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Generation of Bits
Tales of Shame and Degradation in the Big Idea Lab

By Hunter S. Negroponte

Too Many Bits

The other day I was thanking my good friend Former President Bush (or "George" as I call him) for pulling some strings to get my brother out of that Iran-Contra mess, and he asked me if I knew any hot technologies he could sink his Presidential Pension into. In my opinion, the smart money is on filters. It's getting so you can't read Usenet without seeing that "Dave Jordan" Ponzi letter followed by forty replies from dickless wannabes threatening to mail-bomb the poster's sysadmin for the "inappropriate post." Of course, I personally have my staff of Elegant British Women pre-edit my .newsrc for me (God how I envy the British), but that option is not open to the unwired masses outside the Media Lab.

One way to eliminate the blather while keeping the First Amendment intact is to create active "Filter Agents," as I like to call them, that presort my Netnews articles and eliminate the tiresome pseudo-commercial posts. Can you imagine what the net's raw content will look like when all the half-literate morons in the U.S. can publish any text that their tiny minds ooze? The very thought makes me want to refill my glass with the '56 Chateau Lafite. America's Intelligentsia will need some serious Digital Butlers guarding our Offramp on the Digital Highway's Mailing Lists (damn metaphors) when this comes to pass.

The Big Lie

Media Lab critics (there have been a few) have occasionally questioned the practical application of our work. Well, have you heard about the Holographic Television? No longer a device found only in the back of comic books, we've actually made this sucker work. An honest-to-god motion-picture hologram, produced in the Media Lab basement on a 2000 pound holography table by computers, lasers and mirrors spinning at 30,000 RPM. It's real! It works! Life Magazine even came in to photograph it in action (of course, they had to fill the room with smoke so the lasers would show up on film). Practical application? Sure, it requires a 2000 pound air-suspended rock table and a Connection Machine II to run, but hell, everyone knows the price of computing power and 2000 pound rock tables is cut in half every year. My point, however, is more mundane: we have created a demo literally from smoke and mirrors, and the Corporate World bought it. Even my good friend Penn (or "Penn," as I call him) Jillette would be proud.

In fact, I'm a few points up on Penn. You may have heard of the Interactive Narrative work that is proceeding in the lab. Folks, I'll be honest with you for a moment. I know as well as you do that it's a stinking load of horseshit. Roger Ebert said "Six thousand years ago sitting around a campfire a storyteller could have stopped at any time and asked his audience how they wanted the story to come out. But he didn't because that would have ruined the story." You think Hollywood would have learned this lesson from the monster "success" that Clue, the Movie enjoyed several years ago. But no! I've repackaged the "Choose your own Adventure" novels of childhood as Digital Information SuperHighway Yadda Yadda crap, and again, they bought it! Sony right this minute is building an interactive movie theater, with buttons the audience can push to amuse themselves as the story progresses. Dance for me, Corporate America! I'm SHIT-HOT!

Why, just the other day I listened to a member of my staff explain to potential sponsors that we had spent $US 4,000,000 of Japanese sponsor dollars to construct a widescreen version of "I Love Lucy" from the original source. And HE SAID IT WITH A STRAIGHT FACE! CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE THAT? Boy, I bet those Nips wish they had their money back now! Earthquake? No, we can't do much to rebuild your city, but we SURE AS HELL can give you a 1.66:1 cut of Lucy to fit all those busted HDTVs of yours! HA HA HA!

A Sucker Born

Last week I was off the coast of Greece on my yacht "Nippo-bux" (I put the "raft" in "graft," as I always say) with my close personal friend Al ("Al") Gore. He asked me "Nick--er, Hunter, how do you do it? You maintain a research staff of, in the words of Albert Meyer [an underfunded Electrical Engineering professor], 'Science Fiction Charlatans', yet you never fail to rake in monster sponsor bucks? I could fund Hillary's socialized medicine boondoggle in an instant if I had that kind of fiscal pull."

I told him that it’s merely a matter of understanding our sponsor's needs. Our sponsors are represented by middle-aged middle-managers who need three things: Booze, good hotels, and hookers. Keep 'em busy with free trips and the slick dog and pony shows, provide them with pre-written notes for their upper-managment, and the money will keep rolling in.

Do I worry that one day some sponsor will wake up and say "Wait a minute--what the hell did I do last night? Did I shell out a million bucks to fund a LEGO Chair in the Media Lab? Tequila!" Over the years I’ve learned not to care. I could pull the cigar out of W.C. Field's mouth and sell it back to him at a profit. And he'd thank me for the deal. I'm that goddamn good.

Obligatory Plug

By the way, if you enjoyed this article, you can read it again in my upcoming book: Being Gonzo -- Life on the Digital Information SuperHighway Fast Lane. Buy one now.

All in good humor, folks. 'Hunter S. Negroponte' writes for Voo Doo, MIT's humor magazine. This article originally appeared in their 'Mardi Gras 95' issue They can be reached at voodoo@mit.edu.

Posted: 1 April 1995
Bob Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
blamm@cync.com