MEME 4.06

by David S. Bennahum

In this issue of MEME:

The MEME Book Club: An excerpt from My Tiny Life, by Julian Dibbell.

In a new step for MEME, I am introducing the MEME Book Club. The MBC will feature, from time to time, excerpts from new books-- good books related to cyberspace and its impact on our culture. The first issue of the MBC is an excerpt from Julian Dibbell's new book:


(Owl Books, January 1999; USD$ 14.95)

Some of you may recognize Julian's name from his terrific, and influential, story he wrote in December 1993 for the Village Voice, titled "A Rape in Cyberspace," which has become a classic of cybernetic reportage. That story, which detailed a "virtual rape" on LambdaMOO (a text-based virtual community, reachable at telnet:// 8888) led, five years later, to My Tiny Life.

Written with a style reminiscent of the 19th century travelogue, yet interspersed with hyper-modern "real-life" scenes in "MOO style," My Tiny Life recreates the texture and richness of living in a virtual world that's entirely text based. Set in LambdaMOO, a social space that predates the arrival of Netscape and the explosion of the Web, My Tiny Life blurs the edge between real-life and VR. Along the way, the reader faces all sorts of fascinating questions-- How human conflict remakes itself in cyberspace. How virtual worlds struggle to develop a form of society. How words and actions sometimes collapse, creating concepts like "virtual rape," changing the nature of sexuality and desire in a text-only universe.

With those themes in mind, I am inviting MEME readers to comment on the excerpts below. I will collect your responses and send them back out to the list at future date, in one installment. Without further delay, here is My Tiny Life, with permission from Julian Dibbell, exclusively for MEME.

The Low-Humming Room Full of Bone-White Boxes

You are in a quiet, low-lit room full of
 stacked metal boxes, their surfaces mostly
 white, like old bones, studded here and
 there with pale green-yellow pin-point
 lights that flicker on and off. The boxes
 are computers, 25 of them or so:
 collectively they hum a damped and hissing
 drone. There is carpeting beneath your feet
 -- thin, corporate, and clean. There is an
 exit to the south.
You see The Server here.
Pavel and The_Author are here.

Pavel shrugs.

Pavel says, "Well, there it is. Not much to
 look at, really."

The_Author looks at The Server.

look server

The Server
You see a box as unremarkable as any other in
 this room, only more so. Three feet square
 by one foot high, some cables slithering
 out the back, no flickering lights or any
 other outward indication of activity
 within. The box sits at about knee level,
 stacked unceremoniously on top of another
 one just like it.

The_Author has come 3000 miles to look at
 this machine.

The_Author crouches for a better look and
 wonders at his disappointment. He didn't
 think he was so foolish as to hope for more
 than this. He didn't expect to feel the
 emptiness he feels inside him now. He can't
 imagine what it is he expected, really.

The_Author stands and glances momentarily at

look pavel

You see a portra