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New audio and video applications for the Web arrive daily now;
giddy with Jobsian techno-fervor and greed, their developers all
make the same promises: their wares will revolutionize the way we
communicate. Their wares will help create a more dynamic, more compelling Web...
And in some cases, they actually might.
In more cases, however, many of these tools will simply help us recreate TV. And, really, there's nothing too exciting about that prospect. Why try to top a medium that's already given us 21 Jump Street, Seinfeld, and Cop Rock? TV is the perfect medium for distributing expensive, polished, superficial entertainment; its mix of glossy mediocrities, occasional brilliance, and oddly exhilarating crap makes for a media salad that cannot be topped.
Indeed, when I start thinking about all the shows I've watched over the years--staples like Cheers, goofy pleasures like MacGyver, one-season wonders lost to time like Leg Work--I wonder how it is I ever pull myself away from the Trinitron in my living room. But I do, because other media offer other attractions.
For me, the great initial allure of the Web was its lack of calculation. The costs of producing and distributing content were so negligible--and the time it took to move from production to distribution so compressed--that people put up pages without much thought. It was an unrehearsed, amateurish, carefree medium: nothing much was at stake. This atmosphere resulted in a lot of shoddy, boring pages, of course, but it was a fascinating kind of "boring." People revealed themselves. They weren't trying too hard to be interesting or entertaining, the way they will when you thrust a video camera in their faces at parties.
With hardly any technical tricks available, it was a medium driven by people. The most popular of the first-wave Web sites were the ones that most clearly revealed the charms and eccentricities of the people who created them: Cybergrrl, Justin and his links, David Siegel...
While people continue to create highly personal sites, they seem to draw less attention now than their faux-personal counterparts, sites like SF Blend that basically present manufactured intimacy in the same what that TV has been doing for years. Sure, you can “interact” with the characters of your favorite Web serial, but the lunatic vanguard has been doing that with TV characters for years. While the large-scale facilitation of fake relationships with made-up characters is undoubtedly a noteworthy accomplishment, is it really all this medium can achieve?
Bored surfers may settle for such entertainments, especially when they're technically proficient, but the main quality the Web has--the one that sets it apart from television--is its capacity for putting real people in touch with other real people (which is something different than mere interaction).