WebTV

Or: Why, oh why couldn't they have included a fucking keyboard?

Tolstoy realized that when you're writing with a spoon on concrete, you need to think about your words. WebTV, despite its parallels, does not live up to this standard.

WebTV is a set-top box. One of the first of its kind. You put it atop your television (the placement has significance beyond the merely electrical). You plug it into an electrical outlet. You plug it into the phone jack. You plug your wallet into the business of making Microsoft wealthier than they already regrettably are. Then you sit on your couch, with your remote, and you resume your prior existence as a couch ornament. Periodically you push a button to look at a different web page. WebTV lines them up for you, with links arranged close together. The buttons on the remote, you see, are directional -- and that's all you get. You sit there and click on web pages. Belch occasionally. Call for spousal delivery of beer. Act, in short, like Joe Average American with Internet Access.

Or, sometimes, you go to a forum and annoy people.

WebTV shipped their units without a keyboard. To type on the thing, you get a graphical representation of a QWERTY keyboard and directional buttons on an IR remote. Point at a letter. Click. Point. Click. Sound familiar? It's like watching a Mac user (not, statistically, the speediest of users) in slow motion, and with a lot more of the festering American couch barnacle aspect of things. And because the original point of the Internet was to communicate, WebTV provides email and Usenet news service.

Great authors limited, voluntarily or otherwise, to laborious means of producing works of literature learned to distill the maximum meaning into the smallest words. Great works have been produced by scraping spoons on concrete, one letter at a time. WebTV users, their typing made laborious, produce great works of idiotic content. Great short works, even. More than that and the battery goes dead in the remote, your fingers fall off, and the exercise stops being the couch-potato experience WebTV is marketed as being.

I think it's probably the set-top aspect of this that causes the trouble. People who use a computer have to expend a little bit of thought in what they do, usually. Either they're already trying to work out how to use the machine, and thus are in a somewhat learning-attenuated frame of mind, or they at least have to sit semi-upright in a chair and take some note of their surroundings. Television isn't like that -- TV's a medium that, by and large, reduces your consciousness. TV stops you from thinking. It slows your reactions down -- the ideal TV viewer would have only one reaction, and that's product lust. Whatever sorts of people they were before they sat down, the TV turns them into sluglike consumer-creatures.

And then, they come to Usenet.

I cower and whimper.

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