I Miss My Cuneiform Tablet

At first, eight or nine years ago maybe, it felt like there was this great new thing: a new, digital public square where anyone could set up a soapbox, climb up on it, and start talking. A virtual Speakers’ Corner. At the start, the very earliest speakers seemed sometimes to limit their monologues almost exclusively to a discussion of their new circumstances: Hey, look, we’re all standing on soapboxes! Isn’t this awesome! Is this solipsistic? Here’s how I built my soapbox! Am I a paper millionaire? Here’s how you can build yours!

At that point there were just a few thousand soapboxes. Then there were suddenly a million soapboxes, and it seemed like all the speakers were teenagers; then there was a backlash and multiple iterations of the “soapboxes are ruining everything” article; then there were tens of millions of soapboxes, and they had all broken off into specializations, hobbies, and interest groups. (This, I think, was the moment where it felt like there were interesting conversations going on—and at least one conversation that I felt like these pages, in a very marginal way, participated in.)

Then it felt like Speakers’ Corner became professionalized, or corporatized; or overwhelmed by Astroturf-Bob-Roberts-populist, right-wing I-told-you-so/I-confirm-your-worst-prejudices bluster; or the areas that I cared about—the speakers I listened to—either shut down completely, or became more circumspect, or quieted somewhat. The conversation died down a bit.

And around that time, I heard descriptions of what sounded like an enormous party in a warehouse. At first only a few people I knew were there. Then everyone I knew said that they were there. The trouble was, to get into the warehouse party, you had to have a key. So I got a key. And I went into the warehouse. But it didn’t look like a party at all—it looked like a giant empty airplane hangar with millions of tiny little photos lining the walls. I thought: What the hell is all the fuss about? I left. Friends kept asking: Are you at the warehouse party? (And related articles kept popping up on the NYT most-popular lists: Is the warehouse party too big? Is it full of old people? Is it meant for young people? Is it weird to see your parents there? Your kids? Is it creepy that the whole thing is free because everything you say there is being recorded?) I kept replying: I’ve been to the warehouse; what’s the big deal?

Then last weekend at Sweet Sue’s our friend Elizabeth said (to torture this metaphor still further) that yes, the warehouse is empty at first, but you have to touch the photographs on the wall in order for them to come alive.

I think that I am sometimes, but definitely not always, an early adopter of technology. But what I’m interested in is this: researching the technology to death, until I know that it’s actually something I need; and then adopting it; and then using it for years until it’s utterly obsolete, and has been replaced many times over by new technologies, and completely falls apart in my hands. (Case in point: the chipped, cracked, and whiny Titanium Powerbook G4 (the Onyx—667 MHz, 30 GB) that I bought in November 2001, that I’m typing this on now.)

This strategy makes you eventually look like a Luddite, naturally.

But you save money.

Anyway. The four of you who read this page know this already, since I touched your photographs on the wall of the warehouse: years after everyone else got there, I am now at the party.