It was maybe 11pm, deep into a Northern BC January Saturday night. We were both falling-down drunk, and we were 17 years old. We were sitting on crusty snow, leaning back against the side of somebody’s car, gazing up into the snowflakes falling gently out of the pitch-black sky. Everything was muffled and peaceful in the way it gets when the snow falls after dark. Clean, cold, quiet, even though we could hear the distant thump of Hell’s Bells coming from the basement party we’d left a few minutes ago. Lazy Christmas lights were still twinkling here and there. Fifteen minutes earlier, she’d asked me to hold her hair back while she puked into the toilet, something that in my hometown was tantamount to asking a guy to go steady. After, she’d asked me to walk her home. I wasn’t anywhere near sober, but she was plastered, and her parents’ house was a good 3 blocks away. I was in love with her. I had been for years. I’d never told her.
So I was hanging around at the Metafilter, as I do, and I was posting the occasional comment, as I do, and drinking beer, as I do, because it was a Friday night, and that’s what I tend to do on a Friday night.
Another guy, this Canadian guy, this guy who’d lived in Japan for a few years and eventually gone back to Canada, someone I’d identified with even though I don’t rightly know if I ever will actually go back to Canada, had said
At least it’s not hockey. What a stupid sport.
(Although these are my true feelings, to say this publicly in Canada is close to something like sacrilege, and I’m not exaggerating.)
So I got my shit all up in a righteous internet uproar and said (and reproduce here because I’d like to remember I said it, self-indulgent and shouty as it is):
I spent a decade or two of my post-pubescent life, times when I was actually in Canada at least part-time and it seemed to matter, telling people how much I fucking didn’t care about hockey, because, you know, that’s what a certain kind of guy does. But I’d sit and watch the goddamn game and drink a hell of a lot of booze and take whatever drugs were to hand and make inappropriate and often successful sexual advances at the desperately bored women who were hanging around unwilling having their own fun while the idiot rinktard puckheads got their stick on.
But I’ll tell you this: I fucking love hockey now, in retrospect, but only in the abstract because I love the idea of stupid toothless meatpuppets beating the living shit out of each other on the ice for the amusement of the Home Audience. I used to poo-poo all the Sport, oh dear, Maynard my Special Friend it’s so commmmon and tedious, I in latter days used to and still do wave a dismissive hand-back at the reality TV and the unreality TV and the fake pretending to be real pretending to be fake winking at the real, I did, I do, but you know what? these days I love it all. I love it all in equal measure to how much I despise it because I am absolutely sure that things, where ‘things’ is meant to be Our Collective Cultural Heritage A-squander, where ‘things’ is meant to be the inexorable ramscoop of the idiocracy screaming V2ey nose-down into the fake peatbog made of plastic turf and celebrity poop, it’s OK that it’s all turning to Entertainment and Distraction at a rate of (k)nots, and I get a Roma-rsonist frisson from tossing my cigarette butts and lighting support blazes out on the periphery hoping ring-a-rosy all burn down without me having to make a stand.
So, yeah. Hockey is stupid, duh, but you know what: the problem with hockey is that it’s not nearly as goddamn stupid as it used to be or should be, when the gladiators dropped glove and knocked pearly white teeths out onto the ice in a spray of blood. It’s gotten smarter since then, instrumentally more reasonable, disappointingly less savage, and that’s a cheat and a con and it’s more modern and marketed and less satisfying.
Fucking weedy reedy thinskinned worthless goddamn civilization we’ve built.
As I was walking home through the clouds of industrial smoke this evening, I was reminded for some reason of one particularly wild evening in Quintana Roo, Mexico, a few years back.
We’d been hired, Greg and I, to do the sound and lights for a party, a big one, that was being held in ‘a barn’ in Tulum, a couple of hours south of Cancun. Tulum the town, which is a nondescript collection of buildings on a crossroads on the highway, not Tulum the gorgeous Mayan ruins nearby, which are, you know, gorgeous. And ruined.
We took the 3 ton cube van down, loaded with gear, made it through the army checkpoints (we always sweated a bit with them, carrying pyrotechnics as we usually were) and found the place in the early afternoon. It was a concrete shell, barn-sized all right, and it didn’t have a roof. Great. But we took it in our stride, in true make-the-best-of-it Mexican style, and had a beer while we figured out how we were going to set up. Manuel, the young Mexican guy who worked with us (and spent a great deal of his time shaking his head in bemusement at the antics of the crazy longhaired gringos) came back with some bad news : the building was connected to the grid, but that was it. No internal wiring at all.
Greg, who was the guy who actually knew how to do sh-t, after conferring with the promoters, told him to wire us up to the main circuit box. Manuel looked a bit doubtful, but after being reassured that everything was fine, he wandered off to start juryrigging sh-t together. It was the usual modus operandi - improvise, make do, and make it work.
We started setting up the triangle truss sections, the Par64 fixtures and their gels (sprinkled with sand from the last beach party a couple of days ago) and the amp racks and speaker enclosures, and 6 or 8 beers later, as if by magic, the sun was beginning to go down, and we had everything set up. There were a few more people hanging around, smoking dope, drinking, watching lazily as we tested the audio and lights. This was always my favorite part of a gig – finished the hard work for the moment, and relaxing before the party geared up. Leaving all the decisions and troubleshooting to Greg meant that I could enjoy as many beverages as I felt appropriate. The one exception had been when we’d done the indoor fireworks for New Year’s Eve at Senor Frog’s back in Cancun, but considering that we had blown off several thousand dollars worth of pyro inside a bar with sawdust on the floors, that had probably been wise.
Just as the last of the light was fading, it began to rain. The music had started, though, and people were arriving in droves, and they didn’t seem to mind. It was a flash crowd, and soon our roofless concrete barn was packed with wet bodies, dancing under sheets of hard rain and the intermittent flashes of lightning. We put up some tarps over the audio equipment and the dj, and let it go. The rain didn’t let up, but no one seemed to care. There was a weird earth-magicky kind of vibe happening, and the harder people danced, the harder it seemed to rain. Huge, warm drops grown fat in the wet air out over the Caribbean, hammering down like a waterfall.
The hippies and tourists just danced harder.
Manuel sidled over to us about half an hour after the rain really started coming down, looking terrified. Greg followed him outside, and came back a few minutes later, looking disturbed, which for him was a bit unusual. I arched my eyebrows in inquiry; he shrugged and handed me a beer.
Later that evening, things started to get bad crazy. Greg’s girlfriend arrived, and Manuel found himself a peasant-skirted girlfriend from Bolivia, who lived here in Tulum, and she had a large quantity of acid. Driven by the strange, powerful feelings I was getting from the storm and the crowd, I danced like a maniac in the warm rain, and swallowed everything anyone handed to me. The promoter was thrilled at the crowds, and kept us in drinks. Even if we refused tokes, the air was thick enough with the smoke to bring on a deeper appreciation of the reggae.
I don’t remember the party winding up, or loading the gear back into the truck. I do remember Greg, who despite being gloriously stoned was as usual the one experiencing the fewest visual anomalies, driving us at a snail’s pace down the jungle road to the sea side cabanas where we were staying. The rain was still pounding down, there were no lights on the road, and the truck’s lights weren’t working. We couldn’t see a damn thing out the windshield. I made Greg stop, got out of the truck, climbed up on the bumper and leaned back against the cab window, facing forward, arms spread out as if I’d been crucified, like a huge hairy moth that had been splattered on the windshield, and alternately pointed left or right as he drove. He drove totally blind, guided only by my frantic pointing as he edged toward one ditch or another, while Manuel and his new Bolivian girlfriend made out on the passenger side of the bench seat.
It worked pretty well, except when we hit speedbumps.
We made it to the place we were staying, eventually, wired tight, but couldn’t handle it indoors in our thatched huts, and spent the rest of the night on the beach, watching the waves and the sparkle of phosphorescence as the raindrops struck the sea. All except Manuel and his girl, whose enthusiastic grunts and squeals we could hear in the distance, over the rain and surf.
The next day Greg told me that Manuel had “wired us straight into the mains. No breaker, no ground, no nothing.” I didn’t see how that had been such a bad thing, but then I made the connection to the fact that the dancers out on the concrete floor, myself included, had been frolicking in water that by midnight was about ankle deep, sliding on their bellies like seals, doing rain dances, inches from the wiring that was feeding power to the audio and lights. Greg had wanted to shut it down, but the promoter was adamant, and in the way of connected men in Mexico, was not a man that one could say no to, and stay in the area for long. We got lucky, as usual.
The Bolivian girl disappeared before Manuel woke up. Through some strange coincidence, his wallet had disappeared as well. The drive back to Cancun was a quiet one.
There are almost certainly more refugees from Metafilter than there are people who actively participate, these days. The registered user count is up over 14000 at the moment, but if I recall correctly, Matt recently said that the server logs indicate there are only (only) a couple or three thousand registered users that hit the site on a regular basis. All indications, based on the numbers, at least, are that Metafilter continues to be a robust and roaring success. Matt has recently purchased some new hardware, and there are days and threads when I would defy you to find anything smarter or more amusing anywhere on the iNtARwEb.
But everywhere I turn, there is a constant keening lament about how bad the site has gotten, as compared to its long-past Glory Days. It is typical of these things, I suppose, but amuses me anyway that some disgruntloids insist that the golden age ended only recently (with a raft of calm, reasonable, and highly respected old guard users quietly calling it quits) while others point to the beginning of this year (when there were some high-profile, I’m-taking-my-ball-and-going-home departures). Still others glare and hurl imprecations (though mercifully stop short of screeching and flinging their poo) at the huge upsurge in registered users following September 11th last year, and yet other others pinpoint the date that everything went to sh-t as November 16, 2000, a day of infamy that was marked by the first appearance of a certain wonderchicken on the #006699 scene.
Michael Sippey, for instance, lamented in Swiftian style
It is a melancholy object to those who click through to the great site of MetaFilter, when they see the front page, the comment pages and the MetaTalk sections crowded with chatter, with noise, and with meaningless posts that should have never seen the light of the submit button. Readers, instead of being able to rely on MetaFilter as a trusted source of daily diversion, are forced to employ all their time in scrolling to beg sustenance for their starving minds: which, as they evolve over time, either whither into dust, or abandon their dear MetaFilter for sites unknown.
almost a year ago!
A while back, I spent some time (way too much time, compulsively hitting the refresh button, wirehead monkey at the joyjuice hotbutton) hanging around with some folks who splintered off a long time ago from the grandpappy of Metafilter cult threads, 1142 (folks I miss, but in order to actually accomplish anything with my time must continue to hug from a distance – *waves*), and amongst all the other things that were talked about, they spent a lot of their time bemoaning how bad Metafilter had gotten. These were, are, some of the smartest, most creative people I’ve ever spent time with, virtually or otherwise. The few months that I spent a lot of time there were almost a year ago.
Since then, some of them have stopped appearing at all on Metafilter, although the occasional Special Guest Appearance leads me to believe that they are still watching, still disapproving, still shaking their heads in dismay at the decline of the Mothership.
Another gang of Meta-refugees with whom I hang out, the wacky kids at 9622.net, another MeFi splinter site that was birthed from a cult thread (9622 this time, duh), although much more concerned with having fun and being silly, also note occasionally, between flinging poo and screeching, that Bad Things are happening these days.
Recently, jpoulos (one of the admins of 9622.net) has been talking about his disenchantment in more direct terms in the comments attached to this post : Why Metafilter Sucks Ass. I find myself agreeing with him, with some reservations.
jpoulos doesn’t participate at Metafilter anymore, and is missed.
Many many words have been spoken and typed about the Metafilter and how it has changed over the past year or two. Hell, I’m adding to the wordcount now, and I can’t seem to stop myself. Nick Sweeney said a few months ago :
Matt’s always been very trusting towards his membership, and in general, receives the respect that’s deserved by such trust. I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t accommodate 13,000-odd members: partly because the times don’t lend themselves to seminar-style discussion; partly because you’re dealing with the friction between oldbies and newbies, and their different conceptions of what the place is, was, and should be. ‘Member memory’ is a vital aspect of community sites, even ones which profess to deal with the transient meme-feed, and I think it’s much stronger at MeFi than Plastic: so that when you have members who take perhaps two years’ worth of discussion into the day’s discussion up against new arrivals, it’s bound to create the same kind of frustrations as a USENET September.
Nick doesn’t participate at Metafilter anymore, and is missed.
For my part, I’ve written defenses both impassioned and tongue-in-cheek of the place in the past. I’ve said
…things are pretty much as they’ve been since I started coming here, at least – some good days, some bad ones, some thread hijacks, some crap posts, some egos and wrestling matches, some absolute diamond-hard fascinating discussions, some erudition, some crap jokes, some pee-myself-laughing ones too, a generally tolerant and friendly hubbub.
and other things, more embarrassingly and openly in love with the place.
I personally think the exodus started when Jason Kottke posted this Metatalk thread not long after the massive influx of users after September 11th, which seemed to be a continuation of a real-world conversation that he and Matt had been having. Matt commented in the thread that he was tired of it all, and thinking about folding the tent. Much consternation ensued, and I honestly think that some people who might have stuck around and dug in their heels to try and make the place better and lead by example threw in the towel at this point.
There were other things – the rise in chattiness, the rise in incivility, the decline in collective intelligence, the increase in jokiness and pointless IRC-esque chatter (in which I admit my occasional participation) – most of which were probably as a result of the massive influx of new users.
Whatever the reason, even though there are many voices still participating that I enjoy hearing, lots of people with whom I enjoy interacting, I’ve got to agree for the first time in public that the Mothership is not what it once was.
What to do? This is the $64,000 Question, of course. I still enjoy the place a lot, and will continue to participate until Matt bans me permanently for conduct unbecoming a wonderchicken, but I am starting to understand a little better the complaints that I’ve ignored or argued against for so long. To some extent I wish that I’d paid them more heed a year ago.
(Should I mention my theory about the disenfranchisement of the A-List now? No, perhaps not. Not until my secret plans for World Domination have been hatched, my pretties. Not until then.)
It has been said, and truly, ‘it’s only a website’. Can you love a website? Is it internet-era pathological behavior to say ‘I love that website’?
But some days it feels as if my love is turning into common street trash before my eyes, and no matter how well-documented my weaknesses for common street trash, that’s just not the girl I fell in love with.