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Logging Off

By Joab Jackson | Posted 6/27/2001

My work here is done.

MOK, so I was never too sure what my work was exactly, but never mind that. All I know is that I spent six years worth of Sunday afternoons filling up this space with tales from that weird vector between information technology and the alternative-weekly mind-set. That, or cracking foul on Microsoft and AOL. And amazingly enough, for each week I'd undertake this sordid enterprise, I'd get this fat check from City Paper. Well, not phat fat, but fat enough to cover the next round. And in the end, that's all that matters.

But that's all over now. I'm throwing in the towel, cashing in the chips, going legit, selling out to The Man, taking to the skies, returning the rental. This is the last week I'm writing this column. And I've got such a short-timer attitude, I don't even care if I mix my metaphors six ways to Sunday.

Am I done yet? Can I go? The word count says no. Siiiigh. OK. Well, I guess I could reflect back on the many stories I've covered and distill some greater truths from them. And I tried doing this. Honestly, teacher. But the truth is, I've already written about everything I've ever wanted to write about, in every conceivable style I could think of to write about it. And I've been grateful for the soapbox. But now this space needs to go to someone who'll appreciate it.

As for technology, I guess it all comes down to this: Technology is nothing new. Technology, or the art of applying science to some practical end, has been around ever since some hut-dweller discovered that he or she could plant all those leftover wheat seeds in orderly rows out back, rather than wander around and gather the wheat from wherever it happened to grow that year. There will always be clever people who'll think up ways of making life a little bit more enjoyable through the use of scientific observation, if only to amuse themselves--just as there will always be people who will use such marginal improvements to extort pelts from, or exert political influence upon, the rest of their tribe. Be the first in your clan to learn the secrets of astronomy and you can either delight others by explaining the movements in the night sky, or wait until the next eclipse and scare everyone into believing you have an in with the Sun God. That's the technology game.

So there you go. All that and a bag of chips. The other thing I did learn was that Baltimore, for its size, is blessed with more than its fair share of industry-renowned info-tech folks, including artificial-intelligence expert Tim Finin, hypertext fiction pioneer Stuart Moulthrop, New York Times/BYTE magazine tech reporter Peter Wayner, Slashdot editor Robin Miller, privacy advocate Kathleen Ellis, and her husband, Unix guru Jon Lasser. There is also's mastermind John Ferber, Cool Tool's Sean Carton, and many others I never got around to interviewing. If you want to learn about what makes computer technology tick, you could do worse than be stuck in Baltimore.

In fact, it was meeting people like this that actually made me proud, at least once, of being "Cyberpunk." See, I've always hated the name of this column. The name was chosen by then-CP editor Sono Motoyama, bless her AOL-newbie heart. Calling oneself a "cyberpunk" negates the very qualities of anarchic tech-savviness it supposedly endows. If you have to say it, you ain't it. Why not just call the column "Fonzie," for chrissakes?

But like I said, there was once I really did get off on the title. It was just after I completed a story for Baltimore magazine, that proverbial graveyard of ex-City Paper writers. A fellow CP alum, Van Smith, and I were tasked with profiling the movers and shakers of Baltimore's info-tech scene. Although our story was only published last January, I now cringe over how optimistically we wrote about those companies, many of which later slashed work forces--including at least one, Gr8, that still may not have issued some of its workers their final paychecks.

Anyway, one of the side articles I did for that package was a list of up-and-coming computer geniuses, the smart young people whom B-mag felt would be heavy hitters in the info-tech world. To find these people, I first systematically called all the area universities asking for their best and brightest. But as time got short, I gave up and just picked a lot of candidates off the top of my head whom I happened to know over the years from this column. They were the loudest voices in the local tech scene-- some I had written about, others had become my friends, all were smart enough for inclusion on such a list. After the story was published, I 'fessed up to my editor about my personalized selection process. She rolled her eyes at the favoritism.

"What kind of criteria is that, just choosing people you already know?" she asked.

"It's a perfectly credible one," I replied confidently.

"Why?" she asked.

I paused for dramatic effect, and then stated the obvious: "Because I'm Cyberpunk."

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