Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Tiny Life (1998)

I found the receipt from my purchase of this book inside it when I finally opened it up to read it recently, dating back to 1999. Reading the book quickly reminded me why I had put it off so long. It vividly brings back my own memories and experiences with that strange and wonderful and terrible place known as LambdaMOO. My time on it lagged author Julian Dibbell's by two or three years (so it's unlikely I ever encountered him, though you met so many people there then), but otherwise the parallels are uncanny. It's hard to know what anyone encountering it now for the first time would think—about the book, I mean, which trucks heavily with "VR" (virtual reality, not the goggles type) and "RL" (real life) and the heady way it all developed in the narrow few years before the World Wide Web and ever-cheaper, ever-smaller more powerful computers swamped it. It seems a little quaint now, if not positively antiquated, which I'm sure it is. That's where my experience is making it hard to judge—though I still think the issues raised on LambdaMOO, and in this very good book, have not yet been dealt with adequately, or really much at all, and we'll have to one day. But I could be wrong, and in any event have learned to live with it that way, as something that happened in the past. In fact, Dibbell's slightly pained bittersweet melancholy about it, and his forthright sense that, whatever it was, it was (and is) important, also matches my view. Whatever it was: whether it was the surprisingly immersive quality of the experience—whether it was something for people with a certain affinity for text and narrative—whether it was the strange politics and battles that ensued—or whether it was the cybersex—it's still hard to know exactly what happened there. I briefly longed to revisit the place I ultimately abandoned (and all my possessions too), which at the end of this book published in 1998 Dibbell still had not done. I poked around a little on the Internet and found LambdaMOO is still online, still accessed via telnet, but I immediately ran into technical difficulties attempting to get back there, which I took as sign to just leave it alone. As for My Tiny Life, I think it's good enough that it's worth looking into even for someone who has never heard of MUDs, MOOs, or MUCKs. Certainly if you have you'll want to read it, though I think it's possible at this late date that I'm the very last one getting to it. As memoir, as sociology, as freak show, it's perfectly goddam splendid.

In case it's not at the library.

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