Being online is like being alive, but better, in that you can discard and eliminate the nothingness in mediocre thoughts and provide a “greatest hits” version of everyday speech.
This speech, edited down to within an inch of existence, is often funny, and, unlike our everyday speech, worth being heard. What had been a permanently pockmarked teen with a permanent squint, prepubescent moustache, an overabundance of earwax, distressed, disheveled and dressed in too-big shoes with untied laces, is now clipped and trimmed, scrubbed and massaged up and down, blemish-free, wrinkle-free, dandruff-free, calm, content and productive, left with only endearing flaws and quirks and charm to spare.
Because of references to the recent and remote past, to the specific and usually insignificant details of which life is made – the same details that give novels and films an authentic feel – if you walk in on an instant-message conversation, you need no exposition or establishing shots. You’re right there. You understand what is being said, and often enough it’s funny. As in the film or novel, these details make ordinary folk interesting in a similar way, confirm their existence and allow others to know that they are really real.
Every message is a unique creation, with things taken here and there from the whole, rearranged to create something entirely new. These new creations, ripped from their original context and stripped of their original meaning, achieve a new and higher meaning. They seem like they had always been just so. They make sense and mean somewhat more than they had – like poetry. The wittiest of these messages, like the best poetry, are capable of, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us.”
Like the cut-ups popularized by William S. Burroughs, internet messages are often composed of the skimming of broad interests. Seeing so many pictures and phrases and words that, collectively, create new connections between previously unconnected images and ideas, consequently expands one’s vision (to paraphrase Burroughs).
By unknowingly lifting and combining fragments from unknown sources, or taking snippets and snatchets of phrases and things you thought you saw but didn’t, you awaken within yourself new and better thoughts that are now your own. We could call it a “synergy of ironies” arising from a day’s casual glancing. This synergy, of the previously unconnected, produces the common and constant “Magnolia”-type coincidences that feel preordained. (As a well-said, though unlikely, explanation, Burroughs said, “Perhaps events are pre-written and pre-recorded,” and when you cut through the lethargy of custom, “the future leaks out.”)
Once the library-dwellers, the silent and semi-autistic, the real-life failures turned online all-stars have developed a secret, safe confidence, they can apply their internet wit to person-to-person, social interactions.
You can amaze and astound with your appropriation of other peoples’ national cliches, such as “tip your waitress,” an Australian equivalent to the comically lame comedian’s “I’ll be here all night” (bah-da-boom!), or enjoy a righteous hoot and get your jollies, or cock a snook at an utter coont – like the Bogans (the streetkids-by-choice on the Central Library stairs and along the MAX line at the Saturday Market).
But as offline friends multiply, and spontaneous wit runs dry, you can talk about clever comments when out with friends (when conversation lags) or save witticisms and cleverisms for use online where they can be permanently recorded, savored and enjoyed, generally forgotten, and occasionally half-remembered.
Online, we can all change from pockmarked teen to someone charming and endearingly flawed, as the anonymous fellow above did. Or, perhaps more accurately, you can change from being a piglet alone in his pen (let’s call him “Pigg E. Smalls”), unkempt, unclothed and unshorn (he also had an unattractive moustache), quietly dancing the Macarena in his own excrement, into the smooth and suave-like creature that takes over the dog’s house (through charm maneuvers, no doubt), redecorates it, wears a two-way-mirror monocle, stands upright decked in the finest of various accoutrements, dresses in a velvet-red bathrobe and sea-green plastic sandals, and puffs fragrant bubbles from a Mastro Beraldi pipe. This new Pigg E. Smalls, with the best features of both the Heff and the Dude, has – nay, exudes – the type of cool that could popularize mountain-unicycling as an extreme sport.
Steve Urkel underwent a similar transformation in a few hilarious episodes of “Family Matters,” as you’ll recall, when he changed his name to “Stefan.” And like the piglet’s pen or the Winslow residence, the internet is a place where the meek can inherit a personality.