Networks as Provinces of the Commonwealth of Letters

29 Apr 1998 11:53

If, as Leibniz has prophesied, libraries one day become cities, there will still be dark and dismal streets and alleyways as there are now.
---Lichtenberg, Aphorisms J 179
People on computer networks are, largely, writing and reading: that is to say, they're devoting large chunks of their time to the witten word, they've become literary people, and as such it's not surprising that they show many of the traits common to the literary. What are flame-wars but the polemics and feuds which writers have indulged in from time immemorial? The contrast between people's net-personae and their flesh-personae can be extreme (for instance, people who pretend to be of the opposite sex), but writers are also notorious for the contrast between their works and their persons, and plenty of romance novels get written by men under female pseudonyms. (I don't think anyone has been so completely swallowed by their net-persona yet as François-Marie Arouet was swallowed by Voltaire, but give us time.) --- Frankly I think this idea is much more helpful in making sense of what people on the Net are doing than almost everything I've seen on the notion of "cyberculture", though I admit it offends my sense of cultural snobbery to regard the regulars in as a literary coterie.