Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Stat-man: Darrus & Owen
- Have you been looking at my blog?
- What do you mean – I haven’t been there for ages.
- I ask you again - have you been looking at my blog?
- What’re you asking for?
- Just asking, that’s all.
- Er, no, I have not been looking at it. Why?
- Are you sure you haven’t?
- Hey, what’s going on with you? Why are you asking me this?
- I have certain information that tells me otherwise, that’s all. Let’s say I know a thing or two about your recent travels, past experiences, the paths you have trodden…
- Come on Darrus, what are you playing at? What’s going on?
- …Your foibles, your changes of mind, your secret decisions to take that route not this route, appearing to be happily searching and playing around with the World Wide Web, tapping through with ignorant pleasure, taking no heed of the spy software that could lurk dangerously in the shadows.
- Are you trying, in your customarily bizarre way, to tell me that you’ve found some software and have enlisted yourself as some sort of sinister spy on the web?
- Ur, I wouldn’t put it quite like that.
- Oh yes, what is it some sort of ripped off freeware rubbish?
- Oh I think you are underestimating the power of this new technology Owen, you would be quite impressed.
- Impressed by what? What has it found out then, eh?
- Oh, I don’t know. One or two little morsels of info, that’s all.
- What have you found out? What incriminating evidence has your beady little machine sought out? Come on!
- No need to seek it out Owen, no, it is all there. Anybody that goes through my site leaves their trail behind them, their country of origin, their route to the site, the address; I think I could make a pretty good picture of my inhabitants. Interesting cultural types you know, artistic, well read, that sort of person.
- From what little titbits of information did you get that idea? Are you sure you’re not exaggerating the importance of these statistics Darrus?
- Hey, it’s got graphs and everything, pie charts, plenty of comparative data. I’m not sure how it gathers all this info but it’s a real eye opener, I can tell you. People are coming in from all over the world.
- What do’ you mean eye opener? What can this information really tell you other than the fact that you are an obsessively analytical nut, fantasising about a bunch of abstract data floating about on the internet? I bet there’s nothing concrete?
- So you’re alternating between Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers now then?
- Hey, how did it get that?
- It’s got it here. You come in with the name Monkey, sometimes Iguana, and here I’ve got you as Golden Boy for some reason, I don’t know.
- What! What a stupid…what, are you sure? That’s weird; I really do need to sort out my browser.
- That’s just a small section of what I have here.
- So there’s more stuff about me then is there?
- You’re having me on, I don’t believe it. Ur…Wh..What can that thing do, exactly? What information than can it really find out?
- I don’t know all about it yet. There’s all these buttons and I’m not sure what they do.
- So what does it say on top of them then?
- Ur…job history, financial situation, family tree, er…home statistics, stuff like that.
- Home statistics? You mean they can track you to your home, where you live!? I can’t believe that all this information is legit, it just can’t be. There are privacy laws, public rights, things like that. You can’t get away with it.
- I looked into one of them before but it all looked a bit complicated, I’ll leave that until later. I’m not really interested in your personal details anyway.
- Yes but this thing you’ve got is freeware, any bugger can get hold of it. They’ll be tracking me and my trail of information must have spread across continents, be lodged in search engines across the world. My logins and passwords will be used to open gateways and pass through firewalls everywhere. People in poor countries will be desperately trying to work out my online banking login codes. My computer and electrical equipment at home will be bugged by advertising companies, endless pop up windows and interference on my TV, break ins, murders, child abduction…
- Hey, look who’s exaggerating now...hang on a minute; did you enter my site for fifty one seconds just recently?
- Yep, you’ve been looking in my comments, what could that be for? It all fits into place now? All marked on my graph on the wall - that’s about the average, fifteen minutes twenty three seconds.
- On the wall? Are you going nuts. You’re taking this stats business a touch towards the extreme aren’t you?
- It’s a serious activity. There are people there and they are contacting my site on a pretty regular basis. This is a cultural exchange going on here. Hang on, there’s another one, he or she has just entered my space for a total of 25 seconds! Where’s my pen? I can sense their ghostly presence floating about the computer. Somebody stayed from there yesterday for an hour, thirteen minutes and eighteen seconds at Five fifteen pm, on my blog? It’s funny you know when I’m looking at the stats I imagine the actual people moving their cursors around, gazing into the screen. It’s hard to say that they are looking at me but I can imagine them walking about and talking about my site, you know. He’s a bit shifty this guy.
- Could be a nice girl or a single lady?
- No really - there is - there’s somebody. Hang on I’ll just…there they are again, the Risler Cooperative. There’s a ring of computers at that place I’m sure of it; Rubavenusta, Lutea, Kakome and Jawela. These people are talking and discussing my site, sitting next to each other, like in a row of computers I reckon? The thing is they never leave a comment and never travel away from the home page, it’s weird.
- I’d try and get some rest if I were you; it’s nearly two in the morning. When’s the last time you looked out of a window or stepped out of the front door?
- Oh, it’s OK. Anyway we’re in English time; Americans are five hours behind us. To them it’s nearly nine o’clock. Just in time to log on and search blogs. I gotta keep onto this thing; I need to follow the various patterns of behaviour. You should see this graph, everything’s happening so fast.
- You know you could be just tracking repetitive machines programmed to sift sites and throw them into directories. I’ve read about this sort of thing somewhere.
- No I think that these are genuine people I’m contacting out there. I just wish that I could find more information about them. Some further sign of their actual presence.
- There is a one in a million chance that a stray internet surfer will land in your area, you do realise that. I have this mental image of that Ruba bod. A kind of robotic number crunching machine digging trenches through the multi layers of internet resources, sucking the blogger sap that seeps from the fields of information. A kind of automated machine programmed to engage and replicate itself throughout the blogger systems.
- Hey you know, maybe it’s a person, with a name and everything.
- Called Rubavenusta?
- Well…er, maybe that’s just his password…or something.
- I doubt it.
- You’re so negative. I think that there’s a whole array of people out there, real people, with real bodies investigating and thinking about my work. The only thing is this software has trouble telling how long people stay in the site, reading stuff. Twenty seconds isn’t long enough. I got this Skype thing online that lets you actually talk to people free. I could speak to those people if I could find em.
- They might be trivialising it and calling it crap to their mates. They could be putting a block on your site coming into their browser. Hey, that’s an idea.
- They wouldn’t do that?
- Of course they wouldn’t, you know so much about them don’t you?
- Enough, you ought to have more belief in humankind you know Owen. There is such a thing as blogging etiquette you know.
-Who knows they could write one thing and say another, couldn’t they?
- There’s this person from Jackson City. At first I thought it was like a search engine or something y’know, automatically loading my page every week, but I am beginning to think that it’s actually a real person. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular reader?
- Probably programmed to have reader-like characteristics, it would make for a slightly more intelligent android for your collection.
- The ‘Deadcat’ person has popped his head up again. That’s three times this week. I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is a kind of search engine. I’ve Googled it and er, I’m pretty sure. Also he arrives at exactly 2.14.66 pm every day.
- Told you. Replicants the lot of them.
- Owen, you’ve been watching too many Sci-Fi movies.
- Ah, but they hold the real factual data Darrus.
- Wait, wait. Just a minute…no, it’s OK, it’s the same. God I thought I had another customer there for a second…
- …Darrus…Darrus, are you there!?
- Er…just been on a little exploration. Hang on a minute…Do you live in Cherry Blossom way, Athens, Georgia? I thought you lived in Chiddsworth, South Sussex?
- Well I find that it’s sometimes best to – what!?
- That explains it then. And you say you’re twenty five but you don’t sound twenty five on the phone. Owen, tell me now - are you really twenty five?
- I am fed up with this. Right, I can’t have conversations like this any more Darrus, this is crazy.
- What! Oh, no, this is interesting…
-What? What is? What are you doing? I don’t know why I’m even listening to this.
All I know is that little numbers continue clicking over in your head in direct unison with that stat counter that you play with, replicating spurious information like a virus, hovering over every conversation we have.
I really do think that you should give this thing a rest now; you’ve been on this thing for days now, non stop. Every conversation I have with you is now dominated with you rushing off to check your statistics; it’s like your life has been taken over by this thing. All your talk these days is related in some way to the figures that spurt from that bloody machine. You haven’t been out of the flat for weeks, you’re not eating properly and you’ve lost weight apparently! I’m scared that one day when I phone your voice will have dramatically changed pitch and your conversation will be limited to what Lutea is doing, whether ‘Deadcat’ has visited yet, how long did ‘Potbelliedpig’ spend on your site?
- Don’t be silly.
- Well, you know what I mean. I suppose you either become a hunter or one of the hunted.
- Or both.
- Yes, well, it seems like this is the world you step into when you go online.
- Yeah, I think I’m going to switch off now.
- What, go to bed?
- No, switch off the computer.
- Switch off?
- Yeah, I’ve had enough. I’m feeling a bit tired. I can feel a headache coming on. All my visitors have been in today anyway. I’ve marked them on the graph; from two thirty till five in the morning is the rush hour. Only ‘Noderick’ hasn’t come in today and I’ll find that out in the morning.
- Right, goodnight then. Remember my advice is to get off that thing; one day you’ll wake up and find yourself physically changed into a remote mechanical device, unable to un-flap your navigation tools and roll from the bed and down the landing platform towards your workstation. They’ll be tracking you from Mars.
- I can’t stop it now, I ‘m just getting into it. It’s kind of like fishing in the sea you know. You throw in your line and the bait floats out there on the surface bobbing over the waves that crash in towards the shore. All you can do is stand there imagining a million different varieties of life swimming about in the endless ocean depths. What chance is there that one will investigate the disguised morsel that you have dumped into their path? Will they or won’t they bite? What size and what kind of fish will they be? When will the orange float bob up on the surface as a Sea Bass clasps its jaws onto the dangling hook and how long will he stay for, before dangling and wriggling themselves free, disappearing back into the dense blue nothingness? That’s the attraction Owen, curiosity for the unknown. I just hope I get a better catch tomorrow.
- Er…Yeah, Um...see you then Darrus.
- See you, bye.
“Oh I’m going to shut down, I am going to shut down!”, Darrus said to himself as leant over th desk to search through the stat-counter windows. He was going to try and stop himself from repetitively clicking onto the stat software and put an end to his habit of endlessly staring at the graphs and pie charts, but kept putting it off as there was never a right moment. "Where have they all gone, oh, fifteen instead of fourteen? Right, projects, graph icon, Michigan, mmm…, a search engine! I really need something to do while I ‘m waiting for new stats to come in, lets have a look at the referring link, what, Brains, manure, goldfish? They typed that and my page popped up, fourth from top!? Oh god! Right that’s it, time for a break, have a cup of tea and put some toast in. Bye, bye, software, see you later."
Darrus reluctantly shifted from his swivel chair and crossed half of his body into the light of the hallway, stopping there and hesitating momentarily, turning to look back, leaning one arm against the door and directing his tired eyes at the deserted computer screen, its rays shaping the soft plastic folds of the keyboard and the smooth fractured shell of the mouse casing. A window with it’s own light source, not coming from the sun or reflecting from the buildings and clouds around the flat but from a different kind of world containing different forms of satellites, surveillance cameras and information systems. How would Rembrandt have painted this scene, thought Darrus, would the light emanating from a computer screen be the source which he would use to sculpt a self portrait, swirling his white paint around? The wires sidling down the wall behind him would be hinted at with a few quick brush strokes and then pushed back with dense layers of dark brown glaze. Rembrandt’s easel would partly mask the fur coat and the intricate folds of his clothes in the painting, the electric light from the screen casting down upon him, open windows exhibiting the data graphs and pie charts.
Darrus turned his blinking eyes towards the fluorescent glow of the kitchen, his fingers pressed a real button on the wall and clicked a real switch on the kettle, but it all seemed the same somehow. The same electricity flowed through every vain of the flat, and ran through each appliance arranged in the room.
In the study a collection of closely linked black casements contained the computer hardware, the disks purring and electricity humming underneath the Ikea desk, wired in together with everything else. The computer had gradually developed a presence in the flat beyond the sum of its parts; wires spreading out and traversing the corners of the room, their plugs like sucker pods bleeding into the architecture of the house. linking to unseen wires, like thick veins ran just below the surface of the walls from the main arteries, flowing into the street, streaming information out to form small trickles of data that in turn joined with the open sea of electrical information.
Part of the rear casing of the computer had been torn away revealing a mass of tightly nit wires tied like string into bundles, their ends flowing into small streams down towards the darkness where the motherboard lay quietly feeding, a foetus in it’s womb, linked to by a swirl of black cords feeding a grotesquely oversized, unblinking eye lying tilted up on the desk, beaming it’s incessant glow upon the surrounding forms, rays torching the dark sediment of hairs rising through the dense atmosphere.
“Right, Kettle on, toaster on to number five.” He stood around waiting for the appliances to heat up and for their self timing mechanisms to explode into action. It seemed a longer time than necessary to wait, usually taking about two minutes thirty seconds for the circuit switch to flick over, connecting the wires and making the button pop up. Darrus let out a deep sigh of impatience. "Well, I’ll have tea in a minute but first I’ll just check what’s going on while I’m waiting."
All of Darrus’ daily activity’s now were interspersed with trips to the stats site to ‘check’ on any visits. He was hanging on sluggishly to the familiar processes and habits, beating the same path to the stat-counter time after time. To take away the repetitive nature of it his statistical investigations developed further into more obscure territory.
The reality was that Darrus didn’t bother to turn up for work after the summer holidays, things had gone too far. He’d been going in late nearly everyday now anyway, and what with the threats from his line manager and not being able to concentrate he felt it was only a matter of time anyway. The college had sent an envelope to him but it stayed in the pile at the door. Darrus knew what was in it but didn’t want to face the facts. These weren’t the kind of facts he was interested in anymore.
"Mmm..check the stats, see what’s happened. I know it’s only five minutes, but what the hell. OK. Come on start up! This things bound to conk out soon, plastic nightmare."
Walking around and pacing up and down the hallway of the flat; "I’ve been to their sites, now what makes them pop in and say hello to mine? I suppose it’s nothing special. I’ll have to tidy it up, make it look a bit more presentable."
As less and less figures flashed up on the data window, Darrus’s graph changed gradually form a nice high mountain range to a single horizontal line crawling the bottom of the ocean. This lack of function within the process i.e; nobody visited the site, instead of dampening down Darrus’s enthusiasm only fuelled it towards new artificial heights. Darrus’s habits became more pronounced as a habit with no real meaning attached. Repetitively entering the site it seemed for no other reason but to satisfy his need for, at least the potential of, some traveller visiting his hidden space. What new methods to entice the hoards could he conjure up?
"Right ten minutes has gone now, must check the stats."
Darrus habitually now moved his curser towards that particular favourite stat counter button. Sometimes without even thinking he would find himself in the site, his browser having automatically entered his password and login. Deciding then to - what the hell, may as well, check the graphs and data lists, prowling down the lines of information.
Darrus was at the point where he was making up excuses in order to travel to visit his stat counter. Each time there was the insane thrill of not knowing whether a fragment from a star in the far off galaxy would fall and land in his ever widening catchment zone. More often though now it was just search engine fodder, the offshoots of searches for ‘moth repelling light bulbs’ or ‘British Albino Ladybirds’, and the search engines sending out bogus links to his site in order to bump up their customers statistics.
If there was no change in the hit counter then just as worthwhile would be the Country/state/town area where a pie chart dissected the percentage of Americans, Australians, Canadians, etc. that entered the site. The sense that there was a world of possibilities to be tapped into, to familiarise ones self with and believe that the work was for a reason, enabled him to search and communicate, even at this great distance, to the world, via these apparently logical abstractions. There were occasionally times when Darrus did began to realise the growing limitations of his software, how much he did and didn’t know about the visitors to his site, to a point where he realised that he knew nothing at all really. At these times his imagination normally went into auto pilot when it no longer mattered about the accuracy of the facts, all that mattered was their ability to justify his absence from a reality outside which was becoming increasingly more difficult to deal with. He thought up ever more extravagant excuses to wipe away the guilt he felt with spending so much time at the computer, neglecting himself to the point where he was no longer shaving or cleaning the flat. He had unhooked the phone and now connected with people only through a network wire via ‘Skype’ with headset and mike hovering by his mouth. He didn’t answer the door, the newspapers were piling up and he had not worked on his comic for months. The square flat computer screen began not just to take more importance in his life, but to completely dominate it. It was difficult to notice when the final switch happened from his previous life to one of subordination to the network administration tasks that now consumed his time. It had been a month since he had last phoned Owen, him having now become just another piece of data, in amongst the ever increasing list of statistics arriving onscreen inside his stat software window. All he knew was that Owen seemed to come in at exactly three fifty six, every two weeks, the software recording; ‘browser unknown’ and ‘no referring link’.