly credible businesses to lend their support -- and names -- to the initiative: Edelman Public Relations, Ogilvy & Mather, Dun & Bradstreet, EDS, Digital Equipment and about 50 others.
I must have talked to half the marketing veeps in the bloody world that summer; the phones were ringing off the hook; the fax machines never quit; email came in daily by the megabyte. Andy Wahrhol be damned -- it sure seemed like more than 15 minutes!
I lost some friends by dissing GNN. All's fair etc., etc., but I felt bad about it afterwards. I have nothing but respect for O'Reilly -- they still put out the best books on computing you can find anywhere. As things transpired, though, they didn't need my sympathy. GNN is also now defunct, but it easily outlasted Mecklerweb, which, after we brought up the server to expectant fanfare in pubs like Forbes, The Economist and The New York Times, lasted precisely eight business days.
What went wrong? Well, after Alan Meckler and I got done slugging it out in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, Ad Age and couple other rags, I signed papers agreeing not to spill the beans. Which I won't (again), though it's no big mystery what went down. Here's some cheap advice: if anyone ever labels you a "visionary," look for the nearest exit.
I should have known. The previous year, I'd joined a "major technical publisher" to launch a full-bore glossy newsstand-worthy Internet magazine. By the time I'd relocated from Boulder to Long Island (never do this!), it had become a six-page newsletter, and by five months after its inception, history. This was 1993 and the people employing my work-for-hire vision decided I needed better glasses. The net was just a flash in the pan. References were made to CB radio. Except for the arrows in the back, it's so nice to be right in retrospect.
Later, in the couple years following the Meckler meltdown, I worked in rapid succession for two Fortune 50 companies -- and got to watch, up-close-and-personal, as they squandered hundreds of millions on hugely misguided and wondrously mismanaged Internet crapshots. As Everett Dirsken once remarked: "...pretty soon you're talking about real money."
Who Gives a Flying Fig?
You could say I've had a ringside seat at some of the most spectacular crash-and-burn jobs on the commercial Internet. You could also entertain the uncharitable surmise that I might be somehow held responsible. However, as Nixon said in a slightly different context: "it would be wrong." Through all these well-documented disasters, I'd been preaching things like "communities of interest" (may I burn in hell), a new form of corporate participation in online discourse (yada, yada), and a respect for online audiences that had never exactly been the hallmark of your average advertising-based mass medium.
Mine was a deep and historically well-grounded argument: artfully articulate, craftily cogent -- and roughly as compelling as slow-drying paint. Nobody really gave a crap. Moreover, what I gradually began to realize, painfully shedding years of naive belief that corporations could not possibly be as stupid as they looked, was that they were in fact precisely that: congenitally perplexed; terminally bewildered; lost somewhere out there on the Big Highway of Life, afraid to ask directions.
Now, most people would demand solid proof of such a boldfaced claim. OK, got a browser handy? Good, then fire it up and
take a look around!
Sure, there's some really great stuff on the web, but it's not coming from any corporation. It's (sometimes) coming from smart people who just happen, at the moment, to be getting paid by one. If the distinction appears to reduce to "mere semantics" (a phrase that has become the last refuge of the truest scoundrels), then, as many a veteran net-head can still be heard to say: you just don't get it.
But what is this "it" These People talk about? Why can't they describe it better? Why can't they be logical, precise? Maybe it's because they're tongue-tied with frustration, exasperated beyond all measure by companies that haven't the least clue who they are. Perhaps because they long ago despaired of a corporate conversation involving actual sentient beings.
The archetype of what passes for communication with The Corporation is the twenty-question telephone market survey: "I'm sorry, ma'am, but there's no space on my form to enter your comments about how the software 'ate your novel'..." Or being fobbed off onto a dead-end dialtone by some brain damaged 30-level phone menu after holding half an hour on the verge of homicidal apoplexy: "If you'd like to make a call..."
In the present era of Hyper-Advanced Interactive Net-Centric Bogosity, that's as formal a definition as you're ever likely to see of Just Not Getting It. Logic has become irrelevant, argument a waste of breath. At least that was my deeply considered analysis -- and I wasn't just some easily irritated low-life consumer. No, I was on the freaking inside!
You Have the Right to Remain Silent...
I soon found out that a not inconsequential side effect of being on the inside was that you didn't get to say anything that might show up in the Journal or the Times unless you first ran it past a bloated cadre of lobotomized PR hamsters. And whatever you had to say going in would come out the other end as: "Our products are world-class and our mission is to take the preeminent share position in this market." Translation: "We have no fucking idea what we're doing and will probably terminate the entire division as soon as we figure out who's running it."
Clearly, this was not acceptable. I would rather have eaten a ground glass sandwich than get quoted saying anything even marginally resembling what my handlers would have liked to see in print. To justify my keep -- and I figured they were getting a pretty good deal, even at the obscenely inflated salaries these outfits paid me -- I told them what I really thought: You are morons! You are doomed! You should never have children.
Here's a transcript of my entire job interview at one Very Large American Corporation, which for obvious reasons shall remain nameless:
Guy Running Internet Division: Lookit, Chris, we're puttin together this here online SuperMall. Whad'a'ya think?
Me: I gotta tell you, I think it sucks.
G.R.I.D.: (reacting with stunned surprise) Well... how much do you want and when can you start?
That was possibly only honest human being I ever met in this whole godforsaken industry. He paid me more money than I've ever seen, cashed out early himself, and is now sailing around the world and playing a lot of golf. To say the project failed is like saying the Titanic ran into some ice cubes.
Gee. Nothing seemed to be working out. Worse, I couldn't write, as anything conveying the remotest hint of truth was embargoed by default, and this was giving me bigtime withdrawal symptoms. What could I do? Well, hell, what else? I'd start a zine! I knew that nobody in any position of authority in these bureaucracy-hobbled firms would ever be caught dead actually cruising the web, so I told myself it'd probably be safe to publish there. I'm not independently wealthy or anything, so if I got nailed for this, there went the paycheck. It was a big gamble, with a quick trip to the poorhouse guaranteed if I played it wrong. Happily for me, everything worked out A-OK. Just as I'd assumed, the web was apparently off-limits to the slavishly self-regulating mentality of the multinational mind police. Whew!
When Thermodynamics Just Isn't Enough
So I called the zine Entropy Gradient Reversals -- the title fair warning in itself -- and since May Day 1996, it's been pumping out an irreverent stream of over-the-top gonzo effluvia as insurance against my ever again accepting employment in a so-called Fortune-class company.
In the agonizingly slow process of aggregating an audience bottom-up, without benefit of a mega-dollar-java-animated-web-banner-advertising budget, and depending solely on its readership's goodwill and word-of-mouth peer review to attract new subscribers, here are some of the editorial mandates to which the publication has hewed religiously:
- Assume that anyone who disagrees is a patent imbecile.
- Insult readers at every opportunity; impugn their motives; question their cognitive reach.
- Use profanity with licentious abandon.
- Use arcane vocabulary demanding recourse to out-of-print editions of unabridged dictionaries.
- Make pompous offhand allusions to literary works no one has ever read.
- Include interviews with fictitious media "personalities," farm animals and B-movie monsters.
- Encourage loyal subscribers to unsubscribe "to make room for others."
- Publish lurid personal confessions, often entailing wanton sex and the use of illegal pharmaceuticals.
- Drop gratuitous equal-opportunity racial, religious and gender slurs.
- Brutally mock potential sponsors.
- Threaten to hand over subscribers' personal information to spammers.
- Demand payment from readers for no apparent reason, then abruptly change tack and announce: "We wouldn't take your stinking money if you paid us!"
- Make endless lists about which no one in their right mind could reasonably be presumed to give a rat's ass.
- ...and so on; you catch the general drift.
Or perhaps you don't. But either way, what did all this bombastic rant-and-raillery set out to accomplish in the first place? What could it possibly have hoped to prove?
What EGR is fundamentally all about is... like, well, uh... you know... it's actually real complex. Plus, as it's dedicated to never being rational, or even particularly sane, it hasn't ever bothered to explain itself. It's kind of a market test though. Yeah, that's it! An ongoing search, of sorts, for evidence of terrestrial intelligence. While it's far too early to announce any definitive results, EGR has recently picked up certain faint signals that could not possibly have been produced by the random keyboarding of corporate androids. Needless to say, we're all very excited by these latest findings.
Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time
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Entropy Gradient Reversals CopyLeft Christopher Locke email@example.com http://www.rageboy.com
"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon Back to EGR HomePage
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