My online home is The WELL. It was one of the first online communities, formed long before the World Wide Web and the Internet made communication instantaneous and broadband. it’s just words – no pictures, no movies, no animated emoticons. Everyone is there under his or her own name, so we are not plagued with the vicious drive-by character assassination that plagues so many public conversations.
The WELL (originally an acronym for “Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link”) was created by the Whole Earth Review people and NETI, vendors of the conferencing software upon which it stood. I went there in 1985 to start a Deadhead community that survives to this day, but I quickly went “over the wall” and became part of many other groups that gather there. I co-founded the media conference, where media professionals and consumers of media converse knowledgeably about a great number of subjects. It’s a sort of collective blog, full of URLs and excerpts and expert testimony and passionate opinions. I am exposed to a lot more news and analysis through the media conference than I would if I were venturing out on my own into the vast cloud of information. It’s that great human information filter that people like Howard Rheingold posited many years ago.
Many of my deepest friendships are with people I met in the WELL, and the WELL is how we stay in touch despite problems of time and distance. In certain intimate, private spaces, relationships are forged and maintained that provide counsel, support, relief, storytelling, and other vital forms of contact. People in trouble get the material and spiritual support they need to get through it; people trying to change their lives get advice, contacts, and encouragement. I met my wife through WELL-mediated events (but not “in an online chat room” or any such bullshit).
Communities in the WELL have provided tremendous support to people I know who are suffering from illness, career upheaval, personal tragedy, etc. When my wife, Rita Hurault, was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma (since completed, and she has been cancer-free for more than a year), our online neighbors contributed in countless ways, both material and spiritual, to her healing. And we do what we can for others who are suffering now.
One of the truly amazing people I know in the WELL is Carol Adair, who describes herself as “a remedial English teacher whose brain explodes with words, with a lifetime of yellow notebooks, filled with words.” And what words!
So all day yesterday, I was thinking about Joan Didion’s remark, “You
are obligated to do things you think are futile. It’s like living.” It
fit for some reason, with this conversation and I wanted to see where it went.
But Didion’s words got swept into a river birch by this from Nabokov.
(He’s writing about Gogol’s – pronounced ‘gaw-gol, apparently – short story, “The Overcoat”)
Nabokov writes, “It gives one the sensation of something ludicrous and at the same time stellar, lurking constantly around the corner – and one likes to recall that the difference between the comic side of things, and their cosmic side, depends upon one sibilant.”
My brain exploded at that sibilant. There’s a mild joke and then ……
Ssssss The machines stop and your child is dead. Sssss. A letter is
pushed under the door. Ssssss. Your partner takes a breath at the
message on the phone. Sssss The screen door slams against your love. Sasss. A beautiful, beloved child sucks on a crack pipe. Ssssss. the fourth wall collapses. There you are, naked, with some audience roaring at your surprise. One sibilant is just exactly the sound of a wind we are just learning to hear.
This is the sort of gem one encounters in the WELL, where real people
converse in a genuine manner about things that matter. it is a blessing to be in such company.
I asked Carol for permission to post her words here, because they
deserve to be read by as many people as possible and the original
audience was limited to a couple dozen friends.