The Mouse That Bored

Trawling for tedium on theWorld Wide Web

If trophies are ever awarded for pointless web sites on the information superhighway, Arizona State University freshman Dan Siegel's home page would seem to be a shoo-in for a Golden Speed Bump.

The cyber equivalent of melatonin, the 18year-old broadcast major's web page appears to be nothing more than a lengthy celebration of his admirable--though eyeball-glazing--scholastic achievements.

Created in September, Siegel's site allows web wanderers to peruse his class credits to date, as well as to study the complete text of the valedictory speech (since copyrighted) he delivered upon graduating from Barry Goldwater High School last spring. Another equally fascinating link delivers "My Best Journalist Works to Date," a collection of high school newspaper scoops ("GOLDWATER PLANTS TREE, TALKS POLITICS") that earned Siegel a scholastic journalism award from the Arizona Republic/Phoenix Gazette.

Assuming they haven't already fallen asleep at the mouse, insatiable thrill seekers also can jot down Siegel's spring schedule for future reference.

Provocative in a way that Siegel probably never intended, his exercise in ennui raises any number of questions. Like, f''rinstance, "Why bother?"

"Basically, it's about personal gratification and personal promotion," says Siegel, who good-naturedly explains that the site was never really meant to be visited by anyone but friends and family. Still, he confesses, even his target audience is scratching its collective head.

"I've had friends at [Northern Arizona University] ask me, 'Who cares about your valedictory address?'" he says. "Well, I personally have no idea. But if I can put it out there, why not?"

Although Siegel's mass of minutiae would seem to define the outer limit of cybersilliness, his page merely draws yawns from seen-it-all net vets.

"Everything's relative," explains Jeff Gong, president of Internet Access, a local web provider. "You have to establish what is normal so you can say what is strange. Well, anything goes on the net--so nothing's strange."

In truth, Siegel's unintentional paean to pointlessness does dull in comparison to a lotof home pages deliberately wallowing inthe inane. Thanks to "Sho's Lunch Server," cybersurfers now can track what a Purdue University graduate student has eaten for her noon meal every day for the past year. They can click onto "Foam Bath Fish Time," a service that provides the current time spelled out in tub toys and fridge magnets.

And, if they're really starved for entertainment, they can visit a site that allows them to monitor the temperature of the water in one subscriber's hot tub.

Still interested? Check out "Useless Pages," a web site that provides links to nearly 600 similar sources of absolutely unnecessary information. Dan Siegel's page has yet to be inducted into this dubious hall of fame, probably because of creator Paul Phillips' mandate that "you really have to put some effort into your uselessness if you want to be featured."

One of several Internet sites featuring "worst of the web" compilations, Phillips' "Useless Pages" has toted up more than a million "hits" (user visits) to date, and has even spawned a "Useless Pages" live chat room.

Observers credit the recent popularity of home pages with growing interest in the web in general. Although no one knows for certain how many home pages exist, the figure is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. Most service providers now allow subscribers to set up basic home pages at no additional cost.

"About a year ago, a huge wave of people discovered that this was not rocket science," says Susan Dennis, a Seattle-based "personal Internet trainer" and home-page designer. "People realized, 'You, too, can do this.'"

Characterizing the range of home-page topics as "from way beyond the sublime to well past the ridiculous," Dennis claims she'd never tell a client that no one was interested in viewing, say, his dental records.

"For one thing, I'm not sure that's true," says Dennis. And, equally important, "that's also part of the joy of the web."

According to former Phoenician Bart Nagel, author of the recently published Cyberpunk Handbook, purposeful esoterica actually seems to be the driving force behind new home pages. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, Nagel reports that one of his neighbors recently created a page in which web users can visually follow a loft-remodeling project via a camera that takes a new picture every two minutes.

"A lot of people are doing a lot of really quirky, really banal things," he reports.

But back in the Valley, Dan Siegel isn't all that excited about new dimensions in shallowness that allow him to view some guy's collection of palindromic license plates or to cruise through a stranger's tee-shirt inventory.

"I usually avoid home pages," says Siegel. "I generally use the web to see things I really care about. Still, it's fun sometimes to play around and see why people are stupid enough to put the things on their pages that they do. There is an immense amount of garbage out there.

 
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