Ionic Column -- April 1997
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a TPC member from 1986. A frequent contributor to the AJ, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
Wide-open closets on the Internet
It was only a matter of time before the teeming masses out there discovered the immense possibilities of the Internet. Some people view it as a way to communicate, others to ram their opinions or sales spiel down your electronic throat. As yet I have had only one cyber-preacher, who prefixed his sermon with the usual "Please excuse me for sending this and I hope I have not offended" message, but these days it looks more like a legal disclaimer than a sincere statement. Perhaps Compuserve does a good job of filtering out this random blizzard of e-mail, although God knows enough weirdness creeps through anyway.
The legions of blowhard salespersons were quick to exploit the Net. I only wonder why so many get rich quick schemes have appeared from nowhere, and I exclude those relating exclusively to making money from the Internet. The latter generally include MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes, some of which turn out to be pyramid schemes on closer examination-cyber-Ponzi, if you will. Some are doubtless genuine opportunities, but how can you tell which is which? Most of them just get electronically shredded on the spot after a quick glance.
And some people are way, way out on the fringe. I will just briefly mention the right-wing radicals and neo-Nazis who communicate via the Internet; this is a topic that the media has seized on, and I have no direct experience of such groups. Once I get ISDN and my Internet provider sorted out I might do a bit more cruising on the Web to look at some of the weirder stuff, but right now I do not have time.
The other aspect of the Net that has grabbed the attention of the media is, shall we say, human relationships. Perhaps I should delete the word "human", if the more bizarre reports are true, but one might argue that certain people prefer to breed within their own species. The Internet allows people virtually complete freedom, and one cannot but wonder at what people will do if they have complete freedom.
Sometimes I find it hard to reconcile the stories of the first hackers at the US universities, who to a man were nerds of the sort that Gary "The Far Side" Larson relentlessly caricatures. Note the phrase "to a man"; computing was a man's game. Or perhaps, a boy's game, since the hackers seemed to be totally asexual.
Not any longer. The likes of PC Magazine and BYTE have pages of ads for sexually-related products and services of all kinds, catering to all categories. And talking of all categories, I never cease to be amazed how England had changed during in my years in Japan. A fresh-faced innocent straight from the garish fleshpots of Kabukicho and Patpong, I was wide-eyed with wonder to discover that British Army language no longer got bleeped out on the TV, and that the formerly prurient high street newsagents carried gay magazines. I cannot say if you get funny looks at the checkout when you plonk down your copy of "Boys Own Magazine for the 1990s" or "Illustrated Weekly Bondage News", or snide remarks from the person behind you in the queue. Please feel free to conduct your own field research and report back.
Perhaps this explains the popularity of cyber-porn. No need to creep into sleazy back-street dives or endure the smirking gaze of the checkout girl. These days you can point your browser at almost all forms of sexual activity known to man in complete privacy. But what is the attraction of spending large amounts of time online, often with a supplementary per-minute charge for adult BBSs and the like, just to get some grainy GIFs?
The nastier side of this is that the Internet reputedly has the most extreme material that one otherwise has to find at considerable risk; unconventional and illegal sex. In theory, one can indulge a taste for visual perversity without encountering the underworld. But the Internet is anything but secure. What happens if your browsing is monitored and listed? Your URL recorded by the site you visited?
The skeleton in the closet
This reminds me of a story about a confidence trickster in the UK. This was back in the days before computers, of course. He used to scan the newspapers for obituaries, selecting people of a suitable age and station in life. He would note the address, and mail them a package of his finest wares, together with a bill and a letter of thanks "for his continued custom". He wondered just what the reaction was, in a place such as a vicarage, when the grieving wife opened the parcel. In almost every case the bill came back, with full payment enclosed, and a letter stating most emphatically that no further orders would be forthcoming. And as he said, it was all the more cost-effective, because the next of kin of the dear departed invariably returned the goods as well, hoping to get rid of this appalling skeleton in the closet for once and for all.
I will continue this topic next month with reference to an e-mail that I received.
Comments, feedback or more information? Contact me at Compuserve 100575,2573. No junk mail, please!
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