Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

February 7 , 2001:
Hey, wake me up!
If you have something to say, anything at all, by all means post it on Princeton's listservs

By Wes Tooke '98

Some ascetics use oat bran to torture themselves in the morning; some use weights or whips or cold showers. But since I vainly consider myself to have a somewhat firmer constitution than your average monk, I use the Princeton e-mail digests. Savonarola himself couldn't have devised a more devilish system for abusing yourself awake.

Every morning the long lists of messages appear in my electronic mailbox, missives from people I've never met discussing subjects that usually don't interest me. I nevertheless scan them avidly. Many of the e-mails are articulate, thoughtful, and an advertisement for the value of a Princeton education. I ignore those messages. Instead, I search for the few choice ones certain to keep my blood rolling at full boil until my body naturally wakes itself around noon.

Over the past few months I've noticed that I rely heavily on a small group of people to set me aflame. This country's rather generous liability laws prevent me from using any names, but from my list of offenders I've culled five archetypes.

The Voice of God: This Important Person once Wrote a Book and therefore speaks with the Authority of a Published Author. Those foolish members of the list who dare to disagree with the Voice of God can be swept aside by a blithe reference to the Published Author's vast Reservoir of Knowledge. Although the Published Author doesn't deign to share exact details from the Reservoir of Knowledge - after all, the Published Author's time is very valuable - the Published Author is very willing to mention that her tome on ants was the fifth best-selling nonfiction book in the 1990s focusing on the family Formicidae.

The Worker Bee: This person sends five messages every single day - except for a stretch in August, when he was on vacation in Iran and was only able to manage 23 messages in a week and a half. He forwards form letters and jokes and prodigiously clips articles from the Milltown Sun Times. Does he have a job? It doesn't seem likely, although the thought that this electronic parasite is subsisting on the public trust is too depressing to consider.

The One Issue Pony: He loves the fencing team. Loves it. In fact, he loves it so much that you find yourself very grateful that you were never a member of the fencing team - otherwise, you would spend a lot of time glancing nervously at watchtowers. His gift is his remarkable ability to link any subject back to his favorite sport. For example, someone on the list mentions Michael Douglas in passing. Our friend the Pony writes to note that Michael Douglas is married to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who appeared in The Mask of Zorro, which is an unrealistic treatment of the great sport of fencing.

The Hideously Tedious: Both the great genius and the great flaw of the Internet lies in its ability to give a voice to anyone who cares to type a message. For the many frustrated conversationalists on my lists, therefore, the electronic age has presented an opportunity to share all sorts of interesting details: that the dog is sick, the child is a wonderful artist, the living room has been painted eggshell white. The notion that complete strangers might not care about the dog or the child or the living room never crosses the mind of the tedious.

The Gloriously Inane: A wonderful group. These people so breathtakingly stupid that they are never even accidentally on the right side of any issue. I love finding these people in a discussion group since they relieve me from the burden of having to think for myself - I just find out which side they support, and then desperately throw myself as far to the other side as I can conceivably manage.

As I've written about these archetypes, however, I've become increasingly embarrassed about my own reluctance to contribute to the e-mail discussions. Who am I to so cynically lurk in the background? All these people really want is a community - a place where they can instantly have a receptive audience - and maybe that's a worthy thing. Perhaps I shall become an avid participant - perhaps I shall plunge fully into these new Princeton communities. I wonder if the Princeton Sports List will be interested to learn that I plan on taking up luge sometime in the coming weeks? It's time to come out of my shell.

God Bless the Internet.

Wes Tooke is a regular contributor to PAW Online. You can reach him at cwtooke@princeton.edu