The Green Room Where Every Surfer Wants To Be: Net practice for the chattering classes

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We interrupt this impeachment to bring you state-of-the-union coverage, begins the home page of Salon, the most famous literary journal on the web. Other subjects under discussion include: Clinton's bid for a legacy beyond Monica (there's no getting away from them in cyberspace); an essay bizarrely entitled: "Mothers who think: `Why can't my girly-girl daughter be as tough as me?' "; and the sequel to Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty. At this early stage, one could be forgiven for assuming that this is the usual mish-mash of chit-chat and pontification that most net journals provide, and which has left the discriminating surfer feeling somewhat jaded. Certainly, the dizzying diversity of the issues raised on first entry into the site - cultural, social, and downright silly - bodes ill. How can the editorial content of Salon achieve excellence if it spreads itself so thin?

But then, perhaps, I should be reading Newsweek, the lifestyle sections of broadsheets, and the TLS to get my specialist views on the events, social ailments and litterature de nos jours. Perhaps too many late nights spent hunched over my terminal have made me unable to see the wood for the trees. Perhaps, in fact what I should be asking is, why is the respected print journalist and TV pundit Christopher Hitchens logging on to Salon every other day to have his unadulterated say?

Because, right now, on the net, a service called DejaNews can search every on-line discussion group to track down what any one person has said on any given subject in the history of the net. A handy tool, indeed, for research students, hagiographers and the like, and, besides, what a marvellous way to keep track of your bons mots. The immediacy of seeing your reflex mental reactions translated into globally available, digitally received text is irresistible, as is the impulse to share your every half- baked thought. No lead times from the filing of your copy to seeing it in print, no nosy-parker editor messing up your work with a red pen. This is Oprah-style, let-it-all-hang-out baring of the soul for the 24/7 opinion- former. In other words, Salon offers freedom from temporal and editorial constraints. So, while Arianna Huffington comments on Clinton's State of the Union speech, Salon's daily cocktail hour of on-line chat allows surfers to air their own reactions to his performance. But back to Hitch: last month, he exercised himself with "Clinton's Star Wars sequel: The president pays off the military by funding a notorious boondoggle". Clinton- weary, I turned to an archived offering, a complex and witty diversion on his journo-in-arms and "barking Tory pamphleteer", Paul "Spanker" Johnson. This is not the piece of bile I had expected; it is a thoroughly researched analysis of the hypocrisy of British right-wing spankees and their family- values political posturing. From Clinton's wayward penis to Paul Johnson's raw bottom, the entire gamut of socio-cultural experience is up for grabs on Salon.