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There haven't been many movies I've rushed to see in the theaters since I got a VCR. Hollywood's greatest fear when it debuted almost 20 years ago has, at least in my case, come to pass. The nearest cineplex is a 45-minute drive and it's not worth the hassle when every gas station and bait shop has a video department.
I've never been a movie fanatic but this change has made me appreciate some movies in ways I didn't before. Special effects can't carry a movie in my living room. Yet Independence Day was still a lot of fun because the characters were more captivating than the monolith over the White House. When a movie crawls inside your heart like The Godfather does it doesn't matter how big the screen is.
You can probably come up with your own list of movies that would be great even if you watched them on a PalmPilot. But I'll bet that running through them is a connection to other people that suspends disbelief. It's not just movies. This same magic is found in great books, music, paintings-you can make a case that it is the definition of art.
That's why the Internet is so confusing-and troubling. Here we have the greatest forum for human expression ever invented and yet it is only a medium as Groucho Marx once described the medium of television: "So called because it is neither rare nor well done." In the six months I've been online I've spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours seeing and meeting people from around the world and I can't think of five things worthy of more than a passing thought. Web content is sometimes informative or passably entertaining. I never feel like I wasted my time but I'm never sure what I used it for.
Part of the problem is the anonymity of the web. In real life you could never be as honest or as deceptive as you can be online. The extremes can give cyberlife a soap opera quality. The possibility for pen-pal relationships is neutered by the soundbite quality of writing in chat rooms and electronic communities. Combine these and the open forum becomes a barrier to discovering anything about others, or about yourself through their experiences.
Technology is a problem, too. Not because the bandwidth isn't big enough or Netscape and Microsoft can't get along. It is a problem because creators on the web put their technology ahead of what they have to say. Instead of designing sentences around subject and predicate they are engineered to prop up hyperlinks. The future, with it's fat access pipes and blazing processor speeds, will allow net content to match film or television. But that's no excuse for what we have now. Anyone who has seen a good multimedia presentation knows you don't have to put text, sound and pictures together simultaneously to create a single expression of thought. The potential is in our hands if we want it.
And we should. Without the interactivity of human beings the Internet becomes a science fair project-a showcase of technology for it's own sake. It seems inevitable that the web will become an indispensable part of our lives. But there is also the possibility it could be this decade's equivalent of goldfish swallowing or Nehru jackets if we can't come up with a sustainable answer for this question:
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