Get a Life!

(This column first appeared in the June 18, 1996 issue of PC Graphics Report)

As many of you may know, my wife and I, and our company at the time, host an annual summer party in New Hampshire in order to get people from diverse backgrounds together in an informal setting. Every year we strive to come up with a humorous, and occasionally though provoking invitation. This year was no different, except that over half of our invitations were sent via e-mail. (If you haven’t received one, don’t feel slighted—I had to leave my old contact database behind when I left Panacea/Spacetec—if you’re going to be in the Boston area the weekend of July 20th, drop me a note at jake@strokeofcolor.com).

The attempt at humor in this year’s invitation was a supposed announcement of a new Stroke of Color product called “LiveChat!”:

If you’re into the Internet and a Technoid, here’s what LiveChat! is all about:

LiveChat! is the latest evolutionary step in Internet and networking technologies, offering a revolutionary new way for technoids and technophobes alike to communicate with one another. Best of all, while imminently portable, LiveChat! is also very economical (you’ll see how inexpensive it is when you join us), and it doesn’t even require costly hardware.

LiveChat! offers real-time “chat room” capabilities, with life-like avatars, and positional sound. Navigation is very natural, and full multimedia feedback is offered at all times. We believe when you experience LiveChat!, you’ll agree it takes the “Virtual” out of Virtual Reality! The only caveat is we haven’t found a good way to make it work under water, but we’re working on it.

If you’re woefully Internet illiterate and have no idea what was just said above, here’s LiveChat! explained for you:

LiveChat! was designed to help bring our techie friends away from their keyboards, computers, and Internet communications, and get them back into the real world, communicating with other human beings, face-to-face. LiveChat! is just what it sounds like—chatting and talking with other people, live and in person. Just don’t tell the techies that—many of them will prefer to think they are checking out some new cool technology, and we wouldn’t want to disappoint them, at least not until we’ve gotten a few beers into them.

We figured anyone reading the last paragraph of the description would understand LiveChat! was a joke. However, that was not to be. I got several heated requests from people who wanted a prerelease of LiveChat! so they could check it out before the party. The unfortunate part of this was they were completely serious. One person got so belligerent about the whole matter, especially after I suggested they reread the above item again, I had to send out an extremely detailed clarification of LiveChat! to make sure everyonerealized it was not a product, just a joke.

Of course, the clarification of LiveChat! evoked dozens of responses from people who had to be sure to let me know they weren’t fooled and knew it was a joke all along, as well as several sheepish replies of “Oh! I get it…”

Now, what does this tell us?

First, if you’re trying to relay a message containing humor and innuendo to computer folks, don’t be subtle. This, of course, has the potential side effect of removing the humor and innuendo from the message, which seems rather tragic.

Second, computer folks, especially those involved in Internet technology, appear to suffer from occupational dyslexia—reading more into something than is actually there, and ignoring facts which seem inconsistent with their own computer induced realities.

Third, and most importantly, man does not live by technology alone. In other words, for all of you who, after reading the above description of LiveChat!, still don’t understand it to be a metaphor for old-fashioned human, face to face social discourse, I suggest you go and get a life, preferably one that involves exposure to the outdoors and a lack of computers, at least occasionally.

For my part, I’m getting a life by going on vacation. Back in a few weeks…