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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Eeky Geeky: Weekly peeky at the freaky

In case anyone missed it, the future has arrived. Soldiers are linked by heads-up displays to their units and planes, tanks and missiles are flown to their targets by with video controllers. Monkeys move robots by the power of thought alone. Radio frequency identifier tags are smaller than a pencil eraser and are routinely implanted under the skin. Our lives are chronicled in an intertwined and overlapping stream of data trails. Cars talk to us, give us directions and even park for us. The blind can get bionic eyes and cloning is routine; so much so that a legendary bull has been cloned for his even more famous semen. We have not arrived entire, however, the promise of the future is not complete; Duke Nukem III remains a fantasy and computers, better at everything than humans, still, one presumes, do not think for themselves.

All of this stuff, endlessly amusing, is, of course, not for us, the plebian and the mundane-it’s only for the well-heeled elite. For the little people, the future mainly seems to consist of ever more intrusive corporate and governmental oversight and a better way to hand off those adorable, yet supernumerary kittens or selling Grandma’s attic on EBay.

While foisting off AYS kittens on craigslist, the subject of this week’s column, may seem trivial, it illuminates, for the meta-observer of cultural life cycles, the beginning of the end, the transformation of the genuinely useful into the predaciously commercial. For, gentle readers, craigslist has received the deathblow; publicity.

Craigslist, I may reveal, now that the secret is out, is an unadvertised, non-commercially supported forum for everybody who needs something; from quickie sex to passing off that long-dry fish tank, they get together and figure it out amongst themselves. Organized by city, craigslist is an unadorned webpage that allows users to sign in and post a message offering something where someone who needs it will see it. Charmingly egalitarian and non-judgmental, craigslist is moderated by the community-enough votes gets an off-topic posting removed and frankly commercial adverts by business are discouraged. Scammers are hounded down and punished by the community and businesses looking for help are mercilessly humble; every post is on a first come, first served basis.

Why is craigslist interesting, aside from its intrinsic value? It is going to die. Slowly, with much writhing and complaint, it will morph from community of users to sinkhole for spammers and corporate “synergy,” a polluted swamp of greed that will swamp it, drown it, and eventually de-ball and dismember it. For it has received publicity. It has reached that critical mass when the underground goes aboveground and shrivels in the light.

Get in on the ground floor and watch as craigslist dies-it will be a fascinating show. Now with several millions of users in scores of U.S cities, craigslist is run by fourteen unambitious people out of San Francisco who will, at some point, give in and eat the witch’s apple of advertising, to defray rising operating costs or will accept, as almost all search engines and classifieds do, filthy lucre for improved visibility, queering its honesty and ruining its objective value. It will go from meeting place to middleman, and the parasites of commerce, already visible in their nascent maggotry, will eat away at the usefulness of this charming public town hall. In just the last few months, the heralds have arrived; postings for commercial services are gaining ground on person-to-person classifieds and scammers are ever more frequent. Postings have exploded on craigslist.boston to swell far outside their 100-per-page limit; these are the signs of trouble.

Likely, the nice folks at craigslist will, like the nice folks at Google, cede ground gradually to commercial space, but unless they have the fortitude of Job, they will cave in to the easy money and sell out. Watch, take notes, and muse on the fragility of our best impulses.

About the Contributor
Carl Brooks served as news editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2003-2004