Thomas A. Sattler
How many times have you been in a café, or in
line at the fish market, when you overhear someone saying, „Everyone talks
about communication but no one does anything about it“? Probably never.
And especially not now. We are in an age where it seems as if everyone
is doing something about communication, and a lot of that „something“ is
the everexpanding universe known as the Internet. To call the Internet
a communications revolution is probably an understatement – or poor counting.
It seems to me that there must be a series of tiny revolutions going on
in various fields all the time because of the Internet. I’m a dermatologist,
and since venturing into cyberspace, my practice and my own relation to
the field has been altered permanently.
Through the Web, I am connected to clinics, specialists,
researchers, and ongoing study groups from all over the world, and my access
to them and their work is twenty-fours, 365 days a year. The enormous,
interactive atlas of Dermatology maintained in both German and English
by the University of Erlangen [URL] is an unparalleled resource. And that’s
just one Website!
Early on, my Web explorations were limited. Now I bookmark
anything potentially interesting and then collate and edit the bookmarks
later. I expand my WWW repetoire through regular searches, and supplement
it with work in ftp sites, gophers and more interpersonal exchanges with
colleagues through Dermatology-related mailing lists and IRC chats. But
I didn’t get to this point by myself. I had help, and that’s why I’m in
the front of the book you’re reading now.
Connections is one of the best and most stimulating books on the
cybernetic innovations in communication, because the book is not only about
these experiments in communication, but it is an experiment in communication
itself. I know because I was the test case.
You might say, „you had a personal trainer. That’s
different from just getting the book.“ Yes and no. This book may not come
with Earl Jackson, Jr. enclosed, but nearly. It is a strangely personal,
affective book, especially for one that is basically a technical directory.
Jackson talks to you through the whole book. He tells you stories. He asks
you questions. And he expects you to think about them. You’ll not only
remember the stories but as a result, more fully grasp the computer point
he was making. He also provides a way for you to send him your answer or
to discuss them with him (for details see inside). Earl is a born teacher,
and you’ll get more out of the book if you think of it as a personal tutorial
from the beginning. This was my experience.
A few months ago
I wanted to hire a computer consultant to help me with my new system and
to give me pointers about the World Wide Web thing. Jackson was recommended
and we arranged a meeting at a local cafe. I was sitting there when someone
appeared in the doorway who like an academic with a postmodern edge softened
by a boyish whimsy. If there were going to be a remake of Goodbye, Mr.
Chips directed by Andy Warhol, Jackson would be the a shoe-in for the title
role. Suddenly, the blue-haired headwaiter lit up like Euro-Disney World
and ushered him to my table, the two of them talking a mile a minute about
something very esoteric.
As the waiter went back to waiting, Jackson explained,
without missing a beat. „That’s Seth, one of my star students. I knew he
was going to make a brilliant semiotician when he showed up with metallic
green hair, perfectly matching the 1964 Chevy Impala he had driven to San
Francisco all the way from Georgia!“ (Semiotician? Green Hair? A Chevy?)
I was wondering if I was at the right table.
I gradually discovered I was indeed at the right
table. Jackson proved to be not only a witty conversationalist a kind and
softspoken person, but also a no-nonsense teacher. During one of the early
trouble-shooting sessions, I kept trying to push until he said in a slow
voice that was authoritative as any voice could have been: „Tom, I want
you to keep your hands above your head until further notice.“
I think one of the reasons these sessions were so successful
was that I could see Jackson living and thriving in the electronic world
he was teaching me. And he seems to illustrate some of the typical contradictions
of the Web -colorful yet directed, playful yet serious, anarchic and compassionate.
wish you could see him writing the book. His work space is a little cubbyhole
with a window to one side that he happily points out gives him a view of
the church in which Marilyn Monroe married Joe Dimaggio. He sits typing
with Gus, his bald cat underneath his t-shirt to
keep warm, and Ron, Gus’s hairy little brother spread out on top of the
shirt, keeping Gus company, and Jane, the eldest sharing the chair. Sometimes
Ron decides to visit Gus and crawls in the shirt from the neck. Once Ron
and Gus were fighting with the shirt took a quick escape route out Earl’s
sleeve. And none of this action is evident in the words that Earl continued
to write. The words you’re about to read.
That’s the playful, goofy
side of Earl’s stamina. But there’s another core to it. A couple years
ago, Earl was working hard on an article about
Hiroshima, and kept writing up against the deadline. Finally the editor
gave him an ultimatum: the manuscript had to be at her house at noon, February
14, or it wouldn’t be included in that issue. February 13, Jackson
had 4 1/2 hours of surgery while awake, to put a metal plate in a badly
broken hand. On February 14, he was at the computer typing away with one
hand in a cast from his just below the tips of his fingers virtually to
his shoulder. And Gus and Ron were in their usual places. Then the keys
started slowing down. He was panic stricken that something was going wrong
with the computer. Looking down, he saw blood dripping from the cast onto
the keys. He got a pack of Handiwipes out of the kitchen (cradling Gus
in his shirt so as not to wake him) and continued typing, a type-wipe-type
method until 11:30 when he took the manuscript over to the editor’s house,
handing it to her at 11:55.
I’ll never forget the image of Earl, rocking a bald
cat sleeping beneath his sweatshirt, typing as fast as he could while bleeding
on the keys, writing about Hiroshima against a deadline at high noon. On
This book is filled with Jackson’s whimsy and his unflinching
courage. What other computer book includes offhand comments like, „Frankly,
I find Gaelic harder to spell than Tibetan“?
What other computer book includes email message on facing mortality, from
a student with AIDS?
But most importantly you will find the information
you seek. There are treasure troves of URLS, made more valuable because
of the contexts provided and the strategies or searching and networking
The cybernetic revolutions continue to unfold. We now
have a mechanism for the instant transmittal of information. Anywhere.
Virtually to anyone. And the potentials for the forms and nature of this
information explosion have yet to be realized. The impact on the world,
and the implications of these revolutions have yet to be fully assessed.
Cyberspace has already begun to alter and redesign boundaries we have come
to take for granted. We have already seen expansion of the workplace to
include sites connected only by a telephone wire. We are starting to see
the practice of medicine, traditionally an „in person“ phenomenon, expand.
In dermatology we have experimented with evaluation and treatment of skin
disorders at a distance–any distance. The doctor and patient need not
be on the same continent let alone examination room.
In another domain–academia–the
possibilities for teaching, information
retrieval, and intellectual engagement are endless, many outlined in
this book. Earl/Jackson/Professor Jackson/the author/ has done a superlative
job of taking us for a most delightful journey through this world of electronic
communication–the Internet. He not only takes us though the basics of
internet communication, but goes on to include practical examples (a few
arcane ones, too!), provides valuable Internet resources, and then elaborates
on the expanding horizons in education. The combination of his sense of
humor and attention to detail yields an erudite work, that is also uniquely
enjoyable and accessible.
Thomas A. Sattler, M.D.
Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology
University of California, San Francisco
Detecting the Syllabus
Scott C. Davis’sOther
Like You’re Gone
Freud and Lacan