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The chilling effect

Enter, the Internet

Raising the temperature

Getting warmer

To get hot, reveal yourself.

Warm, warmer, hot!

Computers are cool, and the Internet is warming them up. How can you make your own text warm enough to attract human attention?

Despite the pronouncements of media guru Marshall McLuhan, TV is hot because it shows dramatic conflict, evokes strong emotions, and arouses intense fantasies.

Lacking all that visual drama, radio is not as hot, but because we can hear real people saying what they think and making music, both of which stir us, radio is at least warm.

But, compared to TV and radio, computers are cold.  At least they are cold until you start putting your content on the screen. But why are computers so chilly?

The chilling effect

When computers come into an office, schmoozing goes out. Instead of talking with our neighbors, we begin to carry on a dialog with the file system, trying to get along with the reasoning of geeks, struggling with the hostile interface of many programs, and watching not another person but the glass, silicon, metal, and plastic of the object itself.

And the annoying modes, the prissy error messages, the sheer stupidity of the computer make it more like a bossy intruder than a friend.

Despite Microsoft's millions, it could not persuade people that the utility Bob was a friendly personal agent.

By itself, the computer removes us from contact with other people, increases our workload, makes us look like fools, and forces us to turn out ever more text, more total output, more crap.

Enter, the Internet

When you hook your computer up to the Internet, you get email, and suddenly the computer can communicate with other people, directly. You can see past the screen and make human contact.

If you have a fast connection to the Internet, and indulge in video conferencing, you actually see and hear the other people.

If you tap into Internet radio, or use Internet phone connections, you actually hear individuals talking to you, or to each other.

With the Internet, people are trying to heat up the computer, making it more sociable, more personal, more human.

Raising the temperature

The more we share ideas, opinions, outrage, recipes with other people on the Internet, the warmer we feel toward the discussion list as a whole. Community binds us, makes us feel close, despite the keyboard, the screen, and the distances between the people chatting or posting. Wild personal rants on a webzine, flames on an email list, pornographic prose--all these raise the temperature.

The electronic medium is cold, so if you want to break the ice between you and your guests, you have to be intensely human. Your prose should be warm to the touch.

Getting warmer

The warmth comes from your attitude toward your audiences, not tricks of style. Warmth comes from paying attention to every inch of your audience.

Consider what they might need that they haven't asked for.

Chat with them. Answer their e-mails. Go to their meetings. Talk to them on the phone.

The more you establish direct personal relationships with individuals, the more your prose will sound like a human being wrote it to another human being. No more bloodless writing!

To get hot, reveal yourself.

Not every site allows such shocking self-expression. But if your site gives you this kind of freedom, let go of your shame.

Admit your craziest impulses, silliest actions, utter confusion. Stop acting smart.

But keep your attention on the individual people and your relationships with them, which they see expressed in your tone. From your language, they can tell what you think of them. In a few sentences, they sense your affection, or your contempt. Honest passion sweeps them away. But fake feelings, sentimentality, preening, posturing, simply repel most people.

If you don't feel up to writing with the blood from your opened veins, that's fine. Most sites just need a human touch.

See: McLuhan, 1962, 1964a, 1964b; Ong, 1982.





















What will the web do to my text? (Full chapter from Hot Text in PDF, 700K, or 12 minutes at 56K)



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