Clueless Weather

photo: cafe deux magots, st germain

A spring evening in Saint-Germain.

Is the Big Me Necessary?

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 20. March 2000:- Yesterday I ran into a fellow who has just spent ten days down south. "It was," he said, "Like summer!" Last week, I wrote that this might be the case.

I looked out of the window and noted the sun shining brightly on all and their sundries. Saturday night's forecast for Sunday in Paris was identical to Saturday's which was identical as Friday's - mostly cloudy, some rain, temperatures 'normal.'

Fundamentally, I can't do anything about the weather. Neither can the forecasters. What the weather was, it was, and this news is useless for you.

The only thing I can guarantee is that there is weather in Paris, every day, but nobody has a clue about what it is going to be like tomorrow.

The Big Me

I recently read a criticism of writers on the Web who use the personal pronoun 'I.' As in 'I did this, I saw this, I smelt this, I nearly stepped in this - on the sidewalk.' The critic said this was unprofessional and boring.

When I started online reporting, all I had for a guide was 'Wired' magazine articles and some theories dreamed up at MIT's Media Lab. To this I added my own multiple-year publishing experiences.

Before the Web allowed every Jane and Harry to go online with whatever was on their minds, practically all the information we got was either intensely personal or supplied by huge organizations.

A 'huge news organization' puts out a manufactured product which is the result of a team effort to turn 'raw' news - sometimesphoto: editions amphora even based on somebody's personal experience - but usually canned stuff 'off the wire,' and massage this to fit into a presentation formula deemed suitable for mass distribution.

Along the way, everybody involved puts their finger on it and at the end, it is usually pretty de-naturalized - ending up as more or less the 'standard' pablum.

This is fine for newspapers with print runs of 5000 or five million, fine for radio stations - who is listening? - fine for TV - is anybody in the room? The nearest thing we had that addressed your specific interests were 'niche' magazines.

Along comes the Internet and the Web. 'I' am not a huge organization and 'you' are not just any old willy-nilly mass of readers. If I follow the critic, then I should assume the non-identity of an organization; take my distance and keep you at arms-length.

Pure bushwah. You can judge for yourself by simply going to any mega-Web site and deciding how much you 'feel at home' there.

If you have to deal with one of these - take 'Lycos' as an example - where I submit each weeks' new Metropole URLs - these so-called listings are 'free' but I have to accept some email from them.

There is a guy who claims his name is 'Bob' and he is writing to me from Shoebox 23, to tell me about what's new at the Lycos corporation and about fictional office parties 'Bob' has with some other unnamed people, possibly called 'Rob,' or 'Teddi.'

And now with e-commerce exploding, Web sites are popping up like mushrooms growing in the dankest cellar in the world, and 98 percent of them are made by and for faceless hustlers - and not one of them is an 'I' who you can believe in; except it seems safe enough to risk some money on brand-names.

Meanwhile, other 'free' services - free email, host your Web site free - are showing their true colors by taking all of their 'free' hosted Web sites - hand-made by you, Joe and Tina - and peddling them on the stock exchanges. They were not 'free,' except they let you make their content for free.

France's 'Fête de l'Internet,' which I have been mindlessly promoting, has seemed to consist entirely of very deep-pockets commercial Web sites. All the newspapers and magazines that piled onto this promo, seem to be unaware of the existence of what used to be known as Web 'communities.'

Some of these may still exist, but the attraction of mega-money to their hosts seems to be irresistible.

In one case in France, of 200,000 Web sites, only about half of them agreed to 'go public.' They were not given free shares, but were offered a discount. By buying the shares, they would be helping their hosting service to make a huge windfall profit.

I know that my 'I' is ego-centric. I am not particularly happy about this - why should I inflict the way I think on you? It's just that I can't think of a better way to tell you that what 'I' write about happens to me, not a corporation.

When Ernest Hemingway was older, he slipped into using 'we' as if he was tired of being the 'I' he was born with. This is annoying to read because we know that old Ernie wasn't a corporate 'we;' so I am definitely not going to do this.

So our problem is what to do with my 'I.' It is being mentioned here because I have been thinking about it off and on, wondering if I can't think up some way to get it across without constantly using this very short personal pronoun.

So far, I haven't come up with any good, solid ideas. What do you think?

Short of Fingers

Last Friday was 17. March, Saint Patrick's Day, and last week I wrote here that it was my fifth anniversary of doing online reporting from Paris.

One thing I didn't reckon on - my fingers - is that by counting the ones on one hand, the total is five. Fifthphoto: salon, minibook, d anniversary - right? By assigning 1995 to my little finger my thumb turned out to be 1999.

We all know it is no longer the 20th century - according to some people - and it is no longer 1999 - no argument with this at all - so it means that this year's 20th Salon du Livre is my sixth.

Nothing so very special about this except that I can't count the years without using both hands. But while I was anticipating celebrating five years of being online on Friday, it failed to occur to me that Friday would also be the day I started my sixth year in this racket.

This is a daunting thought. Five years is half adecade, or one-twentieth of a century; but as soon as the sixth year starts these nice round numbers turn into uneven fractions. Does it mean I need to plough on for another five years so we can get into the even tens; the Euro-'metric' tens?


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