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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Brother, Can You Spare a Hyperlink?

I HAD TO run a few errands downtown, but I hesitated to go.

What if I ran into bloggers?

Ever since the total, irretrievable collapse of the Internet in a chaos of viruses, worms, spam, terrorism and busts by the FBI anti-porn squad, that archaic species of human had become a bigger street menace than mimes, Jehovah's Witnesses, or panhandlers ever were.

Still, I had some banking business that had to be conducted in person, and I couldn't put it off much longer. And I hated feeling like a prisoner in my own house, living in fear of the depradations of this class of homeless attention-grabbers.

So I donned a windbreaker against the January mists, hopped a trolley car, and eventually arrived in the vicinity of the Transamerica Pyramid.

Ex-bloggers were everywhere in this high-foot-traffic neighborhood. As the capital of Silicon Valley, San Francisco had drawn members of the obsolescent tribe from all across the nation, to bolster the native population. In just the space of a few blocks, I saw Wonkette, Arianna Huffington, Mickey Kaus, Kathryn Cramer, both Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Andrew Sullivan, Tom Spurgeon, John Scalzi, Matt Drudge, and a dozen lookalike Slashdot habitués. All these decripit wretches were besieging and buttonholing any poor passerby who made the mistake of offering them the slightest sympathetic look or body language. Most of the victims were tourists, naturally.

Making no such beckoning mistake myself, I pushed on in a frosty bubble of noli me tangere toward my destination.

I had almost gained the security of the lobby of my bank when my luck ran out, and I was accosted with no easy means of escape by a wild-eyed figure.

Backed into an embrasure by the advancing apparition who had been cleverly lying in wait for prey, I was startled to recognize—beneath the grime, elf-locked hair, tattered clothing, and unkempt beard—a man I had known from his earlier life.

The street-blogger who had me trapped was none other than Cory Doctorow, once an award-winning sf novelist and one of the four titans behind the once-ultra-popular blog Boing-Boing.

The recognition was plainly one way. Doctorow's crazed eyes betrayed no familiarity with my face. I was only another potential flesh-and-blood "hit" for his "site."

Doctorow carried a mud-splattered messenger's satchel over one shoulder. From this bag he now removed an old-fashioned wirebound spiral notebook and pen. He made a tick mark on paper, recording my "visit." Then he launched into his spiel.

"Welcome to a directory of wonderful things, my friend! Get ready to be amazed, thrilled and astounded! I'm going to show you stuff you never believed existed, stuff that will brighten your life, enhance your senses and enlighten your consciousness! For instance—"

Doctorow reached into his satchel and withdrew a square of bristol board on which was pasted a page cut from a magazine.

"Check this out! The Sony Xbox 490! Not only plays CDs, Blu-ray DVDs, vinyl 45s and View-Master cardboard discs, but also comes with a pet-washing attachment!"

I tried to let the mad blogger down gently as my eyes furtively sought an escape route.

"I know all about it, thanks. I read about it in last month's Wired magazine. I believe that's where you clipped your image from."

Doctorow deflated visibly, but was unwilling to give up. "Okay, but I bet you haven't seen this!" He displayed another flashcard, to which was taped a campy old Polaroid photo of some average people wearing 1970s fashions. "Over in the Tenderloin, there's a whole store full of groovy junk like this!"

I shifted rightward, but Doctorow blocked me, his face eager for approval.

"Yes, yes," I said, casting about for a handy cop to help extricate me, "I've been there. It's called The Meme Decade, right?"

My refusal to be impressed and astonished was the final straw for Doctorow, and he collapsed into my arms, weeping. My banking errand receded in importance as I sought to do my human duty and console this poor wreck of a fellow.

Patting his back, I said, "There, there, Cory, surely you didn't expect anyone to be truly astonished by this old ragbag assortment of clippings and ephemera. It's not like the old days, when you could effortlessly ride the bleeding digital edge of culture, shining your spotlight on weird niches before anyone else could get there."

Doctorow gulped down his tears and said, "I know, I know, this realworld trip is absolutely lame. So slow and clunky. Nothing to click on, no links. We never knew how good we had it when the Internet was still alive!"

"Well now, I know nothing can replace the Internet, but culture goes on. There's still magazines and other media. With desktop publishing and print-on-demand—"

Docotrow pushed out of my brotherly embrace, angry now. "Dead trees! You expect me to migrate backward to dead trees! Do you have any idea how painful that would be? To wait actual hours for things to print! To carry objects to the Post Office! To wait days or even weeks for a response from readers! How can I be satisified with that, after the instant feedback loops of the web!"

"You'll just have to face facts, Cory. You bloggers were addicts. The medium was almost as important to you as the content. The technological glitz, the bells and whistles—I know it was hard to kick it all cold turkey. But if your content is strong, you can make the transition. Things will just be a little different. But look what Bruce Sterling and the cyberpunks accomplished, without the Internet. After all, even Boing Boing started back then as a fanzine—"

"I was fourteen years old in 1985! I never even saw a paper copy of Cheap Truth! That's prehistoric! I can't go back! It's pure torture! It's unfair! It sucks! The human wreckage from the Internet collapse is beyond calculation. Xeni, Mark, David, my good buddies—they're all swilling this excellent mutant agave tequila or radioactive Chernobyl vodka just to blunt the pain."

I had lost patience with Doctorow's lament. It's true that the belle epoque had ended for him and his kind. But life went on. So, sidestepping his lackluster attempts to retain my interest, I made ready to go. But I tried to bolster his spirits one last time.

"Don't forget, Cory, you've still got your fiction. That was always printed and distributed the old-fashioned way. At least in part."

Doctorow brightened minimally. "You're right. Listen, can I interest you in a Creative Commons download of my latest novel?"

Digging into his satchel one last time, he pulled out a sheaf of loose pages and thrust them at me. I took them and sighed.

"Manuscript, Cory, it's called a manuscript."

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