When the internet fails us

Last night I watched the very very very good documentary 9/11: The Falling Man on Newsworld, and it reminded me of my own experience on September 11th.

I had arrived home around 9am and turned on my computer to get some news. I made coffee and when I came back to the computer, CBC.ca was still loading…loading… so I tried CNN.com. It was also loading…loading…

I figured my internet connection was down, and checked my phone messages.

Halfway through the first message I was out the door again.

When I returned home much much much later, my computer was still on and this is what was on the screen:


I’ve heard that some people praised the internet on that day, mostly for instant messaging. But for me, a fan of the internet, it exposed the web for what it really is. A toy. For rich people.

TV is much-maligned in many circles, but when push comes to shove, we all turned on the TV, and kept it on for days.

(By the way, Paul Gorbould wrote a behind-the-scenes account of what happened at CBC.ca that day. Scroll down to “2001: September 11.”)

Purely by coincidence, yesterday I was also online trying to buy tickets for the Toronto International Film Festival. The website didn’t work for hours, telling me cryptically: “send() error 10054.” Finally it allowed me to order, and after I did, this is what was on the screen:


(By the way, I did like they told me and called the box office. Astoundingly, I got a busy signal. I haven’t heard one of those in years. Isn’t Bell a sponsor? Couldn’t they have kicked in some call waiting?)

What good is the internet if it fails us on the day we need it most?

15 comments:

  1. Allan
    Posted September 10, 2006 at 7:09 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Wow is right. Poor person above has done me a great service. I no longer carry the burden of being the author of the most rambling nonsense posted here.
    Good lord, that was a lot of verbiage with no discernible POINT.
    I feel much better. There’s a bigger lunatic out there.
    If poor boy is so intelligent (as he/she strains to be) then why is it so painfully impossible to get to the point succinctly?
    And what purpose did any of the above blabbering accomplish?
    Really, what a ridiculous discussion.

  2. pj
    Posted September 10, 2006 at 9:46 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Wow Monetary, I’d say you got off on a little politic tangent there.. especially when I thought the topic was about the internet failing us. Like a comment earlier in this posting implying that the internet and other technologies are helpful and valuable tools, I’d have to agree. It’s also inherent in any tool or technology that it sometimes breaks down when stressed to capacity. It’s true of internet web servers because that have to serve up a vast quantity of data to multiple people at the same time. Makes sense that you have to wait in line at the grocery store when things get bogged down, but I’d say that we are getting pretty spoiled with the internet because we do get things fast most of time and expect it that all the time. When our TV goes on the fritz we don’t blame broadcasting for it so in a way we should understand the same thing of the internet.
    Speaking of technology as a tool and 9/11, imagine what would have happened on United flight 93 had the passengers not been able to find out what was going down with their cellphones?
    Embrace tools – they are your friends..well most of the time.

  3. a monetarily poor boy
    Posted September 10, 2006 at 3:16 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    These will be my last words too, with thanks to ouimet for permitting me this space. This last clarification is a bit lengthy, sorry.

    Anonymous, in response to your last, let me remind that all diversity stems from a common human unity or origin – if you go back far enough in time, you find that all humans share common ancestors (in fact you don’t have to go back very far to find a common ancestor for most everybody on the planet today), and these shared ancestors are not just genetic but also linguistic. I believe the evidence shows that all human languages or cultures stem from a common origin, from the first human word ever spoken. So let’s begin with the idea that one should not value either diversity or unity over the other, but rather strive to understand how the two are related.

    My question is not whether we should all be peas in pods – i hate mindless conformity as much as you, anon. The question is how the differences that have evolved from our common origin are to be best represented and exchanged. Are they best exchanged by respecting or denigrating our common origin or unity (which I also call a “centre” – as I will explain)? I believe by respecting it.

    Whatever our differences, we have to choose one kind of politics and economics in which our differences are exchanged, and not another kind. We have to make choices about systems and their historical origins, origins that we will share in common, and these choices have cultural consequences – the choices can’t be neutral among or between cultures whatever we wish to believe.

    I suggest we should always ask: what kind of political system, or shared political origins, maximizes our exchange, nothwithstanding all the limits any system must have? What system maximizes our freedom and exchange of differences? and I find, among many other things, that there is often a greater capacity for exchange in national political systems where there is much respect for the common origins on which the exchange itself depends, i.e. respect form some founding national unity or sacred “centre”, rather than in post-national or imperial systems.

    Why do I talk about “the centre”? I am assuming a (Gansian) anthropological hypothesis of how all language, religion and culture emerges as sacred or centralized form. For example, I believe every political representation – that we later might characterize as being on the political left or right – begins as a centre of attention that has some degree of shared sacrality attached to it. All human culture depends on the sacred (which can be a thing or a representation) in order to focus human attention on shared values. All forms of culture assume the basic form of a centre of attention and a desiring periphery.

    Today there are countless centres of attention because today we make each individual sacred, which is a great accomplishment for western culture. But every sacred individual must bring together in her own representations of herself and her ethical or political (also esthetic and religious) goals, a collection of representations she has picked up from her culture and traditions. She discovers herself as a political being in exchanging representations with others. The individual has to make her collection work in exchange with other people. SHe only works if her exchange works. And so, I value this exchange much more highly than many specific forms of representation from the past that are not so easily exchanged today and that I think, happily or not, should be either modified if possible or thrown in the dustbin of history because they work against maximizing reciprocity. There are many represenations that should not be defended in the name of cultural diversity because they actually work against it even though this is counter-intuitive at times.

    For example, it may be in my imagination that the greatest political value is to act like Genghis Khan; but if so, I hope you will disappoint me and instead of making up some humbug about defending our multicultural diversity, you will rather say that our exchange is maximized when we follow the rules of a certain kind of political marketplace and not another. So, you will say “Ghengis, your idea of what should be sacred and central in our political exchange is not as good as mine. I value those forms of the sacred on which individuality depends; you value conformity to the sacred will of Khan. SO, if we follow my good Canadian ideas of a national centre or unity from which our individual diversity truly flows, then we can maximize human reciprocity in our nation. Your idea of the sacred centre just doesn’t work as well. It had its time but now we should either modify it to make it compatible with mine, or if that’s not possible, sadly or gladly, put it to rest.

    Do we truly promote diversity (and not just profess it) if we deny our common dependence on certain forms of sacred national centrality, because we have come to believe these centres are a source of (e.g. “white”. “male”) political conformity or oppression? Very long story short, but I think today we are often wrong about the centres we commonly denigrate as hegemonic or oppressive.

    I think we need a politics where anyone who is capable of maximizing reciprocity can represent his or her idea both of how to identify the common unity in our traditions from which our diversity emerges, and how to renew or re-present such centres of common national sacrality – how can we find new signs around which we can negotiate our individual differences and maximize our exchange? We need to privilege those who can come up with new representations that best attract others, of any shape or stripe, to share in, negotiate, and modify these same representations.

    At present, I feel we have a politics that fears the sacred source of all new representations, a politics that fears the creative potential of ordinary capable people because if someone makes a daring representation they inevitably are implying that they are the first to see something that the rest of us should see and this bothers us because it implies some difference or inequality in the value of our perspectives. We prefer to say that we value equally all perspectives but this is really just another way of saying that we want to control what is said so that new and de-stabilizing representations don’t get heard, unless perhaps with an awful lot of trouble and negative modification that aims to control.

    We prefer management of differences, which implies an ultimate, imperial arbiter, an obscure elite negotiation, rather than a national, majority-ruling, democracy, or a free and open negotiation of differences in the political and economic marketplaces.

    I believe anyone should be able to stand up and say I am the first to have a good idea in which we can all share and we should not be afraid of it and seek to manage and limit the new difference it engenders. Firstness is a good and necessary thing if humanity is to grow and expand the forms of human reciprocity. Today the two nations that most symbolize radical firstness are under widespread attack – Israel and the US. But when we attack their firstness we also devalue our own potential and limit our ability to have a national politics in which anyone, who has the ability and the nerve, can go first and say: here is a new value that all Canadians should be interested in. I put it up for each of you to negotiate with me. I don’t put it up to be managed by a system in which all differences are perceived as a threat to the multicultural balance of perspectives and powers as determined by an elite managerial class or the UN.

    Please forgive my lengthy intrusions on this blog, for if I have my qualms about the CBC, I believe we, as a nation, ultimately have much more important concerns in which CBC people and conservative critics will hopefully be able to negotiate a common purpose in keeping us all together as a free people who rule themselves as best we can.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted September 9, 2006 at 8:50 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    This is surely the strangest discussion in the history of Ouimet’s blog and I would not dream of usurping her agenda here. So I’m going to leave it at that, except to say that I’m not really sure, in practical terms, what this “center” you’re talking about is, what these “values to which we can all aspire” are. Canadians have always been socially, culturally, and politically diverse. They have never had a shared vision of Canada, and they have never agreed on what Canada means. May it always be so. Consensus is boring.

  5. a monetarily poor boy
    Posted September 9, 2006 at 5:37 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Well, I’ve been arguing both sides of the elite question. I criticize “elites” who I think are not the right kind of elite. I am certainly not against an elite who demonstrate true leadership in the expansion of the paradoxically contradictory imperatives of freedom and equality. I like the true aristocratic spirits who best serve democracy, but I suspect we disagree on who they are.

    Now, as to Gans’ qualifications for my description of him – you have to read him and make up your own mind. It’s very true that he is not a mainstream figure in the academy – you can, however, find a Wikipedia article if you are looking for references – and so you must either conclude that he does not deserve to be a mainstream figure, or that the mainstream of academe is resistant to new and good ideas. My experience suggests the latter.

    I would not say Gans frequently references Chomsky. There are some references, yes, and they are critical. The two have quite different understandings of language origins and political ethics.

    And, whatever the intellectual ignorance of the NASCAR crowd – a point on which I would not care to generalize – I would suspect that the majority at the races have values that can be shown to be more compatible with the kinds of “elite” arguments Gans is unfolding, than with those of mainstream left-liberal university professors.

    I have had enough experience with ordinary Americans and with great books, to know that your characterization of the former as hateful, and against book-reading-fairies, is, generally speaking, the slander of a gnostic fantasy ideology, though as you note it’s common enough for everyone – NASCAR and fairy lovers alike – to make fallacious ad hominem arguments and forget our responsibility to common truth.

    In any case, Gans claims his way of thinking is the epitome of respect for and defense of the centre. If he has sympathy with the much-maligned neoconservatives today, it is because today (but perhaps not tomorrow) they best exemplify the values of the centre as he understands it. In any case, I think we need intellectual leaders, elites if you will, defenders of the centre, defenders of values to which all can aspire. That’s a hard idea for many on both left and right to grasp today, and that’s the problem – no one dares represent Canadian values in ways that are respectful of the need for everyone to share in a common political culture if any and everyone are to have any meaningful participation in that poltical cutlure as a self-ruling people. Instead, our “elites” build an empire out of multi-culturalism and political correctness; and while every group gets its place, and its appointed voices, the role of these emperors is all a mystery, veiled in back rooms. The system is not rational in the sense that anyone can aspire to represent it and find him or herself in it. It is rather a system that needs emperors and clients.
    So, today, it’s very tough for ordinary Canadians to represent, as a model for others – green, or purple, religious or secular, gay or not – what our shared centre should look like. And yet it is possible to imagine a nation that sees such a common centre as a guarantee of its expanding freedom, and not a source of oppression, as is now claimed by all the “elites” who are busy deconstrucing the supposedly victimizing centre while dissimulating their own imperial ways of managing the “problem” of centrality.

    So, you say I only criticize the CBC and public funding because I don’t like their content. If they were interviewing Eric Gans and like minds, would I be objecting to their public funding? The truth is, probably not so often. But I hope I would stick to my core beliefs which, believe it or not, really do lead to an argument against state-supported media having a prominent role in the media universe. Gans would say as much in the interview.

    I like some – certainly not the majority – of the Ideas programs. A few years ago, they had one on Rene Girard, who was Gans’ teacher and now something of a friendly rival. I highly recommend it. But I don’t expect any media system will provide all that I want – there will always be losses with whatever gains we make. Anyway, I don’t look to any major media corporation, public or private, to provide me with a great many intellectual fruits. I really do believe we can only find what we need today from humble individuals networked through media like the www, skilled amateurs who have the courage and capability to represent the centre for each other.

    Sorry, I am just too upset by what must be done to justify the idea of a public broadcaster – one must have an “elite” or imperial party line that says this is what we deem to be the consensus of Canadian opinion; this is where an “objective” viewpoint comes from. But I am really less interested in any party lines, liberal or conservative, than in encouraging the free market forms of reciprocity whose sense of “objectivity” and the national consensus about the centre will inevitably be different from any system that always must worry about justifying its privileged position at the centre.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted September 9, 2006 at 1:19 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Fair enough, but I would suggest that a word that brings up 742 Google hits is about as close to non-existent as a word can get. “Dickwad” brings up 116,000.

    Meanwhile, the brilliant Eric Gans doesn’t even merit an entry in the Penguin Dictionary of Sociology, the new Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory, the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, the New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, or in Blackwell Companion to American Thought (and those are just the books within my reach) and, second, his work on language references “middlebrow” Chomsky a great deal, and, third, if Eric Gans is not a member of the “elite” I don’t know who is. Do you think Nascar fans are reading the journal of Generative Anthropology? Do you really think that in a market and profit driven mass media you’re going to encounter a lot of stuff like this:

    “Scapegoating or “emissary victimage” is the defining operation of RenĂ© Girard’™s originary scene. The proto-human group, caught up in the violent chaos of “mimetic crisis,” finds unanimity by directing its aggression against a single, marginal individual”

    You’re not. As for the Internet, well, “Eric Gans” anthropology” brings up less than 1,000 hits. Paris Hilton brings up 76,600,000. There’s popular opinion for you. Gans can align himself with the American right, but for the folks in the Red States who underpin the political success of the
    Republican Party he’s just another of the fancy book-learnin’ fairies who they hate.

    You want to find serious intellectual stuff, you’re not getting it from a market-forces driven media. But I encounter serious, thought-provoking philosophy on CBC radio’s “Ideas” all the time. Your problem isn’t with elites. It’s with elites whose views you don’t approve of. It’s always the same with people like you: the question of whether the CBC should air is really a question of what it airs. I wish people would be honest about that. It’s not about subjecting the CBC to “market forces at all.” If “The Passionate Eye” routinely aired pro-Harper, pro-Bush documentaries the right wouldn’t breathe a word about taxpayer dollars being wasted on an allegedly obsolete broadcaster.

    This should really be in the forum, I think.

  7. a monetarily poor boy
    Posted September 9, 2006 at 11:46 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    If you Google victimary, you will get, at the moment, 742 hits, mostly from academic and intellectual essays and blogs where the concept of a victimary world view is named and critiqued. People have a way of finding new uses of words when the old order doesn’t allow them to say quite what they want. I know this from reading books written by the cultural leaders of our times, inter alia. Here’s an exceprt from Google’s #1 link for “victimary”, an essay from a truly leading thinker, the brilliant Eric Gans, whom the CBC has never heard of, since it is immersed in middlebrow icons like Chomsky.

    I suggested in Chronicle 224 that we are leaving the victimary postmodern era and entering a “post-millennial” era of non-victimary dialogue. What seems more likely is that we are leaving the acute form of the victimary for the chronic, the heroic for the banal. Both formulations refer to the damping of violence through dialogue, but the nuance is crucial, since it distinguishes what amounts to a utopian absence of hostility–and utopias are ever dangerous–from an endemic state of suspicion–the ère du soupçon detected by Nathalie Sarraute some forty-odd years ago.

    If there is a single explanation for GA’™s [Generative Anthropology – the form of thinking Gans has invented] relative obscurity (despite the yearly doubling of our website volume), it is its incompatibility with victimary thinking. Although certain radical modes have subsided, victimary discourse has become so endemic in our intellectual and cultural life that only in such contexts as this [the internet!] is it possible to speak of it with (relative) impunity. I have no desire to give offence to those who gain privilege and power by asserting their own–or their clientele’™s–victimary status. The temptations to do so are too great; in the absence of either the reality check of the natural sciences or the constraint of an authoritarian ideology, the “soft” sector of the academy [and MSM!] is bound to be driven by the “winner take all” principle characteristic of the global marketplace. Contrary to intuition, there is little room for controversy in the soft intellectual world, where victimary discourse is the lingua franca, any deviation from it is discouraged if not punished, and a principled stand against it cannot be recognized as such [heh heh!]. To claim that one simply wishes to treat everyone equally is taken as a defense of “white male” privilege, even in the mouth of a principled black man like UC Regent Ward Connerly.

    Yet this academic discourse is clearly more abject than the human relations that accompany it. In my experience, relations between the races and the sexes in the United States have never been more reciprocal and equitable. Should this not count as proof that victimary discourse facilitates improvement of relations between unequally powerful groups, that legitimizing the expression of resentment is the least violent means of discharging this resentment and engaging the dialogue of reciprocity?

    Here is a hypothesis to focus the mind: Victimary thinking is the post-millennial replacement for utopianism. When we lack a blueprint for changing the world, only resentment can tell us what to change, and among the competing resentments, those with the most collective force are fittest for survival. This explains why, upon the collapse of apocalyptic utopianism, intellectual discourse, far from submitting to the criteria of market-driven rationality, denounces this rationality at every turn as perpetuating “domination,” “hegemony,” “patriarchy,” “exploitation,” “under-representation,” etc. No market success goes unsuspected by this discourse–except its own.

    I’ve been reading that “half the world has never made a phone call” line for years; it’s surely out of date in this cell phone age. Next time you get out into the world you will find in all sorts of places entrepreneurs with phones making calls available to people in all kinds of remote places. But of course it’s true that internet access is still largely the privilege of the “developed” world; but here in a place like Canada, with many public terminals, it is the privilege of most people, yes even wackos who may be learing something about Jew-hating from CBC reports from Lebanon. The CBC however, seems to be home to an “elite” that doesn’t know it isn’t one any more, and whose idea of going online is to read cnn or cbc.com – not very adventuresome stepping out of tv land. Evidently you have yet to discover real gems like the website linked above – go read how the Chronicles of Love and Resentment spoke to me and others on Sept. 11: here.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted September 9, 2006 at 6:47 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Victimary? Is that a word? Microsoft Word doesn’t know it. No big deal there. Let’s see what the 20 volume OED has to say.

    Checking’¦checking’¦checking. Wow. It is a word, but not the way you’re using it. It’s a noun, it refers to a “killer of sacrificial victims”, and it seems to have fallen out of favor after about 1700.

    “For rich people?” In global terms, it’s bang on. Half of the world’s population has never made a telephone call, let alone pissed away their lives clicking around Youtube.

    “A toy?” Not precisely, perhaps, but certainly people do waste an immense amount of time with the Internet’s trivial amusements. Do you know what was on CNN.com’s homepage about an hour before the terrorist attacks began on 9/11? News at Michael Jordan was making a comeback. Shattering stuff. And then I couldn’t touch the site for most of the rest of the day. TV and radio got me through. Meanwhile, it wasn’t even noon yet on 9/11 before the wackos came out of the Internet woodwork (which is where they live) claiming that no Jews had died in the towers and that Bush was the criminal genius behind the whole thing.

    Anyway, I’ve never quite understand why some people rant against the cultural “elite.” On behalf of that “elite”, I sincerely apologize for reading books. Youtube will resume shortly.

  9. a monetarily poor boy
    Posted September 8, 2006 at 11:54 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    A toy for rich people? Oh how victimary of you. All kinds of people can have their voices heard on the internet, if not the poorest of the poor, while on tv only a tiny elite can be heard. Understandably fearful of the resentment their elite position engenders, the elite pretend to be ordinary folks and worthy patrons of the world’s poor and oppressed and so they rant about rich men and their toys. But this dissimulation is dishonest and engenders fantasy ideologies; eventually the victimary “elite” can offer no rational vision of a culture that the majority of ordinary people will sign on to, and so in a sense they fulfill their victimary vision and fail to succeed as elites (i.e. people who are followed)… But as long as they keep trying, the victimary performances are not very liberating for anyone, except for a chosen few who are drafted into the “elite”, and these gestures fool fewer and fewer every day, thanks to the internet.

    Anyway… you are comparing apples and oranges – obviously there are positives and negatives in two very different media and while the financial basis of the MSM is under attack (yeah!), tv and newspapers will be no more replaced in any complete sense than hard-cover books. Time for the CBC/RC (Support the troops and lose your job) to go, however. Journalistic “objectivity” should have to face the test of the free market and not that of an insulated administrative cadre and their party line.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted September 8, 2006 at 2:42 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Anonymous#1–what do blogs have to do with a) TIFF’s inadequate service provider; b) the accessibility of information on the internet on September 11, 2001; 3) the resources allocated to CBC.ca; 4) anything, really, except for your need to slur Ouimet and others like her/him at any available opportunity? If you’re going to comment, at least stick to the subject.

    I will say that I found the internet (via cellphone, no less) quite valuable the day of the east coast blackout. I had no radio at home (battery-powered or otherwise) and no other non-electronic way of getting any kind of dependable information quickly. I can’t say it was a godsend, but at least it was there when I needed it.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted September 8, 2006 at 8:02 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    If the internet really is nothing more than a “toy for rich people” what should we call a person who gleefully embraces that toy -on the company dime, no less- to express opinions that, in the past, would have (justly) been confined to private journals?

    If is, I would suggest, the amateur content of blogs and not the internet that have failed us.

  12. Ouimet
    Posted September 8, 2006 at 6:58 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ivar, I’m the first to admit that I don’t understand the internet.

    And far from being deprecated, I think the internet is perhaps being praised a little too much these days and needs to be taken down a few pegs.

    Here’s what I do know: it doesn’t matter if 10 or 10 million people watch a radio or TV program – all viewers get it the same. But the nature of the internet dictates that a jump from 10 to 10 million will be a problem for nearly any site.

    And if you read the CBC.ca article I link to, you’ll see that solving the problem takes more than just money. The short-term solution was actually cheaper than the one that caused the problem.

    It will probably take more thinking and planning than anything, at least according to the article. And CBC.ca still isn’t out of the woods yet.

    But TIFF not up to task? Couldn’t put it better myself.

  13. ivar v.
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 10:46 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s not the internet that failed you – in both cases you reached the site you wanted to contact. In the case of the filmfest, the problem lies with the TIFF and it’s service provider not being up to task. In the case of cbc.ca on 11/9/01, that was a case of cbc.ca either not having enough bandwidth or server capacity. Both problems could be solved with more money for cbc.ca’s infrastructure and again is not a failing of the internet.
    To attack the internet as the source of failure for your examples indicates either a lack of understanding of the internet or a misguided attempt to shore up morale for a medium that is slowly being deprecated.

  14. Ouimet
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 7:02 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    TJ, you don’t want the kind of buzz I’ve got. Trust me.

  15. TJ
    Posted September 7, 2006 at 4:40 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ouimet – I can get you tickets to a *very* buzzworthy show, you just have to promise to blog about it afterwards.
    Deal?


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