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Topic #25
Nobody here but us chickens…

There was a period in my life a few years ago when I hated the computer. Hated it. It was around the time that everyone was making a big deal about how great computer animation was, and in an artistic act of stubborn opposition, I resisted the computer as much as I could, arguing about art and pencils and using your hands and what a travesty it would be that nothing would be truly creative anymore because computers could render everything perfect, and wasn't it the subtle imperfections that made the great works of art so… great?

That was right after college, when I was belligerent about nearly everything. I called anyone who so much as touched a computer a geek (or a nerd or a loser&#41…until a couple of years later, when I stumbled upon The Internet. After spending hours upon hours linking from one site to another, I became formally addicted, and finally accepted the computer as a friend, not a foe. I wanted a website. I wanted to be a geek.

So I started reading the first chapter of the O'Reilly HTML book, and slaved over my sad, little Tripod Member Page which was blue and yellow and turquoise and said a whole lot of nothing, but was all coded lovingly by hand, god dammit! At the time, Avery also had a personal web page on Tripod, and one after one particularly trying day in San Francisco, we decided to pool our efforts while at the same time venting our stresses, and do one webpage called Scowl. 

We didn't really have a format in mind when we created Scowl; as a matter of fact, the whole "online journal" phenomenon was unknown to us until someone pointed out that our site could be considered as such due to the dated entries. Since we started Scowl 8 or so months ago, the whole online journal community has grown by leaps and bounds; some of them great, others just pre-teen unicorns and rainbows, but an awful lot of them containing entries about the interesting e-mail that their readers sent them. "Hmph" has always been my attitude on that subject, as we have only received a few e-mails from the readers of our site.

When we started publishing Scowl, we weren't expecting critical acclaim or anything, but we thought that for sure we would be able to bond over shared annoyances with at least a few people. We think it's an entertaining step above a stagnant dime-a-dozen personal page, and cheaper than making copies of what would be a traditional hard-copy zine at Kinko's.

The web-publishing equivalent of the "If a tree falls in the forest" question would have to be "Do you do it for You or do you do it for Them [the readers]?" There are a lot of people who maintain that the only reason that they have a journal on the web is for themselves, which I think is a big, fat lie: why publish it if it's only for you? Why not password-protect it, then, or write in Note Pad or write IN a note pad? If it's in public, you want someone to see it, plain and simple, and  we're no different. 

When Avery came up with the new Topic of the Week idea of inviting people to submit topics or questions for us to write about (there's only so many topics you can come up with before you just start to run dry!&#41, I anticipated us getting zero response. Why should anyone write to us now, when they never have before? And really, when you think about it, why should we expect anyone to? The web medium itself is the epitome of the "I want it now," short-attention-span, useless-information-laden society that we've turned into…who has the time or the energy in 1999 to tell us what to write about?      

Well, OK. We understand. Just remember…no complainin'. (And would it hurt you to pick up a pen once in a while to let us know how you–sorry. Never mind.&#41

Hello… I know you're out there. I can hear you breathing, damnit!

When we started up Scowl, Nu?, I thought that it would be something more than just a journal or an e-zine. I thought it would be the beginning of an online community where like minded barflies and curmudgeons would come to vent and bitch and moan…

… and according to the server logs, we get a good amount of hits. What's more surprising, most of the hits are from return visitors. By the looks of it, at least thirty of you come over to visit at least once a week, and about ten of you come at least once every other day.

Still, I wouldn't know that by the minimal interaction that we ever have with yinz (which is Pennsylvanian for the collective plural tense of y'all&#41. The message boards go relatively untouched… and aside from two or three people that we exchange emails with regularly… we have no idea of who is visiting the site. That's why when we changed the Topic of the Week to a format where we could have some interaction with our regular (and brand spanking new&#41 readers, we hoped to get some responses.

It's not Thursday night and not a single question has been lobbed our way.

Don't get me wrong… I'm not whining here, nor am I planning on closing up shop and heading out to join a militia in Montana. In all reality, I write because I enjoy writing… and I know some people (including family members and friends&#41 read the site in order to keep up with what's going on in my life. On top of that, if I didn't write, I'd have probably seriously crippled a few yuppies by now.

Hmm… maybe I should consider a smack-a-yuppie filled hiatus.

Maybe it's a little spoiled to consider the web to be any different from a traditional publishing media. I mean, is the web that much different from a magazine or a book? Hell, I read five or six magazines a month and I've never written a letter to the editor… so why should I expect to hear from the teeming hordes reading the site?

Perhaps it's because the web is supposed to the new interactive media… something bigger and better than the mainstream publishing media out there. The whole conception of the web was to create academic discourse… now it has just become another commercial medium for companies to hock their wares.

Or maybe it's because in my heart, I look at some of these sites that get hundreds of emails a week and know that Scowl is much better most of the drek out there. I mean, our graphics aren't the best and the layout is in need of a serious revamping… and yes, we should update more often. But I think what we have is pretty damn good… and obviously at least fifty of you do as well.

So the question and answer period is over, kids. Put your pencils down and pass the exams to the front of the row, because from now on… you'll take what we give ya!



… and somewhere in the dark recesses of your soul… you know you like it better that way.

Posted in Topics of the Week (1990s).

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