Sometimes you have to sit back and say, “Damn, this internet thing is cool.” I mean, obviously we all know it’s pretty handy. You can send e-mails on it and steal music and read newspapers for free. But occasionally you get reminded just how cool it is, in the world-shaking, society-defining sense of the word. Like when you go to this site.
Something To Be Desired is what happens when a bunch of people decide it’d be neat to make a TV series, only without the TV part. Instead they put up each episode on their web site, where you can watch it for free. A drama-comedy set around a Pittsburgh radio station, Something To Be Desired is clearly being made with very little money but bucket-loads of talent and enthusiasm, and it’s totally addictive: you download one ten-minute episode and then you have to find out whether Jack and Dierdre are going to sleep together and before you know it two and a half hours have passed, you’ve watched the whole thing, and you can’t believe you have to wait two weeks for the next episode.
Before the internet, I never would have seen this. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have been made, because why spend the time and money producing a series that has very little chance of ever being broadcast? But the web offers creative people a new way to drop their work directly in front of an audience. There’s no need for pitch meetings, for agents, for attending industry events in the vain hope of networking with someone who can get you a meeting with someone at a studio; instead, you just produce something, stick it on your web site, and if it’s any good, ordinary people hear about it and come check it out.
This is the vanguard of a major decentralization of the creative arts industry. As the internet evolves, hundreds of thousands of amateur artists are going to forget about trying to batter down the closed doors in Hollywood, the networks, and the publishing industry. Instead, they’ll just publish their work on the net. Some of it will be brilliant. Much of it will be terrible. But all of it will be given a real chance to find an audience, a chance that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. And, damn, that’s cool.
Clearly I didn’t think this through. I now have to write a six-volume series chock full of appalling characters just to satisfy all the people who wrote me annoying “Um…” e-mails. It was meant to be a deterrent, dammit! Now stop it!
Okay, that’s enough. At first I thought this was kind of funny. Then it wasn’t so funny, then it got irritating, and now it makes me want to hurt someone. I’m talking about the practice of starting a post with “Um.”
This is particularly virulent on technically-inclined mailing lists and forums. It goes like this: a person posts something—a comment, a question, anything—and some other guy thinks they’re wrong. But he doesn’t just come out and say that, oh no. First he says: “Um…” Like this: “Um… Word won’t run on Linux.”
This is meant to convey the impression that the initial post was so mind-numbingly stupid that at first he couldn’t believe it was actually meant in earnest. Then, as he began to phrase his reply, he had to pause to ratchet down his intelligence a few levels so that the drooling simpleton who had uttered such idiocy would be able to comprehend it. This created a pause which had to be filled by “Um.”
Only that’s not what happened at all. If you’re having an actual conversation with someone, sure, you might say “um.” But if you’re typing out a post, what the hell are you doing? Are your fingers operating independently of your brain? No! You’re just being an asshole!
Maybe I could deal with this if it only happened when genuinely brilliant people wrote messages to real morons. After all, geniuses aren’t supposed to have social skills. But it happens all the time. This is the exchange that finally sent me over the edge:
#1: Happily seen that Gentoo has released 2004.2. I’m now using 2004.0 and I wonder whether it is necessary for me to migrate to 2004.2 from 2004.0.
#2: Uh.. if you do an “emerge -uD world” then you too will have all the bonus’s of 2004.2…
#3: Really? I think simply doing this won’t change my /etc/make.profile. It’ll be still point to ../usr/portage/profiles/default-x86-2004.0, isn’t it?
#4: Um, its a symlink… change it to point to the new profile
No! No! Not “Um!” The first guy was right, goddamn it! You can’t “um” him when he’s right! What is this um doing? It’s a totally unjustified um!
This is a cancer of the internet, I tell you, and it’s got to be stopped. Please. I can’t take much more.
(P.S. If anyone writes me an e-mail like “Um… Word can run on Linux if you use an emulator,” I’m going to name a really bad character after them.)