On E-placebos, or Arachnidemic Courtesy Considered Absent

©2005   M. A. Padlipsky, Old Network Boy

Yes, the title is a bit cryptic.  However, the working hypothesis is that anybody who isn't curious enough about it to explore the piece wouldn't understand the argument anyway, so why not try for an attention-getter.

Let's take the second part first, since it hinges on some technognerdeeky esoterica that lay readers probably couldn't pick up on.  A longish time ago, a soon-to-be renowned computer scientist wrote a thing called "GOTO Considered Harmful", arguing against a particular feature of most programming languages at the time, which led to a vast vogue in technognerdeekdom for "Structured Programming".  Thereafter, the X Considered Y construct became a semi-established technojokey sort of title, and this is about a technosin, after all.

What of Arachnidemic Courtesy, though?  Well, another longish time ago I noticed that a number of people had put copies of my semi-famous Research Notes (on my claimed "real field of research interest", single-malt Scotch whisky) on/in their own "pages" without even e-thanking me, which I thought was quite discourteous even though the copying in and of itself was licit since the Notes were out there on/in the Web without copyright constraint.

Remembering the even longer time ago when I was expected to practice Academic Courtesy (e.g., always attribute quotations, send reprints when requested to, and answer letters), the recasting into Webese seemed straightforward enough ... provided webs, spiders, and etymology all came to mind, anyway.  So I started bemoaning the prevailing lack of Arachnidemic Courtesy, at least in private.

Not that anybody listened very hard even in private (etymological wordplay's apparently even more of an acquired taste than single-malts), and I never bothered to grouse about it in public.  Until now.  That's where the e-placebos come in.

The other week, a singularly ill-conceived (calling it extremely stupid would lack common courtesy) "essay" in the New York Times Book Review was called to my attention.  Based on a demonstrably flagrant misreading of one of his novels, the writer had roundly condemned Robert Heinlein, about whom I've "always" said that I grew up on, and largely because of, him.

Naturally, as the (long-long-ago) author of "The M.I.T. Thesis on Science-Fiction", I thought it incumbent upon me to rebut the silly thing.  So I went e-looking for information on how to send a submission to the Book Review.

The search was in vain.  I did, however, find an invitation to send netmail, as we called it when we were inventing it, to the Publisher of the NYT, which I found rather charming. 

The message I composed, in essence inquiring whether the paper would even consider a Book Review "counter-essay" so as not to waste my time and energy on writing one if it was a known non-starter, but including a Letter to the Editor just in case, was apparently pretty good:  Because he'd been CC'd by the mutual friend who'd pointed out the offending piece in the first place, I'd BCC'd the President of the Heinlein Society, and he immediately requested permission to post it on alt.fan.heinlein.

Curiously, though, the NYT never responded.  Not even a canned "thanks for writing" message.

Now, why in the world -- even the alien world of Big "Media" -- would they [make that They] advertise the Publisher's netmail, as we called it when we were inventing it, address if They weren't going to do anything about any-- as They ignorantly think of it --"e-mail" [or even worse, "email"] it elicited?

Always answer the rhetorical questions.  While it's particularly ridiculous when Their Publisher's involved, this isn't only NYT-picking.  Along with many, many others, They're playing the overly widespread e-placebos game, that's why:  Give the punters the illusion of being able to communicate.  They'll feel better.  We'll ignore 'em.

Granted, we can't hope to legislate arachnidemic courtesy into existence.  We can, however, hope to compel the Federal Trade Commission to treat such sources of Webular-discourtesy as the pandering of effectively occupantless e-addresses (including the implicit ones that force one to type into a stoopidlilbox) as false advertising, subject to the applicable strictures and sanctions.

It might take until 2009, providing a less Big Business-overfriendly Adminstration manages to get into office by then, but it's not too early to start agitating:  Support Arachnidemic Courtesy!  Ban the E-placebo!!

Michael A. Padlipsky

[727 words, exclusive of title and front- and end-matter, according to OpenOffice1.1.4--and yes, I realize that the first sentence of the end-note is the most I can hope to see you use, but I thought you'd find the other two amusing.]

Mr. Padlipsky is the author of The Elements of Networking Style and Other Essays and Animadversions on the Art of Intercomputer Networking, "the world's only known Constructively Snotty computer science book" (1985, reprinted 2000).  You'd probably already have heard of him if his major role in the earliest days of the 'Net hadn't being trying to keep the only for-profit company involved honest, but they wound up getting the contract to write the "History of the First 10 Years" which all the would-be Internet historians start with (and all but one stop with interviewing them).  Well, that and the fact that he insists on writing real sentences ... and using interesting words.