September 1, 2006

Guest Columnist

I'm very pleased to present a special guest columnist from Smart Computing Magazine. Enjoy!

Editorial License
Each Month
October 2006 • Vol.17 Issue 10
Page(s) 92 in print issue

Editorial License

The Gerbilization Of America

It all started back in the ‘90s, as the World Wide Web for the first time opened up the Internet to millions of us who were neither academics nor engineers. By the end of the decade, practically everyone had a Web site. I know of house plants that have Web sites. (“Welcome to PlantsAtHome.com! My name is Doug. I’m a ficus belonging to Wanda Krieglehamer of Van Nuys, Calif. Currently, I am dropping leaves at the rate of three per hour, unless the cat walks by, at which point my shedding increases dramatically. Click here to meet Todd, the philodendron.”)

A case in point. . . . We have working here an otherwise perfectly normal, very intelligent young writer who—for reasons best known only to herself—oversees a Web site called TwinSqueaks.com. It’s devoted to . . . um, gerbils. (You know, gerbils? They’re little furry rodents; they look kind of like hamsters that’ve been on the South Beach Diet for a very long time. Of course, real pets view gerbils as nothing more than highly mobile snacks.) Now, this writer (no names, of course, but her initials are Kylee Dickey) operates TwinSqueaks.com on behalf of a small herd of gerbils named Pippi, Samantha, Hope, Maeby, and Nellie. All five of the little darlings are very cute, in a warm, fuzzy, nose-twitching, snack-like sort of way.

You and I may think it’s silly, but here’s the thing: These gerbils get fan mail! When’s the last time you got fan mail? Little kids from around the world write letters to them. They ask if it’s true that gerbils like to take sandbaths (yes, they do), they ask how to tame a gerbil (I suggest a very tiny whip and chair), and they ask if it’s OK to use pine bedding for their gerbils (no, because pine bedding sold in the United States can make a gerbil sick). And the gerbils answer the letters! Here’s one from Pippi in response to a child asking about handling techniques: “Dear C.: You can pick up most rodents by their tails, but not gerbils. If you tried to pick me up by my tail, you little brat, I’d whip around and bite your nose and rip it right off your smarmy little face! Then I’d run to your bed and vomit all over your pillow. By the way, I can get out of that stupid cage any time I want, you know, and sooner or later, you will have to sleep. . . .” [Letter edited for clarity.]

And now, as if the proliferation of Web sites weren’t bad enough, we have blogs. Essentially, blogs are online journals that cover really important issues such as politics, computers, literature, and the designated hitter rule. (And also some truly silly things such as calculus, ice hockey, and rap music.)

I can understand the urge to blog. We all have things to say, and the Internet is the perfect medium: It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it doesn’t care if you’re an idiot. And after all, a blog is really nothing more than an electronic version of the journals written throughout history by such luminaries as Samuel Pepys, James Boswell, Charles Darwin (and several other Darwins, in fact), Richard Henry Dana, Henry James, and countless others who contributed greatly to science, literature, and . . . well, journal-ism. (Although we should probably keep in mind that many of those people—though not Henry James—could actually write, of course. This no longer seems to be a prerequisite.) For whatever reason, people have always written journals and diaries and we have always hungered to read them.

But, as with Web sites a decade ago, it’s gotten out of hand; everyone now has a blog. (My wife began the decade as a confirmed technophobe; she now has three blogs.) The Internet is being “blogged down” (so to speak) by millions of people incessantly journaling about everything from rock collecting to rock music to Knute Rockne. But it doesn’t stop there. All of these bloggers include in their blogs links to other blogs they happen to like. Thus, checking one blog leads to a myriad of other blogs, each of which—naturally enough—includes links to still more blogs. You have to follow all of these links, of course. What if one of them went to something interesting and you missed out? (Sure, the odds are against it, but it could happen.)

Where will it all end? Between blogs, cell phones, email, text messaging, and the rest, millions of people are communicating like mad; it’s a veritable communicative frenzy. I wonder if anyone is actually saying anything.

by Rod Scher

Rod Scher is a former software developer and a recovering English teacher. He's also the publication editor of Smart Computing and will no doubt continue in that position until such time as his boss reads this column. Contact Rod at rod-scher@smartcomputing.com.


  1. Great column, as always.
    We're just keeping our blog going on the chance that we might actually have something interesting to say. It could happen.
    You know the saying:
    If you put enough monkeys with enough typewriters you'll get Shakespeare.
    Well, if you put enough law stutdents with enough computers and too much procrastinating together you at least get Nicholas Sparks.

  2. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Hey Les, I'd love to comment on Rod's fabulously entertaining article (no surprise there), but I spent a considerable amount of time getting sidetracked by the links to all the blogs and no time left to comment. Now it is almost Sunday and I have barely begun Saturday. Oh well. Lots of love to you both....and now I need to go check out a few more NurseryCrimes.

  3. Rod, I loved reading this post and the wonderful sarcasm.

    Sometimes I'm tempted to completely delete my blog; what is the point? I can't compare myself to the likes of Boswell and James.

    On the other hand, if gerbils can communicate, perhaps I have something intelligent to contribute as well.

    My bone of contention with blogging (well, technology period) is that so much seems to be lost without the physical presence of paper. What is there to smell? Hold? Analyze in one's writing? How can you save a particularly meaningful post? It's a conundrum to me.

    Maybe I should ask the ficus.

  4. Very funny article. I was congratulating myself for not having a website until I hit the comments concerning blogs. And I am guilty. I do have a tendency to surf the links, but I can't keep up. So I just have to live with the knowledge that I am missing great blogs and comments and not meeting more interesting people.

  5. Glad y'all enjoyed Rod's column. I'm biased, but I happen to think his dry wit is very funny and can't resist sharing his articles with my friends & family.

    I've enjoyed your blog, Cami. I do wish you well in your Torts class, though! Still shaking my head about that one. ;)

    Sue - it's very easy to get sidetracked by all the links in everyone's blogs, but I've stumbled upon several in my wanderings that have been worthwhile. I just need to learn to limit my blog-surfing or I'll never get any books read!

    Bellezza - No!!!! Don't delete your blog!! It's one of my absolute favorites. Talk to the ficus first. ;)

    Framed - I've had to be strict with myself and not add anymore blogs to my list to look at on a regular basis. It really can get out of hand. I'll just stick with my favorites. Kind of like life. I'd rather have a handful of close friends than a hundred acquaintences.

  6. Loved the article! Rod actually asks a very pertinent question, is anyone really saying anything through these various mediums of web communication? Perhaps not, but it's a fun way to be creative, to express oneself and to make new friends. But, yes, there is the danger of spending too much time in a virtual reality and not enough time doing other productive things.

  7. Lotus - I think there's a lot of interesting stuff being said in the blogosphere. Like anything else, you have to weed out all the crap, but in our not-so-little book world, I've learned a great deal and would be quite sad to see one of my favorite blogs disappear. I'm sure someone will eventually decide to call it quits, but I'll keep my fingers crossed that it isn't anyone in my blogroll! Personally, I can skip the gerbil blog. ;)

  8. Hey, I'm glad folks liked the column -- and especially glad that no one took offense! I actually like blogs; I have one, after all. Some of my best friends have blogs! :) I just think blogs are kind of. . .well, odd, considering the essentially private nature of journaling. It's a little like kiwi (work with me here); I like kiwi, but it's kind of an odd fruit, don't you think? Who eats green, furry food? (OK, let me work on this simile a bit, and I'll get back to you. . .)


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