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NATIONAL PARKS IN CYBERSPACE?

News Nots Written by Timons Esaias


While Congress has generally been cutting the budget to the bone, one surprising new item has been added to the appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior: $50 million to "establish a National Park or Parks on the Internet."

This seems rather foward-thinking for a body of legislators who still have to vote by voice because they can't handle the little electronic thingees that would use a fraction of the time now spent taking the yeas and nays. Even some of the supporting speeches sounded suspiciously clueless, like Congressman Alex Forall's (Demagogue-SC) "Many hardworking families can only get to cyberspace and the global village during brief summer holidays, and unless we take steps to stabilize and preserve it they will never enjoy its pristine wildernesses and endless vistas."

While Congressman Forall may be somewhat unclear on the whole thing, the National Park Service is already studying the cyberscape for suitable sites. "We intend to begin the process by soliciting nominations for National Historic Newsgroups, with the intention of preserving for future generations those newsgroups that played a significant part in establishing the Internet," said Wanda Lust, a Public Relations Expert for the Park Service. "Sadly, there has been little effort to preserve the early postings and discussions. Our field archeologists are desperately combing through discarded hard drives, IBM 360 tape reels, and other junked computer artifacts looking for downloaded remnants that might allow us to piece together an accurate picture of the early years of Internet connectivity."

Ms Lust was less forthcoming about the switching of funds to the Park Service from the new Smithsonian Museum of Personal Computing in Gelded Bull, West Virginia. Senator Byrd, Senate Majority Leader back when the Democrats held the reins, had personally seen to the foundation of this important institution; but its construction has been halted under the National Patronage Redirection Act now working through the House. When this reporter asked Ms. Lust whether the whole thing was just a political football she refused to proffer either her phone number or a direct answer, asserting instead that, "I can't believe that our representatives in Congress would engage in such petty behavior instead of working for the public good. Where does the media get these ideas?"

Contrite and disappointed, this reporter laboriously studied press releases and attended luncheons and cocktail receptions connected to the whole Internet National Park issue. Proposals for mini-networks using period modems and period computers are competing for attention with an idea for establishing "a Universal Register of Emoticons: including actual examples, notations of earliest use, and detailed explanations."

Luke Toujours East, who is a supporter of the Emoticon proposal, sees this as psychically important. "After all," he insists, "emoticons are the mudras of cyberspirituality." It all sounded like chakrachips to this reporter, but one does try to retain objectivity.

One difficulty facing National Park Rangers is in choosing which historic periods to preserve first. "Basically, cyberhistory is made up of 18-month "generations" and each one had its own unique hardware, software, and communications' protocols," explained Ranger Chip, who is heading up the new Park System. "While it would seem important to focus on the earliest generations first, the more recent periods still have working examples in existence. Can you believe it, I actually saw somebody using a 386 with a 2400-baud modem just last week? Boy, did that take me back! It would be a shame to let these machines deteriorate and disappear while we're chasing after TRS-80s and things like that."

In an interesting twist, two unexpected supporters of the new Park System have surfaced. Both the infamous Luddite group Fighters Against Technology and the recently renamed Association for Stopping Stuff (formerly the National Coalition for Stopping Stuff) have joined to encourage the preservation of early on-line history. "We at FAT, and our brothers at the Association for Stopping Stuff, feel that once you start preserving something, it quickly becomes history," said a FAT-ASS spokesman. "The best way to get kids to drop the whole cyberpunk, cyberspace, cybersex scene is to treat it like a subject in school."

Of course, this wouldn't be a democracy without some paranoid secular-humanist fringe groups raising objections to everything. "They can't even let us establish a National Park without a fuss," moaned our source in the Office of the Bureaucrat- General. "Somebody's got this weird idea that we want to put the whole National Park Service on-line, with a "Virtual Yellowstone" and a "Virtual Grand Canyon" and so on, to free up the actual Parks for strip-mining and clear-cut logging. That's a completely absurd idea, and the studies we did prove that! Such a thing won't be practical until almost the turn of the century."

Ranger Chip says that these groundless complaints overlook the most important trend in our society. "Americans are increasingly unwilling to leave their living rooms or dens for anything except trips to the mall or the refrigerator. Unless the National Park Service meets the needs of the typical Couch Potato it risks losing touch with the largest single segment of the population."


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