The anoraks fight back

Janet Street-Porter's outburst against the Internet has spawned a furious response from the `techno-nerds' themselves. We print some of their online outpourings

"Every decade needs some kind of blotting paper to soak up the socially challenged. In the past it has been things like designer drugs, religious cults and colonic irrigation. The Seventies gave us the Moonies, the Eighties aura-cleansing and rebirthing. Now the Nineties have spawned the mega-cult of all time, the ultimate tool to keep nerds off the street - the Internet."

That was Janet Street-Porter, former head of L!ve TV, writing in the Times last Tuesday. The article was companion to a Channel 4 Without Walls programme called "J'accuse: technonerds". The Today programme on Radio 4 devoted a slot on two successive days to the fuss it caused. And it got the "techno-nerds", writing in the Usenet area of the Internet a little stirred up. Here are some of their thoughts.

Before the programme

>Of course the deep irony here is that all us confirmed Internet dweebs will be watching The X-Files on Sky One when this programme is being broadcast.

After the programme

>The saddest thing is the sight of a person whose career is in such disarray that they have to latch on to the hype associated with the Internet. Esther Rantzen's rude-shaped vegetables probably have more "Street cred".

>I must admit I was spitting at the end of this programme. Janet used a bizarre two-pronged argument, namely:

1) "People who spend all their lives in virtual reality are sad no-hopers who can't communicate with real people." OK, Janet, dodgy argument, but I'll hang with you for a bit longer.

2) "The Internet is so crap, it can't even deliver proper VR, so people who use it must be doubly sad." Whoa, hold on there, Janet. I don't ever remember saying that the Internet was the information superhighway - a wonderful cyber-village that we would spend the rest of our lives in. I just thought it was a really neat and useful business tool (with admittedly a second-rate entertainment value). I think it was the journalists, the trendy media science lecturers and all the other associated riders of the Information Super-hype-way that built it up to this. Don't blame the Net, blame the media.

I am not a techno-nerd, I am a free man. Get off my case, Janet.

PS. Did anyone actually ever try watching L!ve TV? Ouch ...

>I watched the first 15 minutes. Wish I hadn't.

>I wonder whether Ms JSP may have a marginal axe to grind concerning technology? In the documentary about the start-up of L!ve TV, she was fixated by technology - technology thatdidn't deliver and, if the doc' is to be believed, helped lead to her demise ...

>A pity, because she's a bright woman really.

>And very successful at hiding it ...

>I don't think she was pretending to be an intelligent woman. J'Accuse is a slot for people to rant mindlessly in and she'd have looked very out of place making any sense.

My wife, who considers herself to be a Net-widow, thought that JSP made a complete hash of the programme. She disagreed with almost everything the woman said.

>What Janet doesn't appreciate is that the gallery-visiting, mountaineering, snowboarding public are us, the "sads" who drivel on about those subjects on uk.rec.whatever. For the majority the Internet is just a tool to make sure we do what we like in real life ...

>To me the most telling statement to emanate from JSP's brew was "the ultimate status symbol is a fountain pen, easy will never be chic". This seemed to me to typify a kind of Eighties cynicism that denigrated everything that wasn't expensive, exclusive and downright contrary. I bet Janet uses a common old Bic when her fancy scribing instrument breaks.

Let's take her defence of "real art". Sure, there's no substitute for being face to face with a canvas, so you can see the cracked swirls of paint, but how many real art galleries must you trudge round before you discover that you could have planned your visits better by referring to a book, or even a CD-Rom? Bad choice of target, Janet: there are some great art CD-Roms coming out which allow us to see pictures in galleries on the other side of the world or even in private collections. It may be a "synthetic apology" but such stuff informs us. What Street-Porter has done is to articulate the next-century's variant on "you poncey scholars don't know nothing, you're all book-learned, never done an honest day's toil".

>I suspect what galls Janet is the passing of the "glitterati". Her status as a reporter and commentator on what's in and what's out for fashion cliques is under threat. The Internet takes the spotlight off newspaper columnists and television gurus and exposes their pronouncements as simple opinions, like any other posting on the Usenet.

>How could Janet Street-Porter miss the irony of her telling Internet users to go out and get a life rather than sitting at their screen when her face was on another screen, the window to an even more passive pastime, the television?

Anyone who suggests that the Net is about fake experiences is missing the point. We can't all go to the Louvre and look at the paintings, afford calls to friends in far-off places or afford to go out every day to discuss work, politics or hobbies. The Net isn't meant to replace offline life; it's just a communication medium and is a tool in just the same way that the telephone, fax, or television is a tool.

Someone who has made a career of producing "unreal" experiences in television programmes who then criticises people for being boring for using the Net rather than having "real" experiences is simply a hypocrite.

>Feel sorry for the poor old sod, she's watching all the bored people who should be drinking up her vacuous drivel, connecting to thousands of sources of vacuous drivel all over the world. She hears the sound of (not so very) distant dole cheques.

I'm off to see if I can find anything as trivial and wasteful on the Net as Without Walls.

>Actually, the best counterpoint to the Without Walls piece was the Video Nation snippet on BBC2 before Newsnight. This featured a woman on Foula (in the Shetland Islands) who praised her modem for enabling her to work with other people all over Scotland. That evening she was even going to have a virtual office party with them. She didn't look much like a nerd to me.

>According to JSP, Internet users are boring and socially inept. I expect some well-educated, non-boring, socially able young man will be appearing on Right to Reply to complain about Miss Teeth and put the case for us "anoraks"!

Guess we'll have to find one first. Ho hum.

>It's a shame she didn't do any preparatory research, like finding out what purposes the Net is put to, before jumping in with both feet. Just the usual confusion between the WWW and the Internet generally, and how we're all social inadequates who should get out more. And the bunch she got in to defend the Net against her were the standard Net pseuds (as opposed to the standard Net nerds with backwards baseball caps) who witter on about information democracy ...

>Surely Janet Street-Porter can't be blamed for the lot [all TV]....

>Oh yes she can. Remember Channel 4's atrocity Club X, featuring wonky cameras, sycophantic "interviewers" (ha!) and two hours of absolutely nothing? Blame Janet Street-Porter.

Digby Ponder's open e-mail to Janet Street-Porter is on page 14.

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