It's 5:50am, I'm sick of revising physiology and I'm bored. So...

Some stuff you might have wanted to know about Matthew. And some other stuff as well

Name: Matthew Garrett.
Age: 22
Sex: Male. As you've probably guessed.
Subject: Erm
Birthday: Why?
Place of birth: Why on Earth would anyone be interested? And why do people devote time to this sort of thing? It's something I don't pretend to understand, and I sincerely doubt anyone really does.
Favourite colour: Of course, it could well be do to the fact that no matter how hopelessly poor a website is, someone will probably visit it at some point. It's an almost guaranteed method to get someone who you've never met before to read something you've written in the ( almost certainly) vain hope of this making a difference.
Hobbies and interests: Which doesn't explain why most "homepages" are so astonishingly poor. Does anyone really care that I was born in Galway? Probably not. And if you did, I'd rather that I actually told you rather than you simply reading it on a website (and yes, I know you' ve just done that. Spare me the mails.), because I still tend to value individual discussion above simply throwing information about myself to the four corners of the wind. That's not to say I don't value the web - it's a marvellous resource, and there's huge amounts of very interesting things on it. But do I really want to know that your grandmother's dog was called Ben?

(The answer, in case you haven't guessed, is no.)

Family: All of which does bring up an interesting point, however. It's now possible to find out huge amounts of information about someone you've never met, which without the internet would have taken you years of actually knowing the person to discover. Society d oesn't seem to have caught up with this yet, which means that people tend to get very confused. It's staggaringly easy to become over-familiar with a person you've never been within 3000 miles of, because you know things about them that you couldn't have known without meeting them - at least, before the web came along and changed all that. Before now, this sort of situation was reserved for the famous - for years more information than you could ever possibly want to know about the fashionable people of th e day has been public. But now everyone can join in.
Amusing stories: It's surprisingly appealing. You chat to someone on IRC, get along reasonably well, and then look at their website. Before you know it, you're following links to their friends' sites and worryingly rapidly you feel as if you've known them for years. Peopl e claim that the internet is going to change the way humans interact with each other, and that's already happening. Is this something to be worried about?
Things I'd rather forget: It can be taken further, of course. The famous (about whom so much is already know, remember?) are now within your grasp. There's a surprising number of celebrities out there who'll deign to reply to your emails. This might not be so different to the trad itional "Write a letter to your favourite author", except that a reply to your email will probably appear a good deal faster than a reply to your letter. And then, without thinking about it, it's turned into an ongoing discussion. You're speaking to Terry Pratchett as if you're speaking to Jim who went to university at the other end of the country.
Places I'd like to visit: So where's the problem? I'm not sure. But what happens when your illusion is suddenly shattered? It'll happen eventually. Something will occur that will rudely awaken you to the fact that you've been speaking to a complete stranger for months, which isn't something that generally happened before the internet "arrived". And as its popularity increases, it'll happen more and more.
Fun stuff: This is what I personally find more worrying about the internet than anything else. People talk about how the universal availability of information will change the world, which is plainly rubbish. In general, people don't care about information. There's m ore information in a public library than anyone could deal with, but do people flock to them? No. Simply making information slightly easier to find isn't going to change the world.
Pets: What the internet is already doing is changing the way we interact with each other. Online communities have appeared, collapsed and risen again. People who would never otherwise have thought about each other's existence end up organising meetings in diffe rent countries. It's as if the railroad, the car and the telephone were all invented at the same time. It's possibly the greatest social upheavel since the development of agriculture and the formation of society. We're not used to it. Nothing in our upbri nging has prepared us for this sort of change, which is what I find most scary. We're making the rules up as we go along.
Family: Of course, there's little choice in the matter. Assuming we don't end up nuking each other over a 6 hectare patch of land, communication between people of different cultures and upbringins is going to increase. Problems have already arisen - the difficult y of conveying humour through a text-only medium has led to the development of awkward constructs like smilies, which while solving the problem also destroy subtlety. Someone'll come up with something better, eventually - continual change is another hallm ark of the internet.
Favourite joke: So, the internet is different to anything we've experienced before. It's changing all the time. And there's a whole set of problems that'll just become more obvious as time goes on. How long until "Internet communication" classes start appearing in primar y schools?
Star sign: Which, rather awkwardly, leaves me with a dilemma. What was originally intended as a mildly satirical rant has degenerated into a hopelessly disorganised rambling mess. If I was writing anything other than a web page, nobody would ever have seen this. Rea ding through again, I'm impressed by how much sense it makes. But even so, it's a mess. Normally I'd either rewrite it heavily or (more likely) bin the whole thing - frankly, the chances of anyone being interested in this are slight.
Motto: But, instead, I'm going to copy it across to the webserver and make it available to 200 million people, or however many there are online now. A few people will visit it, and there's always the chance that it'll make a difference to someone.

The irony of this is just sickening.


Written between 5:50am and 7:10am on Sunday the 10th of January, 1999 by Matthew Garrett (mjg59@cam.ac.uk)