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PAUL SCHINDLER: Why does the media get hysterical about the Internet?
JOHN CARROLL: I think there are a number of reasons. They don't understand the Internet. Insofar as they understand the Internet, they understand it as a threat.

First of all, they perceive it as an economic threat ... as another form of information delivery, another form of media. So if you're getting your news off the Internet; you're not getting it from the thing you're selling on the newsstand.

They also perceive it as many-to-many communications, not one-to-many communication. So, their grip, not just on the economics of media, but on the content of media is loosened.

On the best parts of the Net, if you say something that's not true, there's an instant correction, about whether it's not true. The person who says something that is not true, stupidly or willfully is made to feel low and small and stupid as a result of having done that.

The third thing is the media in general is looking for sensation. They have found a ready, seemingly inexhaustible source of sensation, because the Net is just like life. Every aspect of life happens in its virtual sense on the Net.

Since most aspects of life in life, in meatspace, are commonplace; they get boring. You can't do it. But if you transfer it to the Internet, it becomes interesting again, fascinating again. Children reading pornography, not a big deal. Children reading pornography plus the Internet -- major deal! Credit card fraud. No big deal. Credit card fraud plus the Internet -- big deal!

This media formula, life plus buzzword, is not new.

When I was a lad, it was hippies. Hippies plus life equaled news. Whatever the social and mating rituals of people who feel alienated from mainstream society are, are a source of alarm and sensation. Skateboards, inline skating, tattoos, piercing, those are the big four right now.

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SCHINDLER: How did you become cyberaware?
CARROLL: I got there entirely by luck. In 1987, I was tired of working in the office. I became aware I could work at home through the miracle of modems. I told them I wanted to work at home. I had enough clout at the paper that this was OK, provided I kept turning in five columns a week.

At the same time, David Gans told me I had to get on the WELL. It turned out to be a medium that rewarded people who wrote quickly and cleverly. Here was another place you could get interest and attention and online laughs for doing that.

To read more, visit Jon Carroll at The Gate.
There was a time, for three years, during which, as far as I knew, I was the only daily columnist getting ideas off the Net that were not ideas about the Net. I would get stories about politics, music, movies, and books, from reading what people had to say on the WELL. It was a source of smart people who were really different than me -- had different tastes, ideas and ways of looking at things. Entrances into different worlds. I learned about a whole bunch of stuff. It made me seem smarter than, in fact, I was.