October 1st, 2002

abstract butterfly

The best things in life are Fritos

I enjoy Nervousness.org, the free website that facilitated various mail art related projects. The site featured two main vehicles, the Land Mail Art Object (LMAO) and the exchange. I did not sign up for many of the LMAOs, because my personal cynicism says that 7 people cannot collaborate in a mass mailing project without somebody forgetting to mail on the works to the other folks. Instead, I focused on one to one exchanging--I have always found the faithlessness of the one less likely than the faithlessness of the many. Nervousness.org was free, and its software was pretty cool to facilitate the mail art stuff. It even had a fair bit of useless whimsy and silliness, which wins it many extra points in my book.

Last weekend it was apparent that nervousness.org was having difficulties of one sort or another--it had an announcement that it was closed to new members. Last night, its server administrator had a curt note (proving once again my theory that server admins probably are not natural public speakers) about the site being too busy and the like, and thus being closed. This morning I read a much nicer note from the fellow kind enough to
run the site all this time, essentially saying the same thing with pleasantries included. I was struck by his comment to the effect of what a novel thing it is to "run" a site after one has lost the zeal to run it.

Here on LJ and on postcardx.net, I see many dismayed comments. Some adopt an angry tone. There is some justice in this, because people had their art projects interrupted in mid-stream.
But in some cases, the reactions seem to display a sense of "entitlement". I find this sense of "entitlement" odd. In the early days of the internet, one marketing idea was that the internet was going to be based on a free content plus advertising
model. All sorts of cool content appeared for free. Soon people got addicted to the idea of never paying for anything on line, other than pornography. For those of us who do not purchase pornography, this gave rise to the pleasing illusion that the internet was free.

There's certainly nothing wrong with taking advantage of free resources. I thank God and google.com every day for free things for which I use the internet. For example, I will never buy a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica, because the rough approximations of fact I get on the net are more than adequate to my roughly approximate needs. But I'm puzzled when people get some mental "ownership" in something cool, but free.

I am a big believer in public libraries, public education, and
public parks. But none of these things are truly "free". All of these things are situations in which a great mass of folks (government, sometimes patrons) agree that some folks will pay for things that others use. I am all for this, but I never confuse it with being something for nothing. A whole infrastructure supports these things.

Yet I see people, often twentysomethings, who express an entitlement to things that they simply have no ownership in.
To me, the best things in life are Fritos, and they cost some number of dimes just short of a dollar for a bag.

I don't want to criticize anyone righteously frustrated about a rather graceless development. But I do wonder if righteous indignation is appropriate. Surely it was inevitable that a free website with complex webmastering needs would someday become defunct. One could figure out how to convert it to a subscription service (in which case people would no doubt post about the gross inequity of having to pay) or one could give a bit more warning about its demise (in which case people could get their content,but still bewail the manifest injustice that somebody else no longer wants to give them a free ride). But free things are like butterflies, they flitter into our lives, and then flitter out.
Sure, the best things in life are free. But that doesn't mean that we are entitled to perpetual free things, just because we enjoy them.

I spent some time last night on ebay.com, where I have sold my book of bad poetry, and am now finally beginning the process of selling my many excess chess books off. I found a really cool site
for sales on ebay by "self-representing artists". All these cool kitchen table artists were selling their works by auction. Many of the prices were pleasingly inexpensive--but nothing was free.
Ebay charges fees to post an ad, and takes a tiny cut of the sales price. The artists charge for their work, and charge for shipping and handling. I like the whole idea--and if ever I get my digicam set up, I will post fingerpainted work on sale, or some such, just for the sheer fun.

You see, mail art and money don't mix, and that's a really good "rule", in a genre which is very resistant to rules. Mail art should be free, on some level. Don't ask me why--maybe honoriartist, who is writing a dissertation on mail art, knows.
But although that is a great rule for mail art, it doesn't mean that every service we use must be free. We need not depend on the kindness of strangers for everything in our lives.

I love that many internet things, including LJ, are free to people. But I know that things have a cost, too, and when I can, I try to pay. But wouldn't it be great, to change the topic, if Doritos were free?
abstract butterfly

Crusing down Bowen Hill

In Gurdon, Arkansas, the one large hill was Bowen Hill. We rode and walked our bicycles up to the top of that hill. Then we glided down, achieving breathtaking speeds. I can still feel the wind in my hair, the gravitational pull of the hurtling bike as it rolled downhill. Bowen Hill was our Everest, our K-1, our Kilimajaro. It had a mythic quality all its own--it was a talisman, a place in our hearts, an idea we all shared. We could say "Bowen Hill" and know we meant some place really high, just as we said "Caney Creek" and evoked all the special essences of the town's creek which drained sewage. When we said "Graveyard Gang", we meant a mythical band of older kids, who, on Halloween night, grabbed trick or treaters, undressed them, and tied them with rope to the tombstones in the Gurdon Cemetary. The words were so evocative--they all had mythic proportions. Today during my lunchtime pizza I read a book by an art critic named Kospit or some such, in which he labored mightily to develop a theme along the lines of "what is decadent art?". I read a long passage, filled with allusions and distinctions, but none of his elaborate constructs seemed remotely as evocative as the simple phrase "Bowen Hill". I was much wiser when I was a child, and all my myths were childish myths. I am far older, and far less wise, now that words must have rational meanings, and do not come with the images already imbued.