Blow up the Internet!

As earnest lefties at a panel wring their hands over the fate of the Internet, three weird characters out of "The Matrix" steal the show.

Published July 24, 2000 6:10PM (EDT)

It was to be a genial gathering of lefty media activists and assorted progressives, a friendly free panel held Thursday night in the garden of a San Francisco bar, to consider the "Internet 2010."

"What should it look like? And how can independent and non-profit media and activist organizations join forces to shape and create the Internet that they want?" asked the earnest invitation. Picture the scruffy, graying longhaireds and grizzled idealists that this kind of forum attracts. But who invited the intimidating, inscrutable guy in black sunglasses and a trench coat seated at the end of the panel, who appears to be accompanied by a techie bodyguard?

Some 80 like-minded souls huddle, shivering in the chilly San Francisco summer evening, and listen as panelists like Brooke Biggs, producer of MoJo Wire; Lisa Gray Garcia, editor of Poor Magazine; and Danny Schechter, author of "The More You Watch, The Less You Know" and executive editor of MediaChannel, promote their Web sites and gaze into the future. In turn, the speakers ponder what horrors will happen if "we don't act now" and offer their DIY prescriptions for keeping the corporate overlords and the white-breadization of culture at bay.

But our sunglassed fifth panelist appears utterly unmoved by his peers' vehement calls to action and impassioned protestations. He looks like he's walked straight out of "The Matrix," and identifies himself only as Cybridputo #1 of Los Cybrids -- he's even wearing a nametag that attests to this cryptic identity. Cybridputo #1 is flanked by a tall man with an enormous head of black curly hair -- a wig? -- wearing a black leather coat and dark sunglasses, despite the utter lack of sunlight. He's none other than Cybridputo #2, of course.

Numero Dos is the only person in sight who is not only wearing a tie, but maybe has ever worn a tie. This fact alone makes him highly suspicious. Standing behind #1 throughout all the other speakers' remarks, big-haired Cybridputo frequently mutters into a hands-free microphone and wields, in a vaguely menacing manner, a Bond-like hard-case valise. While other speakers rattle on -- "the mantra of globalization comes down to one thing: Shut up and shop!" -- Cybridputo #2 punctuates their statements with inexplicable, diabolical laughter and theatrical yawns, conspicuously raising his hand to cover his gaping mouth. When Lisa Gray Garcia begins her remarks, Cybridputo #2 uses what looks like a minicassette microphone to scan her body, in a sort of digital frisk. His antics are a pleasant distraction from the task at hand -- actually listening to what the speakers are saying.

At last, it is Cybridputo #1's turn at the mike; he launches into a stagey critique of the Internet as primarily an economic entity, promoting rampant globalization -- an insidious |ber-tool for creating new markets. I've grown petulant, fearing that my #1 Cybridputo will not live up to his too-cool-for-school image and end up droning on just like the rest, but within moments he is exclaiming:

"Los Cybrids proposes that the Internet SHOULD NOT EXIST!"

"--SHOULD NOT EXIST," echoes Cybridputo #2 in an ominous undertone, as he looms behind Cybridputo #1.

What should the Internet look like in 2010? Like a whole lot of NOTHING. And, after the dire predictions of the other speakers -- that the "new" media will, surprise, surprise, end up just like the old corporate media if we don't take action now -- I'm more than ready to agree.

But wait, now, there's another voice from the audience, Cybridputa #3 is stalking the crowd, an enormous head of black curls looming over her head, a blue cellphone glued to her ear, punctuating Cybridputo #1's screed with concurrent overlapping commentary. It's a three-ring circus of Cybrids.

What we really need, Los Cybrids declare, is not a progressive coalition to "bridge the digital divide" or disseminate our liberal ideas on the Net, but a progressive coalition to dismantle the whole damn thing.

"You have 1,500 e-mails," Cybridputo #1 murmurs archly. "You have 15,000 E-MAILS!" Oh, yeah, the Net's not just eating up the globe in its consumerist maw, it's destroying your very own quality of life, and then there's what computers do to the environment and to your personal privacy to consider, too, the Los Cybrids rail in choreographed staccato.

"We need to unite as progressives to really fight globalization!" Cybridputo #1 booms. Stop being "mediated media activists" he exhorts the crowd. Destroy the Net!

The crowd, highly amused, and perhaps a bit stunned, vigorously applauds this explosive piece of performance art that's just erupted in the most deliciously unlikely place of all -- a navel-gazing media panel.

Wrapping things up, panel moderator and KPFA radio host Larry Bensky good-naturedly asks the Cybrids to tell the crowd their Web address.

Cybridputo #3 looks ready to implode. "We don't have a Web site! Get the fuck off the Web!"

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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