The Watchman of the Electronic Frontier
Dapper in elegant suits worn with just the right tie, Edward Cavazos has the yuppie game plan nailed. He has a good job at Andrews & Kurth, a gleaming black Ford Explorer, a pleasant house in the Galleria area (with the good citizen's requisite "Clutch City" placard displayed in a front window) and a beautiful fiancee.
Stephen Nuchia, son of Houston Police Chief Sam Nuchia, also looks to be a main player in the middle-class dream, as does his wife, Liz. Owners of their own business, hard workers, solidly settled in the life of the city, the last thing they would appear to be is, well, radical.
Ditto personal injury attorney J. Stephen Ryan, Rockwell flight controller Carl Guderian and artist Melanie Mitchell. Good Houstonians all, none of them would seem particularly out of place at, say, an Imagine Houston gathering or a meeting of a local school board. But those aren't the particular civic concerns that have their main attention. Rather, their thoughts are focused on a future racing toward the city along electronic pathways. Board members of Electronic Frontiers Houston, they might be seen as something of a neighborhood watch committee in cyberspace.
Cyberspace is a term that, like the infobahn or the Net or e-mail, needs no explanation to the growing number of people who are computer literate and online, i.e. connected. For the unconnected, cyberspace is that unmapped region in, around and between computers. It's where things go when you send a message via modem. It's where you visit when you start browsing in such things as Bulletin Board Services. (The infobahn, incidentally, is the updated term for what Vice President Al Gore calls the information superhighway; the Net is the Internet, the central thread in an electronic web that allows access to a number of computer systems; e-mail is quite simply electronic mail.)
Cyberspace, for many, is the new American neighborhood. It's a neighborhood with a vigorous population and no clear-cut community standards. It's also a neighborhood that is largely unpoliced.
Not that this has particularly bothered anyone. Not, that is, until lately, when it became clear that cyberspace would one day be our space, whether we liked it or not. The item that brought cyberspace into the general consciousness is the Clipper Chip, a government-proposed bit of technology that would make it impossible (or at least extremely difficult) for people talking to each other on computer networks to do so in complete privacy. While the details of the Clipper Chip spin off into serious techno-talk, the basic question it raises is fairly simple: should people be allowed to scramble their computer messages so no outsider can read them, or should the government have a special technology for getting at those messages if given proper authorization by a court? In short, is there something special about cyberspace that requires new rules for wiretapping?
Suddenly, there was growing discussion of pornography moving via modem into private homes, encryption programs that could protect nuclear terrorists from detection, who owns ideas created in cyberspace, where cyber-chat leave soff and defamation begins -- all sorts of curious social, legal, even constitutional issues that it appeared nobody had been giving much thought to. Nobody, that is, except groups such as Electronic Frontiers Houston. Want some answers to your cyber-issues? Then come, says EFH, to us.
Serious and intense as an attorney should be, Edward Cavazos blends in with the downtown crowd, except for his enthusiasm, as he spends a lunch hour holding forth on the history of EFH, the history of computer law and where his views fit in with both.
Cavazos, who at 26 is still easy to imagine as the sort of Catholic schoolboy who got away with everything, is the front man for Electronic Frontiers Houston. Part of the reason for that is he knows how to talk computers in such a way that even the non-online can understand some of what's going on. Another part of the reason for that is he has a history of concern for computer issues that traces back to his days as a law student at the University of Texas.
Arriving in Austin and quickly hooking up to the various computer Bulletin Board Services there, Cavazos began to get hundreds of e-mail messages beginning, "I know you're a law student, could you tell me about" and then asking questions about everything from on-line anonymity to copyright issues. When Cavazos went to look up the answers, he frequently found there weren't any. His research finally ended up in book form, Cyberspace and the Law: Your Rights and Duties in the Online World.
In Austin, Cavazos also got involved in a court case that pitted a role-playing game company known as Steve Jackson Games against the Secret Service. The Secret Service had raided Steve Jackson Games because they thought an employee of
he company was corresponding electronically with someone they were interested in. Computers and computer discs were impounded, and an issue of computer law engaged. Cavazos was then working as a clerk for one of the law firms hired to defend Steve Jackson Games. Some of the funding for that defense came courtesy a group known as the Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
EFF had been created in 1990 by Mitch Kapor, the architect of Lotus 1-2-3, and some other wealthy pranksters. EFF is given to pronouncements such as, "We assert that this new medium is one in which the principals of democracy, equality and liberty can at last fulfill their promise to the widest possible group of citizens' and assuring everyone online, "We are active in the defense of these rights throughout the networks and institutions of the nation." EFF has also been given to providing a model for more local guardians of the computer byways -- guardians such as Electronic Frontiers Houston.
EFH was announced last August as "a nonprofit corporation devoted to working with and for the Houston computer and telecommunications community." Their brief agenda lists "advocating civil liberty issues in cyberspace, promoting wider public access to computer networks, exploring artistic and social implications of new digital media and educating the public about the increasingly important on-line world." That much, that mission, they agree on.
The key players in this outfit have little else in common. Cavazos
-- the man who took it upon himself to start the group, who did the dull work of drafting and filing articles of incorporation for EFH -- is interested in carving legal precedents in the cyber-world, and not incidentally carving a reputation for himself in the process. Stephen Ryan is a founding member of the computer section of the State Bar of Texas and a former Texas assistant attorney general, and yet he's fascinated with the most lawless aspects of the electronic frontier. Ryan is enamored of the more punkish aspects of on-line life. Steve Nuchia lists both angles of his self-imposed civic duty straight-out: "It's not like I didn't have any ulterior motives; it's good for business. But my political philosophy is, I describe myself as a pragmatic anarchist." And he sees the emerging computer networks as a place to put his politics to the test. "The only thing democracy has going for it," he says, "is that it works better than anything we've tried. But, the network is anarchy." Carl Guderian, whose day job connects him to NASA, is a freelance radical unfettered by party lines. "Put me down for general cultural madness," is what he offers as an explanation for his role in EFH. Melanie Mitchell is the one among the group mostly likely to express an "aw shucks" modesty for the whole posse. Mitchell frequently claims she knows nothing and has no idea what she's doing. She does this even though she's started an on-line service for artists and organized successful events that attracted the attention of the governor's office.
While the Clinton administration's cyber-spokesman, Al Gore, speaks glowingly of the NII (National Information Infrastructure) and the Clipper Chip debate drones on, EFH is concerned about the here and now of on-line life in Houston. Their work is done at "cyber-hangs" and "net-jams" -- real-time, real-life meetings in the real world, inside and outside the Loop.
EFH's first meetings were held to find people who could fill out the board of directors. "We don't want," Cavazos says, "to be in a position of having a bunch of members and having nothing to offer." Now, after a year of casual and occasional get-togethers open to the public, and monthly meetings open to the board members, EFH is ready to start educating the on-line public, ready to remind people that staring into a computer screen is not a solitary, or an unobserved, activity.
People can play on their computers in their underwear, or tacky sweat pants. They think it's private. It's not.
Who wears the black hats in this picture? "You know those games where you're not sure who to be afraid of?" Cavazos asks. "We can fear the government, or IBM, or AT&T -- that's where the grassroots stuff comes in."
What's grassroots in cyberspace? Well, it's probably more cyberburbs, really. What science fiction didn't herald was what we have. Peaceful communities of ordinary people have staked claims, have made a place for themselves throughout the computer networks. The neighborhood that EFH patrols is well-populated. The native population of Internet were members of the military-industrial complex, geeks in the basements of esteemed institutes of higher learning and a much-feared legion of wily hackers. Now, they're sharing bandwidth with the millions who subscribe to major-market on-line services, scads of college grads who kept their old school accounts to e-mail each other, and your great-aunt Fan. The standard estimate is that there are ten million Americans online, and the numbers are growing. The list of Houston computer bulletin board systems is several pages long; Internet providers are struggling to keep up with individuals' demands for access; and it's more than likely that one of your neighbors subscribes to America Online, or CompuServe, or Prodigy. Prodigy is a Sears company -- a stalwart, middle-class corporation smack dab in the digital matrix.
One of the unsexy facts of this much-touted technology revolution is that hundreds of blue-haired old ladies have abandoned church basements and halls of records to do their genealogy research from the comfort of their computer desks. Frail seniors and other shut-ins are wild about the social possibilities of networks. Mild-mannered responsible users groups, such as HAL-PC and HAAG, have a few thousand Houstonians on their rolls and these people meet publicly to discuss software.
This happy breed of computer users is analogous to the farmers and ranchers of the frontier in movie westerns, the simple folk who tell the bad guys, "Hey, mister, we don't want any trouble." In this scenario, EFH would be The Magnificent Seven -- or maybe The Seven Samurai. The EFH board of directors would probably argue about which silly analogy was most apt, but they would agree that their concern is with the little guy.
The frontier angle excites Cavazos. After a long day of endless research in toxic tort and, his personal area, labor law, Cavazos goes home to study up on the growing case list and ever-expanding technology of the networks. He's fascinated by what computers can do, what people do with computers, what brings all these computer freaks together and what will happen next.
As a lawyer, Cavazos does everything an ambitious young attorney should. As an online personality, Cavazos has a status symbol e-mail address, @well (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link based in San Francisco), and frequently wears a 2600 shirt to cyber-doings. 2600 is a hacker quarterly full of things the writers hope the government and telephone companies don't want you to know. A schematic diagram of a blue box -- a crude means of making long-distance phone calls without paying Ma Bell -- is silk-screened on the quarterly's black T-shirt. Cavazos has always been too ambitious for blatant illegalities such as telecommunications fraud, although he admits to some racy e-mail in his early on-line days.
Simply sending messages through the networks may seem, at first blush, like innocent fun, not a heavy-duty telecommunications area worthy of legal speculation. If you think that Val Kilmer will make a better Batman than Michael Keaton, and you type out your notion to a computer system, whether it be a private BBS or one of the networks, you're entering uncharted constitutional areas, evoking privacy issues and raising intellectual property questions. Are your opinions, casually expressed in e-mail or messages, defamation? Ed Cavazos spends a lot of serious time thinking about just such questions.
"When an innocent user, tapping peacefully at a keypad in their own home, sends off an electronic message, then do the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and self-expression carry over?" Cavazos asks. "What is the model for this medium? Is a BBS a magazine? Is a net group talk radio?" Electronic messages could, Cavazos says, "be like letters to the editor, or something completely new."
People can sue for defamation in print, or broadcast, but what about the networks? Right of reply, Cavazos suggests, means this media could be different. Relating an Internet moment, Cavazos tells the story of his "goofy little 13-year-old brother" playing with Cavazos' computer while watching a Nigerian team play soccer on cable. For kicks, the brother joined in an on-line chat with some schoolboys in Nigeria. There was a game broadcast blackout in the homeland so, for an hour or so, a dozen Nigerian schoolboys were glued to their school's terminals, getting play-by-play about the home team from some kid in America.
That was harmless enough. But what, Cavazos asks, changing his tone, "if someone posts through an anonymous remailer, "Here's what I did, I baked some Ajax and then...." Some kid could try that and die and who's responsible?"
There is, at present, no clear answer, and no clear pattern for setting standards in cyberspace. "When radio and TV came out, they had a physically limited bandwidth," Cavazos explains. There simply were a limited number of frequencies available. "Fiber optics," he says, "have more bandwidth than we know what to do with, current supplies are vastly under-used," and miles of dark cable lay in wait.
In the face of these brave new networks, Cavazos questions the government: "Gore says access should be an entitlement, the Clinton administration's goal is to have access entitlement -- are they going to push industry? Or subsidize?" The original skein of networks, one should note, included ARPANet, an experiment in military research, and NSFNet, a plaything of the National Science Foundation. The networks and the acronyms grow: BITNET (Because It's Time), Fidonet, WWIVNet. Endless streams of data are flying, and there's no central authority.
Some find this anarchy refreshing, but Cavazos isn't among them. "Who," he asks, "is going to be responsible?" Computers, lest the novice user struggling with pull-down windows forgets, are still dumb -- they only do what the user tells them. The average PC can download the Constitution (in ASCII sans signatures) or it can download some nasty GIFs (files in Graphic Image Format). GIFs are widely available. Some are lovely, sharp, full-color pictures of unicorns and puffy clouds. Others, according to the file descriptions in download directories, depict Hollywood starlets frolicking with farm animals. Cyberspace is full of smut.
So who is responsible? What if some neighbor kid, say a 13-year-old girl, asks to use your CompuServe account for school research. What if she goes off on her own, trespasses into other parts of the system? Decides to enter "chat"? What if she types her side of a sexually explicit conversation? Or arranges a meeting with someone? Suppose he's a serial killer? Who's responsible? You? Her parents? CompuServe?
Some people in the community, on-line and in Houston, want answers. And over the last year, Cavazos has accepted a couple of dozen speaking engagements trying to provide them. "The questions are getting tougher," he says. "I did a talk for the computer science department at Rice, faculty and students. The questions got pretty technical." This good work sometimes fits under the heading of "client development" and
t makes life exciting. Occasionally, before a talk, the fledging legal eagle is convinced he hasn't done enough research and will end up looking like a loser. Wide-eyed, he shrugs. "You never know," he says. "Sometimes you get out there and it's just six weirdoes looking at you, other times it can be really neat."
Cavazos, whose interest in computing is focused on what computers can do for society, seems moderate next to EFH board member Steve Nuchia, who has a vested interest in which way we run our computer networks. The president of South Coast Computing Services, Inc., a corporate Internet access provider, Nuchia is a straightforward guy. His green eyes always sparkle, and frequently a quick, cat-like grin lights his face for a split second. He has a sense of humor, and that rarity, a real sense of fun. But most of the time, this short-haired businessman speaks in plain terms about his radical ideas.
South Coast Computing Services' Galleria-area office is on the ground floor of an ordinary building. People's offices and rooms with raised computer floors and racks of wire and cable occupy some two-thirds of the space. Liz Nuchia, who works with her husband, cheerfully explains that expansion is on the agenda. As business partners, they're in lockstep. As for politics, she laughs, saying she wouldn't describe herself as "the real die-hard civil libertarian, 'the revolution is coming next week' type of person" that her husband is. "I kind of take a more moderate view of things." Mr. Nuchia, with equal measures of gravity and levity, remarks, "She actually fills out those long census forms. She had to hide the last one from me. I was really upset when I found out she had sent it in." Mrs. Nuchia is unmoved. Still smiling she teases, "Oh, I don't think it was a long form." And then, to needle him further, wickedly admits to being a conformist.
In his corner office, lined with bookshelves crammed with manuals, the Nuchias and staff share a mile-high deep-dish Barry's pizza while Steve explains his reason for joining EFH and for becoming a board member.
With a glee most business owners reserve for a good sales report, Nuchia explains he loves the Net because it's a "functioning anarchy, probably the world's largest functioning anarchy. It's just been growing and growing and growing and continuing to work." This electronic anarchy, he fears, "is in danger of being snuffed out before it really gets going. It could easily become something that's not worth caring about." Moreover, he says in lecture mode, "The idea that the Net is not for business has been obsolete for some time. Anybody at this stage who thinks that there's any way to prevent commercial exploitation of the networks is living in a fantasy world. I am aware that there are quite a few people who are living in that fantasy world, but it ain't going to happen.
"There's also the fact that without the attention of people like ourselves, there will be injustices that could have been prevented, there will be people who miss opportunities." He is on a personal and political mission. "EFH is a bully pulpit for evangelizing the network," he says, "for getting the word out about dangers like the Clipper Chip."
The White House has had problems with that little item of new technology since announcing Clipper this April. The self-proclaimed "Cypherpunks" and conventional constitutional scholars opined that the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments would be compromised. Those in the business of selling telecommunications were not supportive. And the Clipper Chip key escrow encryption scheme became second only to the Clinton health plan as a preferred Rush Limbaugh target.
Nonetheless, Nuchia is resigned. Not that he sees a grand plot. "Never ascribe to conspiracy what you can safely ascribe to stupidity," he says. By his lights, bureaucracy is a powerful force of evil, one that he expects will prevail.
"Let's look at what Clipper actually does, as opposed to what it's being sold for. What it does is tag every electronic communication with the identity of the sender and receiver," he says, "which means that you can tap the national data streams anywhere you like and analyze the traffic." Carefully cleaning tomato sauce from his fingertips with a paper towel, he cautions, "I'm not a lawyer; I couldn't tell you if that would violate the wiretap statute or not, but I think it probably would not."
A radical's work is never done. Nuchia's just getting warmed up. He has a level, considered loathing for proposed governmental intrusions. "The Clipper thing is one of the things going on at the national level, the other is the FBI's wiretap initiative," he says. "And, I think this is another one of those cases where you kind of have to shake your head and say, why are they doing this?" There are already clearly understood laws to regulate and allow wiretapping, he points out. So why, he asks, is any-thing new needed just because the technology's different? "I think it's just one of those cases where somebody wrote a report and it ended up taking on a life of its own. Bureaucracy," he sneers, "run amuck."
There doesn't seem to be any evidence of a crisis that would require government to create a new standard for wiretapping and searches, he says. Crumpling and then tossing his two-ply napkin into the empty pizza box, he dismisses the FBI's wiretap initiative as "junk legislation that will have unexpected effects."
If Cavazos is the proper citizen, Nuchia the chomping-at-the-bit businessman, then Carl Guderian and Stephen Ryan are the romping, for-the-heck-of-it radicals of EFH. Passion is always useful in activism, especially the passion of people with good, but unconventional minds.
Carl Guderian is 31 years old, well over six feet tall and still he is frequently carded. Interest in computers overrode his Rice education in mechanical engineering, and now he works for Rockwell as a flight controller. "That means I sit in the bowels of mission control while the shuttle is up," he says. "Not much happens, although sometimes we get to see cool videos."
A card-carrying member of the Church of the Subgenius and the KPFT DJ most likely to be seen at a gun show, Guderian is the man whose kazoo playing was the one thing that shut up the Ku Klux Klan during the Economic Summit parade. The route was lined with protesters, all hooting and jeering and name-calling, and for every insult the hooded marchers had a retort. Until, that is, they passed Guderian and two pals, a trio wearing conical party hats and tooting out the Mickey Mouse theme song. They buzzed the Klan with kazoos and the proud marchers of the KKK turned purple.
Guderian likes to mix things up, get people out of ruts. And he likes computers enough to squander valuable vacation time, and, he says, "What's left of my credit!" trekking to hackers' conventions in places like Holland. To hear Guderian tell it, he didn't so much join EFH as just wander in off the street for kicks. During any discussion with the board though, it's clear that what Guderian brings to the group, outside of creative energy, is an encyclopedic knowledge of everything in which he ever had even a passing interest.
Stephen Ryan is a similar creature. To meet the two in the flesh, one would never guess they had anything in common. Guderian looks like good-natured, long-legged trouble; Ryan looks like a Rotarian. Even in mirror shades. But looks don't count for much in cyberspace.
Despite his stint as Texas assistant attorney general and his current practice in the ugly world of personal injury law, Ryan has an almost annoyingly cheerful outlook on life -- faith in the intrinsic goodness of human nature, affection for small animals, hope for peace on earth, the whole nine yards.
Ryan also has an odd affection for the old-style, black T-shirt hacker. Whenever the EFH board is planning an event, Ryan always suggests dragging some poor kid just out of his teens up front to relive his not-legal early years. Some members of EFH consider these suggestions for a "hacker petting zoo" hopelessly old-fashioned. Still, Ryan argues that the fact is that the specter of the evil genius preteen has received a lot of press over the years, people do have questions about hackers, and it doesn't hurt to have someone around who enjoys talking about that stuff. Such onetime hackers are useful when trying to tell parents what their kids might be doing, and what kind of trouble they -- the parents and their kids -- can get into.
The woman on the EFH board is new to computers, and even newer to computing's legal and social issues. Melanie Mitchell is another Rice grad, one with a degree in fine arts and a kiln that weighs more than a ton. That kiln's relative immobility -- it can only be moved with a forklift -- is one of the things that introduced her to computers and, then, EFH. She met a Polish anthropology student at the University of Houston who was studying the activity of the Internet as a culture. He introduced her to computer art. She noticed with delight that computers, although heavy, could be boxed and moved by as few as one or two people. Then she found out about OTIS. OTIS, the laid-back Southern woman explains, "is an on-line art gallery slash mailing list. Oh, and an ftp site." Less than a year into computing, Mitchell talks about File Transfer Protocols as casually as people talk about convenience stores.
In that short space of time she also educated herself enough to organize CyberCulture Houston, an art show/ robot festival/ interactive performance exhibition. Ann Richards, apparently getting Texas ready for the next century by putting together a multimedia database for the state, volunteered to send a letter of support for any project Mitchell came up with.
Initially, Mitchell attended an EFH meeting because she hoped to get their help publicizing CyberCulture Houston. She stuck around because she was hooked. She's committed to getting the word out, to teaching people what we can do with computers.
Like the rest of the EFH board, Mitchell has no problem discussing both her altruistic and self-serving motives. When computer artists are recognized, she says, getting NEA grants and fellowships will be easier. As it is now, although most institutes of higher learning have an on-line life, the art department isn't involved. Computer art money comes mostly from contests advertised in hyper-trendy magazines or on the Internet. The newness of computer art means that, for the first time in quite a while, an artist has a chance to do things that may not have been done before. It's heady stuff. And hard work.
Mitchell's focus is on what has yet to be done. At the moment, she's waiting for replies to a batch of grant applications she's sent off seeking funding for Online Art Resource, a nonprofit organization she's designed to set up an Internet site providing electronic resources for local artists. The site would use MUD software, a multi-user software originally created for playing games, and be a wide-open cyberspace for visual and performing arts. Ordinary folks would be able to access the site to download art and look for information about art doings around town. Since Online Art Resource would be on the Internet, artists from anywhere could get involved. DiverseWorks, always eager to be in the vanguard, is already involved. If the grant money comes through, they plan to carve space out of their DiverseBooks bookstore to set up a shop online.
Mitchell, with her easy laugh and calm demeanor is a sort of Donna Reed powerhouse. She has a patrician profile and ready smile, and an endless supply of intense, efficient energy. That last is far from unusual; the various members of the EFH board are all intense in their own ways, although that intensity isn't always obvious. Get any one of them alone, talking about something other than computers, and the obsession won't show at all. Even together, at their board meetings, they can be quite casual. The first quarter is devoted to socializing, and catching up for the new people who show up each month. Business is knocked off like homework and then whoever's up for staying up late heads out to talk computers till all hours. That's when they're intense.
Despite the computer-oriented, on-line obsessed notions of EFH, most of the group's discussions occur face to face, and more new members sign up at in-person instead of on-line events. This, though, may be changing. The last issue of the EFH newsletter was sent out to a couple of hundred people via both U.S. and e-mail. At each EFH gathering over the last year, a dozen-odd members signed up. Now, the board has decided, the planning is finished and EFH is ready to aggressively begin getting its word out.
Where that word is getting out is EFH events, which range from cyber-hangs, which are beer busts or coffee klatches with computers as a central topic, to special speaker events such as the Houston appearance of Fidonet guru Tom Jennings , to carefully organized expositions such as the net-jam.
A net-jam is a sort of on-line dog-and-pony show -- or three-ring circus, depending on the resources of the sponsors. This spring, EFH hosted a net-jam at South Coast Computing Services, Inc. Everyone on the board, and a few volunteers, brought in their machines, all of which were wired up to the company's many network connections. (Ryan brought a cyber-library, including a '50s pulp novel about illicit wiretapping that he claims was the first cyberpunk fiction. He also brought a date and her daughter. They weren't the only couple attending with children.)
Sixty to 70 people drifted through the SCCS office. No one has an exact number, because as the afternoon wore on people became too tired to keep count. The crowd was the usual mix of the unexpected -- tattooed skate-trash, Aggies, WWII vets with ham radio hobbies, single moms, members of computer users groups.
Arcane technical questions were asked and answered, but the focus of the day was playing with toys, especially "CU-SeeMe," a system that manages real-time text and video transmission between cities. School children in California came on screen. In what might have been seen as ironic if it didn't reflect the go-with-what-works ethic of EFH, an overhead projector of the sort familiar to any high school student was the final link in this orgy of high-tech, taking the images shot by a video camera on the West Coast and projecting them on a pull-down movie screen in Houston. EFH volunteers, and novices, went from one site to the other.
A global chat ultimately ensued. "We finally ended up," Liz Nuchia remembers, "in a long conversation with Norway." Images of the participants were captured and fed straight into a computer. Melanie Mitchell uploaded the images to artists' hangouts on the Net. For good measure, she also sent a portrait of the Nuchias from their photo CD-ROM.
Only hours later, those images had been electronically tweaked, altered and incorporated into other images, becoming a spontaneous international collage. One version of the Nuchia family portrait is on the Net now; despite the digital addition of sunglasses on Liz and the couple's new posture, the sort of contortions possible only in a fun house mirror, anyone who knows the real Nuchias would recognize their network image. Liz is still beaming, still looks, as she so often does, ready to laugh. Steve's image has amazing new ears that some see as Ross Perot, others see as Alfred E. Neuman. But Nuchia's carefully serious posture, and the enthusiasm he can never quite conceal, still show. Other images -- free-wheeling distortions created from the images of innocent bystanders caught by camcorders at the net-jam -- are stored in the same spot in cyberspace.
What those images remind the members of EFH is that, even while the cyber-hype focuses on how fast the networks are, and how computers can instantly make the world your oyster, what is less mentioned is that everything you put out is stored somewhere. Things are going down on permanent records.
All this digital excitement is saved, and everything that is going on now will effect what happens in the future. There will be standards, although what sort of community standards will prevail are anyone's guess. Rules for Netiquette have emerged. More rules will be made, and more laws drafted specifically for this method of communication. And no matter what sort of Luddite lurks in your technophobic soul, you'll be involved sooner or later.
Mr. and Mrs. John Q. User may have a hard time understanding the sticky legal implications of cyberspace. What is actually happening when computers are connected? Where, exactly, is this weird cyberstuff occurring? In whose jurisdiction? What's it to me? The average user's confusion is not unique. Federal judges -- clear-eyed, well-educated people who are devoted to the careful study of complicated issues and the law -- are still puzzling, scratching their heads and sighing over the constitutional, criminal and international aspects looming.
It's EFH's goal to keep people from being overwhelmed by it all -- or to let the future slip in the back door while nobody is watching. They want to encourage people. Not just to encourage the uninitiated to be "wired in" or somehow become part of an all-holy, high-tech realm with elite knowledge, but to encourage people to take the first, simple steps toward complete computer literacy, to become familiar with cyberspace.
In our century we achieved the age-old dream of man: flight. Then we went to the moon. And then to frequent flyer discounts. That's how it is with technology. New discoveries are amazing! Even more amazing! And then it's business as usual. Think of EFH as the AAA trip planning service, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a hot-rod club on the information superhighway. And think about them inviting you along for what promises to be quite a ride.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.