MindVox: The Overture
Copyright (c) 1992, by Patrick Karel Kroupa (Lord Digital)
All Rights Reserved
"...just as every cop is a criminal and all the sinners; saints"
--The Rolling Stones (Jane's Addiction cover(*1))
This article has its inception in several dozen people asking the same questions
with fairly consistent regularity. Namely those of, "where'd you guys go?",
"what's the deal with MindVox?" and "what have you been doing for the last five
Overture does a decent job of tying up all of the above and then some, while
providing a general overview about who we are at Phantom Access and what we're
in the process of doing with MindVox. Sections of this article self-plagiarize
heavily from my own writings in ENTROPY CALLING, which will be in a form suitable
for publication sometime around the first quarter of 1993 at the rate things
are going right now. My apologies for the perpetually blown deadlines regarding
this work, but something always manages to pop up that requires my full attention,
in this case MindVox itself.
I've done what I could to make everything understandable by even those who
have no prior knowledge of who we are or what's going on, hopefully I have at
least partially succeeded. If something is briefly touched upon and you don't
understand its significance, then it probably means something to a smaller cross-section
of people and you can safely ignore it.
While this is in many respects a personal account of my own journey through
Cyberspace and what it has meant to me and a handful of my friends, on a larger
scale the underlying theme and basic premise of how the electronic universe
began and has evolved is reflective of the experiences of countless people who
have been traversing the endless pathways of possibility with me for most of
A long time ago, in a thoughtspace far away, an event that would forevermore
alter the shape of human interaction took place . . .
But we're not here to talk about that, instead we're gonna discuss computers
and how a couple of guys named Ward Christianson and Randy Seuss wrote a program
that would allow them to be set up as a kind of store-and-forward messaging
system designed to allow their circle of friends to interact with one another
by using these things called modems . . . and how this event would prove to
be the first truly accessible step into the uncharted territory of what was
to become Cyberspace.
From this empowering turning point in the late seventies, the ideas, dreams
and fantasies that would transmute and amplify human potentials and evolutionary
possibilities, broke loose from the shackles that primitive technology had imposed
upon them and began to spin the electronic universe into existence.
Still in the very early stages of its development, Cyberspace, or the "modem
world" as it is sometimes called, has until very recently remained a largely
untapped forum unique within the history of our world. It is a rapidly shifting
microcosm that in the early part of the 1990's seems poised to engulf the reality
from which it was born, weaving together the threads of tens of millions of
diverse dreams, into one mercurial tapestry that encompasses the collective
consciousness of humanity and frees it from all constraints.
The non-space of Cyberspace is a place where global changes that would take
years or even centuries outside of the online domain, can occur in weeks or
months. It is a place where participants from all over the world share a unique
common-ground based on nothing less nor more, than a belief in the same vision
of possibility. It is a land where people who scoff at "The Elements of Style"
frequently write paragraphs, pages, and even novels, full of big words, huge
concepts, and absolutely gargantuan amounts of emoting -- while actually saying
nothing tangible. In a little over a decade, the online microcosm has managed
to experience the equivalent of hundreds of years of evolution. Not to mention
the creation of hundreds of words which have found their way into the online
lexicon despite the fact that nobody is quite sure what they mean in the first
During this turbulent period of rapid change the half-dozen systems of 1978,
had grown to 45 or 50 electronic villages by 1980. These were the original outposts
of Cyberspace, running on hacked together systems, hooked into industrial 8"
drives, and networking at the blinding speed of 110 baud. To be honest, there
wasn't really a whole lot of high level philosophizing going on regarding the
brave new world that had dawned. Actually, most of the conversation tended to
focus on things along the lines of, "How do you hook an 8" drive onto an Apple
][?" and "ANY idiot can see that setting the 7th bit high on the xdef reg is
the WRONG thing to do, OF COURSE it'll make the program crash, are you stupid
or something?" It was a technological triumph, but one that was for the most
part, still lacking many of the key participants that would shape the technology
into designer realities.
As the seventies drew to a close, the sterility and bare-bones functionality
that had predominated, began to make way for places created by people who truly
wanted something unique and different. The mere existence of the technology
was no longer that exciting, and as a greater number of people gained access
to the hardware needed to jack in, the first electronic tribes gathered and
began erecting monuments to their own ingenuity.
By the time the eighties were upon us, the handful of systems that had thrived
during the latter half of the previous decade had multiplied rapidly, giving
birth to new systems on an almost daily basis, and by 1982 there were close
to a thousand outposts on the frontier. Hardware prices were falling, 1200bps
modems were actually within the reach of many people who wanted to purchase
them, and the online domain was beginning to attract a wide variety of participants
from outside the technocratic elite.
A second pivotal point came during the summer of 1983 when the movie WARGAMES
was released. Within several months the modem world literally doubled in size.
An entire new generation of people were about to take the plunge into electronic
wonderland and set off an explosive growth rate that has not slowed since them.
It was a major and irreversible nexus point that would begin the abrupt transition
from taking Cyberspace from the realm of underground sub-culture to the forefront
of mainstream media.
In retrospect the early eighties were the "golden age" of Cyberspace. There
truly was a new frontier just over the horizon, and we were standing at the
edge. This period in the history of the electronic universe was unruly and chaotic,
the first settlers on the frontier wouldn't arrive for another decade or so,
and the only people here were a small collection of explorers eager to embark
on the next adventure.
Of course one of the problems with "standing on the edge" of anything, is the
trail that led up to it. You are there for some reason, or usually a very complex
series of reasons, that have shaped your life up until that point in time, and
caused you to become disenchanted with -- or feel limited by -- whatever situation
you are locked into in the consensual reality that we all physically inhabit
at present. In other words, the "real world" isn't making you happy, and you
want outta there.
Led by a an oddball contingent of misfits, dropouts, acidheads, phreaks, hackers,
hippies, scientists, students, guys who could say "do0d, got any new wares?"
with a straight face and really mean it -- and quite often -- people who managed
to combine many of these attributes; the 1980's saw the rise of the first empires
and kingdoms of Cyberspace.
As romantic and wonderful as this seems, and was . . . a lot of the people
involved had been brutalized by life, and much of this new reality was borne
out of a tidal wave of pain and dissatisfaction. When I first became an active
participant in this electronic nervous system that was just beginning to experience
its awakening; I was a little over ten years old. My early understandings of
what this "place" was, were shaped by a handful of people whose skills I admired
and sought to emulate, yet whose lives I felt great pity and sadness for.
There were of course exceptions, people who were so high on the potential of
this technology and the completely new level of reality it could bring, that
nothing more than a love of their creation drove them onwards. But these people
were pretty uncommon, most of the pioneers were guys who were simply unhappy
. . . or to be more exact, so unhappy that they had given up on finding joy
in the "real world" and were constructing a rocket ship called Cyberspace to
get them out of here as fast as possible.
"Peace, love and happiness" was not exactly the driving force behind the rise
of the electronic domains. A more realistic rallying cry was one of "Gee this
technology is neat, and I'm gonna use it to make a whole new world where I can
be happy and none of you can ever bother me again. You'll all be sorry, just
wait and see!" They were building the cult of high technology in the hopes that
it would somehow save them from whatever they thought had prevented them from
attaining happiness anywhere else.
Sadly enough "they" were not THOSE PEOPLE, "they" had become "us" and while
the first steps into this place had been made possible by the phone phreaks
and misfits of yesterday, the online world was exploding and changing at an
incredible velocity, the rest of society was about to take notice in a big way,
and a handful of disenfranchised teenagers had seized the reigns and were in
the early stages of walking into the spotlight and taking the status quo for
a big ride . . .
Everything really was this big beautiful game, and here we were with an overview
of the whole jigsaw puzzle, and the sudden power to do anything we wanted to
do with it. For the first time in recent history you COULD reach out and change
reality, you could DO STUFF that effected EVERYTHING and EVERYONE, and you were
suddenly living this life that was like something out of a comic book or adventure
story. In a place filled with magical lands and fantastic people who you had
only read about, and suddenly you WERE actually talking to Timothy Leary, or
Steven Wozniak, and some guy who was just on the cover of a magazine was speaking
with you and thought that YOU were cool, and then finally you were IN the magazines
and at the forefront of an entire sub-culture that was being rapidly assimilated
into the cultural mythos.
It was a VERY interesting time and place in which to grow up.
Of course the problem is a lot of us didn't grow up. At a certain point in
time having power that can have real and immediate effects upon all society,
can do very strange things to your perspective of the world. Instead of learning
to deal with the normal barriers that most teenagers in western culture find
themselves faced with, you discover that you can blow right through all of them
without even slowing down. In this way you miss much of the growth and acclimation
that people go through during their teenage years. Which is where a lot of old
friends parted ways with reality and ceased to be explorers, becoming caught
up in the real world implications of the power that was now at their disposal.
In effect, they lost sight of the underlying theme that all our actions had
been based upon, that of exploration and pushing the boundaries, and merely
focused on the short-term end-result of what their abilities could bring them;
in the process becoming the criminals that the Secret Service and FBI had said
we all were.
What had begun with the best intentions, as the ultimate extension of human
curiosity, had devolved into a cultural movement that had very little to do
with the ideals that had inspired it. The term "hacker" had become synonymous
with "criminal", and taking a look around at the state of the underground, it
looked as if much of it had in fact degenerated into crime cartels comprised
of angry teens who had little understanding of the underlying mechanisms they
were employing to play with reality. It was no longer the exhilaration of knowing
that you could actually reach out and touch a satellite . . . it had come down
to the negative power trip of fucking with something for the sake of pissing
people off or just showing the world how much power you really have at your
disposal if you ever decided to throw a tantrum.
By 1988 what had replaced our outlook, was a mindset where the new generation
saw two things: one of them was the potential to take advantage of holes in
the system for personal gain. There was no longer any quest for knowledge, desire
to learn, or need to push the boundaries of what was possible for the sake of
exploration. Instead there were a lot of people who couldn't get past making
free phone calls, stealing things, and causing trouble by following an already
well-established pattern of action and reaction.
The second -- and perhaps biggest -- motivating factor had become the desire
for personal attention in the form of self-aggrandizement: the ultimate hack
had become the media machine itself. What was originally a by-product of our
experiences, had become a goal in and of itself. And here is where things became
The media in the latter half of the twentieth century has become a very strange
distortion of reality instead of the reflection it was intended to be. Since
this is not an essay on the evils of manipulation through the use of media,
I will stick with a very simple outline of how events occur in the real world.
A reporter, journalist, writer -- SOME PERSON who has their own desires and
ambitions, wants to do an exciting story on something that will garner him or
her a lot of attention and acclaim. Really they are operating from a point of
view that has much in common with the "hacker's," which is the mindset of "I'm
gonna get mine." So this journalist looks around at the headlines and realizes
that there is a mounting wave of hysteria surrounding viruses and hackers and
invasion of privacy and . . . gee, wouldn't it be a nice career move to do a
story that will mix their name into whatever the hot topic of the next five
minutes happens to be.
If the journalist is attached to any even marginally important publication,
they will then get their pick from one of the current four or five "names" doing
the rounds. On the other hand, if the journalist is just starting out and connected
to something much smaller, then the chances are they will simply show up at
some user's group meeting, find the nearest thing they can to a "computer nerd,"
do an interview, and then write it up expressing whatever the current publicly-sanctioned
viewpoint happens to be (the usual slant has become: hackers are evil and can
look at your credit rating, fear them).
I have been interviewed on many occasions and I know roughly twenty people
who have done the interviews that comprise the basis of about 90% of all media
that exists in relation to the underground; be it in newspaper, periodical,
television segment, or book format. WITH *VERY* FEW EXCEPTIONS, there have been
countless solicitations to perform illegal acts in the presence of journalists,
these solicitations move all the way into coercion in some cases. There are
reports containing sentences that were never spoken, quotes taken out of context,
information that was invented . . . there's simply no end to it. The reporter
profits first by stroking the hacker's ego and giving him the spotlight that
he thinks he wants so badly, and then continues to profit as the hacker rides
a bigger and bigger wave of publicity that in every case leads to a very unhappy
ending if the hacker in question doesn't have the foresight to get off the ride
before it derails.
In any case, whatever happens, the reporter always wins. When the hacker's
ride reaches its date with fate, the journalist in question can now write the
closing chapter in the hacker's saga and tell the public how this nefarious
evil-doer is being punished by the long arm of justice. This is followed up
by the journalist taking on the "official" mantle of "hacker expert," doing
the lecture circuit, perhaps writing a book, and then going out and finding
a new horse to beat to death.
Obviously nothing can ever be this black and white, there must be a need for
both parties to play their roles. The reporter is not THE EVIL BAD MAN who has
corrupted the INNOCENT ANGELIC HACKER, nor does this scenario apply to all journalists
equally, off the top of my head; Bruce Sterling, John Markoff, and Julian Dibbell
come to mind as extremely ethical exceptions to the norm.
Usually the reporter who isn't quite so ethical is just somebody who is presented
with a situation that can easily be twisted and misused if the desire for fame
and fortune takes precedence over everything else. The reporter by the very
nature of his job tends to be quite "slick" and worldly-wise, whereas the hacker
in question is usually highly knowledgeable about computer systems while managing
to retain an oblivious naivety about the workings of human beings in that elusive
place called "the real world." This sets the stage for what transpires.
And you see a lot of people who used to be your friends, get ground up in this
endless cycle as it repeats itself over and over again until one day you wake
up and come to realize that you're seventeen or eighteen going on 90. You understand
that everything in the whole world is comprised of bits and pieces of lies and
half-truths, everyone is inherently corrupt, including you; a lot of kids who
used to be your friends are now all grown up with no place to go and getting
busted for such things as fraud and grand larceny; and you have utterly lost
touch with anything even remotely "real." And yet, you're still a teenager and
have another 70 or 80 years left to hang around on this planet.
This is right around the time that you're back in the media, only this trip
around you're at the receiving end of law enforcement who have been prodded
into a state of near-hysteria by the dawning realization that a bunch of kids
really can dismantle the building blocks of the infrastructure that makes most
of present-day society possible. Naturally enough they're scared, and they're
in the process of doing what people have done for ages when they are afraid:
going on a witch-hunt. Guess who gets to play witch...
So one day you find yourself wondering why you should bother buying another
computer system and trying to figure out what the point of it all was anyway;
to glimpse the limitless potential and then fall back and only see your own
flaws amplified to cartoon-like proportions.
The 1980's were a time that saw the birth and death of the first dynasties
of Cyberspace. Travelling through the electronic landscape of this period in
time, was like traversing this surreal range of mountains, where amongst the
sheer outcropping of rock, lush valleys, and snow-capped peaks, a collection
of rather obsessive dreamers had built some of the most beautiful castles that
were ever created and opened their doors to a populace of pioneers. It was absolutely
transporting and timeless . . . and unfortunately -- in the short term -- doomed.
This has been an abbreviated summary of the atmosphere and events that started
a kind of mass exodus out of the modem world for about twenty of us. We had
spent our entire childhoods jacked into this alternate electronic universe,
locked into playing our overly-developed personas, and almost no time figuring
out who we were and what we wanted out of life beyond "further, better, more."
This is nothing new or unique in and of itself, it was however something that
gained a very tangible and immediate importance to many of us when we found
that the thoughtspace in which we had lived a large portion of our lives had
disintegrated and the people we had known and called friends, had largely disappeared
and been replaced by every negative quality they possessed.
A lot of us dumped the remnants of this reality into a stack of boxes and took
off for parts unknown. Whether college, work, a new circle of friends that didn't
know who you were in Cyberspace, or even know what Cyberspace was; just about
anywhere were we could start over and try to regain what had somehow been lost.
"Ya live your life like it's a coma, so won't you tell me why
we'd wanna; With all the reasons you give, it's kinda hard to believe; But who
am I to tell you I've seen, any reason why you should stay; Maybe we'd be better
off without you anyway..."
--Guns N Roses(*2)
After coming to the realization that visiting The Tunnel for the fourteenth
time in three weeks was not going to change my life for the better, and having
no idea what I wanted to do with myself, I dropped it all and got on a plane
for the middle of nowhere New Mexico. Where I proceeded to cycle through all
my negative tendencies at an accelerated pace, first becoming utterly obsessed
with bodybuilding, to the point of five hour a day workouts, insane diets, steroids,
and a silly-putty like transformation of myself to 6'2" 215 pounds and 6% bodyfat.
This was good for about ten months, before I found myself in the same mindset
I had thought I could escape. Looking in the mirror and seeing a parody of who
I used to be, wondering where to go from there. The answer was obviously to
buy a Porsche and begin re-stocking my wardrobe with everything by Armani and
Versace, yes I had it now, this WAS the right answer, I only had to look around
at all the people I knew doing just this to see that . . . well, actually they
were all pretty miserable, but again, it lasted for about nine or ten months.
Around this time I realized that aside from the fact that I was a pretty fucked
up person who probably needed a lot of therapy -- which had never quite worked
out the right way when I had it thrust upon me as a teenager -- I had become
completely out of touch with my feelings. Not out of touch that I didn't have
them, I had over a thousand pages of them sprayed across megabytes of disks
where I wrote out all the things inside of myself driving me crazy; but out
of touch in the sense that when I began taking things apart and analyzing reality,
I had stopped listening to anything I felt inside and just tuned in to what
The problem being that the more you try to act out of logic, the more you find
yourself applying logic to utterly emotional issues in an completely crazed
and self-destructive way. When logic should be asking: "Why do I want to weigh
215 pounds of muscle? What the hell am I doing?" it suddenly finds itself in
the position of contemplating "Ok, so if I want to gain 5 pounds in the next
2 weeks, how many CC's of Deca do I mix with X mg. of Anavar, with what ratio
of carbs/fat and what is the minimum PER of the protein I am going to consume
in order to remain in an anti-catabolic state?"
Welcome to real-life Alice in Wonderland, taking place in your head.
At the age of twenty-one I had managed to attain a place where I possessed
everything that I ever thought I wanted. Life is funny that way, you really
do get whatever you desire. Endless hours spent reading thousands of books;
the mix and match regimen of combinations of new nootropics and longevity agents;
and the final combination of steroids and obsessive workouts had resulted in
my achievement of the goal I had subconsciously been working towards for most
of my life. I had succeeded in my efforts to become absolutely untouchable by
anyone or anything.
When you are no longer in the middle of a situation and have the comfort of
hindsight it's very simple to deduce what the underlying problems behind anything
happen to be, and why you are acting in a way that is physically, mentally and
spiritually destructive to yourself. While there is nothing inherently wrong
with any action I might have taken, it all comes back to the question of why
are you doing something? And looking back upon my life, I had actually lived
very little of it in an attempt to make myself happy. Almost everything had
been some sort of reaction to those around me, and how I felt I had to respond
Despite my intellectual understanding of how brief moments of stimulus-response
can shape a person's existence, like so many endlessly-referenced frames of
film forever etched in their brain. Long-gone fragments of time that refuse
to relinquish their hold on the present, telling people who they are, setting
their limitations, and defining the boundaries of what they allow their lives
to mean. In truth I had never managed to apply any of this knowledge to myself
and had lived most of my life in accordance with the patterns of self-destructive
programming perpetually repeating a loop in my head.
From childhood onwards I have been through a seemingly endless variety of extremes
in my life; moving from levels of comfortable opulence, to near-poverty and
back again, more times than I care to count. What I had learned from this was
that being poor wasn't that much fun, and could really suck, therefore logic
dictates that I must always have a lot of money and do whatever it takes to
get it. In fact I'm going to be so unconcerned with money that I will start
to feel anxious if I'm not wearing a $300 dollar haircut and a $400 dollar shirt.
I have felt controlled by situations beyond my reach in the past, therefore
I am going to learn as much as I can about everything, so that nobody will ever
be able to fuck with my head and attempt to control me through misrepresentation
of the truth. I have been out-of-control with various addictions and done such
stupid things to myself that through combinations of downers and alcohol I have
at one point weighed over 300 pounds; therefore I will understand every fucking
piece of biochemistry that is known about the human body, I will do whatever
it takes to look into the mirror and gain my own approval even if it means working
out with such frequency that a pleasant sport becomes a daily torture session
that leaves me nauseous and physically incapable of performing simple movements
because everything hurts all the time. I will look like someone has spray-painted
skin onto a statue no matter how difficult it is to maintain this state constantly,
I will force myself to eat 6,000 calories of protein and 400 calories of carbohydrate,
and if I can no longer think or move and my ultimate fantasy has become sleeping
18 hours a day, then that's what caffeine and amphetamines are for. I live in
hell therefore I shall use drugs to escape my hell by taking week-long vacations
on opiates, but I will never be controlled by anything, so on the 8th day I
will walk away from heaven and live through a couple of days of pain that hurt
a little bit more than the rest of my life, but I will never be some fucking
junkie, because I not only can do anything, I WILL do it, and I just dare the
fucking universe to try and prove otherwise, because I can quit anything, I
can conquer anything, I can do anything to prove anything to anyone and you
can't stop me, because the entire world is full of weak, soft and stupid motherfuckers
who talk much and do little; praise George Bernard Shaw and pass the Nietzsche.
Coming down off the adrenalin and testosterone rush the memories I used to
write that paragraph with have triggered, I'd like to take this moment to borrow
a quote from one of the greatest poet-philosophers of our time: "Happy happy!
After endless repetitions of this cycle I had finally reached a state in which
my internal programming ceased to function -- there was simply nothing left
I could apply it to. Over the years I had overcome most of my psychological
barriers through direct mental or physical actions, that had brought with them
physical rewards that I was utterly incapable of applying to my life at that
time. Welcome to oblivion.
Hitting absolute nothingness was the beginning of a very personal catharsis
for me that finally led to turning inwards to see what was wrong, since externally,
everything looked okay. I had attained a physical state that "corrected" everything
my subconscious had said was "wrong" with me, yet for some bewildering reason
I was not deliriously happy. A series of steps followed which eventually led
to various experiments in the world of theatre and film, where I had the chance
to re-connect with emotions, and get them back into some kind of perspective
from the comfortable vantage point and attitude of: "they're not really mine,
I'm only playing them." All of which reached a pinnacle when I began experimenting
with LSD for the first time.
If you have never experienced what it is like to be on an acid trip, it will
be difficult for me to convey the kaleidoscopic depth of experience you are
presented with. It does nothing less nor more, than strip away every preconceived
notion that you have ever had regarding what "reality" is. Beyond the special
effects, intellectual realizations, and creative opportunity it presents, it
leaves you imbued with one very basic truth of the universe: No matter what
the actual outcome of your actions, what matters is your intent. If what you
are doing -- whatever it may be -- is being done out of any reason other than
a desire to bring happiness to people; to help humanity as a whole reach some
greater level of understanding; to uplift and inspire people to reach for something
that is within everyone's grasp . . . then you are wasting your time.
This is not exactly news, I mean it is the basic belief system that every religion
on earth is founded on (with the possible exception of Satanism, and a few other
offshoots of this system of thought). The problem with religion getting such
a bad rap most of the time is largely due to the fact that most people who act
as spokesmen for any given religious cause, are only mouthing words they comprehend
on an intellectual level. They are not actually living in this state of internal
alignment, so what they have to offer can be very suspect . . . how is someone
who has not attained what he speaks of, supposed to help you attain it for yourself?
While dogma may help a limited few, it will never reach most of those who posses
the ability to think for themselves. Nor is standing at a pulpit or in front
of a camera and ranting about damnation, going to help anyone reach any kind
of positive state.
I obviously cannot speak for everybody, but from my own perspective I had read
the holy books of most religions on earth when I became interested in psychology
and the theories of Carl Jung -- who crosses over into mysticism and religious
experience, going as far as the concept of "karma" with his theory of Synchronicity.
Yet I never got anything from them other than an intellectual high of understanding
how groups of people could be programmed to behave in certain ways . . . which
isn't what it's about. The EXPERIENCE is what all religions are based on, how
you choose to interpret it is entirely up to you. But a very simple thing that
becomes apparent is the basic truth that wherever your inspiration is coming
from, if it fills you with the need to motivate large groups of people to do
SOMETHING, be that something in the name of "God" or anybody else . . . then
somewhere, you got the wrong message. Because there really isn't all that much
to say beyond the very simple and obvious, "give love and you will get it."
The only thing that needs to be changed is your attitude and outlook on life.
Making group_of_people(x) move twenty paces to the left while wearing black
hats and reading from the Holy Book of the Arboreal Tree Sloth, isn't gonna
make the world a better place.
While this discourse is tangential to some of the issues at hand, in a great
sense it is the underlying cause for all of them. Once you have seen the light
as it were, or understood the bigger picture . . . it becomes very hard to go
back to living life with blinders on regarding your own actions. Until it eventually
reaches the place where I found myself. The point at which the only things I'm
going to talk about are those that matter to me, things I believe in . . . things
I believe will help people in some manner. Along with the realization that I
cannot do a lot of things I used to do anymore. I cannot lie to people and present
them with some image they want to see in order to get something from them --
because I mean, WHAT is there to "get" anyway? I can no longer be a politician
or figurehead for causes that I do not believe in, and I will no longer waste
my time taking part in meaningless drivel that serves to do nothing but entrench
me in bullshit without end; I had already spent most of my life taking apart
the rules and winning at whatever game I tried to play. What I never bothered
to examine was the fact that I didn't "win" anything that ever brought me any
happiness . . . what is the point in playing if you don't want the "prize?"
Stagnation of the Electronic Frontier
Moving forward in time by about two years, this was the attitude that I had
managed to retain as I returned to New York. Everything was the same, yet completely
different. What had been pervaded by Nihilism and vacuity only a short time
ago, was now a pathway of infinite potential and limitless possibility. For
the first time in almost six years I actually felt completely inspired and excited
by the possibilities that life in general and Cyberspace in particular had to
The summer of 1991 was a kind of "class reunion" for many of us. For the first
time in almost half a decade we found ourselves back in New York City, the place
where all of this had started for us such a long time ago.
What happened was pretty much the expected; an endless stream of jokes and
self-depreciating humor regarding who we used to be, the three-letter acronyms
we used to affiliate with or have in revolution around us, the state of the
universe and everything in it, and a general time of catching up on who had
done what. It was a strange situation, since we really had disappeared, to the
extent that most of us had not talked with one another in years, it was almost
as if picking up the phone and speaking with someone from back then would bring
back all the bad things you were trying to get rid of.
Out of this gathering, I found about a dozen people who I no longer knew. People
who had become submerged in drugs, and become lost in different sub-cultures
where they could live out reasonable facsimiles of their childhoods forevermore;
people who had completely lost touch with what they used to be, and become stereotypical
examples of what people tend to term "computer geeks," the sum total of their
interest in life having been narrowed down to that new bug in X windows client-server
architecture and what it would mean to the future of the OSF; people who hadn't
changed at all and were still busy "getting over" on society in general, looking
for the next big scam that would net them another small fortune which they would
proceed to blow over the course of the next year, as this perpetual cycle in
their lives repeated itself; but perhaps most surprisingly, I found that about
ten people I used to know had gone through a growth process very similar to
my own, and actually succeeded in solving their quest and winning the prize
we had all sought so badly.
The correct solution to the "quest," is of course, that there is no solution.
There is nothing you are looking for, except for you, and once you realize this,
you win the big prize, you find yourself, and get to live happily ever after.
After re-discovering that a group of us seemed to thoroughly enjoy each other's
company, we eventually ended up having a weekly meeting where we'd get together
and discuss various topics. Foremost amongst them was one that sprung up with
increasing regularity as the weeks went by: getting back onto the frontier from
a completely different angle. As years went by many of us had started completely
different lives; some were in college, others had started companies or gone
to work for companies they had once laughed at, and still more had started careers
completely unrelated to anything they had been doing in the past. But it had
became clear that what we really wanted to do was take the incredible promise
that had been shown to us during our youth when we had walked along the edge
of a new reality unfolding, and channel it into a positive direction that would
As we found out, the hacker underground had continued with its headlong dive
into oblivion. The underground had basically ceased to exist after the Operation
Sun Devil sweep. Just about the only "hacker systems" still in existence were
those catering to the teenagers whose priorities focused on ripping off phone
companies, collecting VMB codes and pirating software.
While this was slightly depressing, it was also a foregone conclusion and didn't
cause too much surprise. The main focus of our interest was what had become
of the mainstream telecommunications nets -- given half a decade to evolve,
something really exciting must have happened by now. The hardware that we ended
up sitting in front of, would have made possible an undreamed of variety of
possibility when taken into context with what was available in the past. We
were used to 64K Apple ][+ systems, or maybe tricked out //e's with 128K and
PC's with 640K, and now we were sitting at a friend's house in front of a NeXT
and an SGI Indigo. When you thought about the fact that 7 years ago you had
paid about $8,500 for a 4.5megabyte Corvus hard disk, and now you could buy
an entire NeXT with that . . . it was, fantastic.
Before taking off on our expedition of present-day Cyberspace, we had spoken
with some of our friends who were familiar with the terrain, and received somewhat
tepid responses and a general dismissal of what was going on right now. Thinking
the attitude was one of standard arrogance which we had all gone through, we
didn't pay too much attention to it and set out to explore the new electronic
nervous system of the world.
A couple of hours later it became shockingly apparent that most of the potential
of the bright new technology that now existed . . . that could have been used
to create and house an infinite expanse of innovation, communication, and pooling
of thought, lay dormant. Thus far it had seemingly been utilized to construct
gigantic file servers that advertised their existence by digitizing porno magazines
and editing their dialup lines into the resulting scan.
All those wonderful places that we had travelled in the past, and had dominated
the landscape only half a decade before . . . had indeed been razed, paved over,
and replaced by an endless electronic expanse of snap-together tract houses
that littered the landscape with numbingly identical systems. The frontier had
packed up and moved back into labs where people like our friend with the workstations
were working on applications that wouldn't see the light of day for another
decade. And what was out there right now, was strikingly similar to a generic
suburb of AnyTown, USA.
Objectively a suburb is not a bad thing, it's planned out, logical, it works,
it doesn't need to be any different from any other suburb . . . in short, it's
functional. It's also very different from the environment we had grown up in,
where everything was a new step further out into the unknown, where anything
could happen, and nobody had ever been there before.
From our vantage point it looked as if the explorers had indeed gone back to
their ivory towers (or haunted dungeons as the case may be), and a lot of used
car salesmen had set up shop cranking out the snap-together tract houses, when
they realized they could make more money doing that, than say, selling used
It was truly a mind blowing experience to witness for the first time, systems
that actually advertised themselves based upon how many lines they had, or how
much storage. Attitudes that would have garnered a great deal of scorn and derision
-- and in general made your advertisement the brunt of a lot of jokes -- were
suddenly the accepted way in which systems chose to differentiate themselves
from one another. Looking at them, it came down to the fact that the only difference
between system (A) and system (B) was that one might have 16 lines while the
other had 24, and system (C) was inherently superior to both (a) and (b) because
it had 32 lines and 4 gigabytes of storage (used to house 10,000 programs, out
of which the same 200 are downloaded over and over again, as the rest of the
junk sits there gathering dust).
Even more frightening, on a system that had 10,000 messages on it, an average
of 9,800 will be echoes of FidoNet or RIME or whatever-net, leaving a grand
total of about 200 messages from the actual members. And frequently those 200
messages date back a year and a half . . . a couple of years ago a BAD one line
system had that many messages in a week. A good one in a couple of hours.
To a lot of people Cyberspace has become one big file server . . . strikingly
similar to what television has devolved into. An entirely passive place where
you press buttons and get entertained, no thought required, no input necessary.
Realizing that we were merely skimming the surface, and might not know the
whole story, we spent a couple of weeks becoming familiar with what had happened,
and what the situation really was. Based upon several hundred conversations
with various people who were involved with the current scene, we arrived at
a couple of very basic conclusions.
In order to run a system in the present environment, and have users, you needed
to have a pile of hardware, many phone lines, some sort of marketing and bookkeeping
ability, a lot of spare time, coupled with infinite patience to put up with
people, since they are now your customers, not just your friends, and if they
call you up asking the same goofy questions you cannot take the phone off the
hook or tell them to go away.
Where running a system in the past had meant giving up your second phone line,
it presently involved a great deal of interaction with the department of Red
Tape, and Bureau of Tasks You Really Aren't Interested In. This opened the door
to the "used-car salesmen" people, since these were things they were used to
doing every day. Conversely, it has almost universally been our experience that
the guy who is a Unix wizard and can work magic with networking and programming,
lives in deathly fear of signing paperwork, filling out his tax returns, or
figuring out where he parked his car. And finally, the creative person whose
main interest is making fantastic places, lacks the time and patience to write
the code, and certainly has no interest in administrative duties.
In effect, most people with the desire to do something better, did not have
the necessary $25-30k laying around, and even if they did, they would never
act on it because they'd be forced to spend a great deal of their time doing
a hundred things they had no interest in doing. So the online world had begun
to be dominated by the file servers, who didn't really have much of an interest
in being anything other than file servers, since that made the most money with
the least effort, and anybody with $25,000 could toss up a snap-together MeSsyDOS
based system with very little technical ability required.
Thus began the era of the "tract-houses" where advertising and atmosphere consisted
of rattling off hardware statistics and number of phone lines, along with the
number of shareware programs available for downloading (an extremely amusing
concept, considering that there are literally TERABYTES of free software available
for the taking on ftp sites all over the Internet, which cost NOTHING to download
With the exception of two of three bright lights that had the right idea and
were trying to do something different, most of the electronic frontier had indeed
vanished. And it isn't so hard to see where a couple of years from now the same
advertising agencies that sell brain-dead ads designed to induce you to crave
one brand of beer over another, will be pushing SYSTEM X, because IT HAS 10,000
phone lines! Call now and leave your mind at the door!
It has generally been our experience that people are neither stupid, nor shallow.
Everyone has the potential to think for themselves, to overcome adverse situations,
and contribute something to this world. When placed in situations that offer
these possibilities, people tend to come through with surprising regularity.
In a fairly short amount of time you end up with a group of people doing something
they themselves would have deemed improbable, if not downright impossible, if
you had asked them at any other point in their lives.
Virtual Reality has the potential to become the single most important development
in the history of human evolution. It is a technology that holds the promise
of absolute liberation. It also holds the possibility of turning the world into
the rather grim one that is the basis of much Cyberpunk fiction, a dark place
where technology is used to oppress and suppress people.
By its very nature, it is very difficult to ever imagine the latter. In order
to have a police state, you need to amass a certain amount of power, yet Cyberspace
is the ultimate equalizer. It is a place where one person can wield as much
power as 100, 1,000, or 100,000 people. Physical limitations are cast off, and
in the event of conflict the playing field becomes that of mind vs. mind. Sheer
numbers and a mob rules mentality cease to have any meaning when you can create
infinite numbers of electronic organisms to do anything you want them to do.
The hope is that it will never sink to such a level of stupidity. Games are
wonderful, but there is no need for conflict, all struggle tends to be internal
conflict that has become externalized. When you want to convert the sinners,
or prove you are right, all you're doing is having an argument with yourself.
The beautiful thing about Virtual Reality is the fact that you are free to do
that, for as long as you need, to work out that particular set of problems --
without harming anybody.
There is only one ultimate truth, which is BEING HAPPY and experiencing LOVE.
How you choose to perceive it is a very individual matter. While it might mean
blue to you, orange to that guy over there, and silver to me, it's all the same
thing. In the real world if we held fast to those beliefs and behaved as people
have been classically shown to behave, then we'd be killing each other over
who has the right idea about love . . . Cyberspace allows everyone the freedom
to co-exist without harming anyone else's world-view or belief system. And if
you truly are given the opportunity to live in an environment conducive to you
happiness, then if that heretic who thinks orange is the answer were ever to
show up at your front door, chances are you would be able to tolerate him, and
even, "God" forbid, express the love you claim to espouse.
Phantom Access - The Ethereal Takes Shape
There was never any solid dividing line where we decided that we really wanted
to put together a system where we could have the freedom of expression we wanted,
with the ultimate goal really being the very simple one of pushing the envelope
further and further out there. All of us had obligations, school, and personal
commitments that would be difficult to integrate into this major change of plans.
But inevitably the mass exodus out of college, the avoidance of unnecessary
responsibilities, and the initial stages of planning were set in motion.
Six months later we had close to a hundred thousand dollars, top-down system
design, a fully designed multi-user simulation engine, a general idea of what
we would do and how we would go about it, a team of our friends together one
more time, only this time as a real corporation, and over one thousand megabytes
of the collected history of Cyberspace, dating back to systems that existed
in 1979, that had been laying in dusty boxes filled with old Apple DOS 3.3 disks.
On April 1st 1992 MindVox went into its alpha-testing stage. Which loosely
speaking means that we put everything together and watched it disintegrate repeatedly
as the last 300-400 bugs were worked out of the system. Since then it has been
running in protected environment mode with a collection of our friends and associates
crash-testing the software, suggesting where rough-edges might be smoothed,
and generally having a good time creating some of the atmosphere while trying
to destroy the software in every conceivable way so that everything is solid
In May of 1992 MindVox will open it's doors to the public. As much as we'd
like to say that it's going to completely change everything, it will not. All
it can do is allow people who feel in rhythm with this vision of the world to
converge together in one of the most interesting nexus points of Cyberspace.
To extend their reach, explore new levels of experience, and interact with some
of the pioneers in the fields of computer science, networking, science-fiction,
music, the arts, politics, religion, altered states, and future reality.
Our main priority is to create and continuously evolve an environment that
fosters an atmosphere of dynamic creativity, coupled with access to information
and ideas, that present you with a far greater spectrum of possibility than
you might otherwise be able to access.
Nothing of this magnitude could ever take shape based upon the merits of any
one individual. The entire Phantom Access Group has been a collaborative effort
since it began some ten years ago; the MindVox project is merely the first confluence
of the diverse talents that comprise the core of Phantom Access Technologies,
that has been directed towards the electronic and societal mainstream.
Looking back over the years, there are very few of my friends who have not
in some way contributed to the genesis of Phantom Access and the creation of
MindVox, and I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all
People I would like to specifically thank, and without whom MindVox could not
have been launched in the manner we wanted, include:
First and foremost, my fiance Delia, who has made much of the last several
years possible; who never knew about "Lord Digital" when she met me; who has
gone from "computers, uh, ugh, that's so . . . um, dull" to not only seeing
the potentials inherent in the capabilities the technology presents to all society,
but actually extending many hundreds of hours of her time to scripting sections
of the project and designing human interaction POV's based upon her lifelong
experience with theatre and film. She has also shown remarkable grace by retaining
a sense of humor when dealing with 2am anonymous calls from computer dudes who
feel compelled to ask "so, what does Lord Digital do in bed?" questions.
The second person to whom I owe a great deal is Bruce Fancher, my partner in
this endeavor, as well as half a hundred projects that have spanned over a decade.
Without you many things would not have been possible, and those that were would
have been a lot less fun. It has been an interesting experience watching someone
grow into an adult who has retained all the qualities that made them so much
fun to hang out with in our youth, yet managed to temper that childlike glee
with responsibility, humor in the face of adversity, and that elusive quality
called character. Here's to another couple of decades of Lord & Lord.
I would like to thank every member of the Phantom Access Group for the thousands
of hours spent designing, implementing and de-bugging the programs that make
MindVox come to life. Respective of some people's desire to remain out of the
spotlight, I will leave it at that. You know who you are & anyone who really
cares to find that out can do so at any time they desire.
Phiber Optik: For applying his considerable skills in a positive direction
and helping us make MindVox a very difficult fortress to lay siege to, while
at the same time adding a tremendous amount of versatility to our networking
and communications interface options. Most of all, thank you for having the
courage to realize that the world is not always a logical or fair place and
that no matter how intelligent you are or how noble your intentions, you can
be dragged down by the stupidity and fear of those around you if you associate
with people who do not share the same qualities you possess.
Charles: For a great deal of assistance in updating many of us regarding the
current status of new technology and what's just over the horizon, as well as
providing tremendous aid by showing us functional examples of the state of the
art in distributed electronic networking, and taking us on a fast-forward cruise
through a wide variety of hardware platforms and development tools. Your friendship,
advice, and persistent belief in our vision, has been invaluable.
Len Rose: For being a good friend over the years and always giving assistance
with anything we have needed. Most of all thanks for coming out of everything
you've been through with optimism about the future and an intact belief system.
George Gleason: For being a person who has become one of my close friends faster
than anyone else ever did. For possessing a really beautiful outlook on life
& everything in it, and for always being a calming voice when things are completely
crazy and the moon is full.
Bruce Sterling: For his encouragement, support, and a really funny talk at
CFP-2. Most of all, the deepest appreciation for doing an admirable job of presenting
the unbiased truth while chronicling some of the events that have taken place
on the frontiers of Cyberspace.
Mike Godwin: For putting up with many long and strange phone calls regarding
a wide variety of topics; for helping us to avoid potential pitfalls and difficulty;
for providing encouragement and advice, and in general, for being a really cool
person who has gone out of his way many times to provide us with assistance.
Thomas Dell: For writing code full of obscure jokes and weird ramblings that
do wonders to wake you up and get your full attention when you are changing
things at 3am, and for being an exceptionally gracious guy who is one of the
limited handful of people that have maintained their sense of vision in the
face of impending mediocrity and industrialization.
Special thanks to Dan, SN, SR, D00f and everyone in DPAK and cDc, who comprise
some of the very few who managed to grasp the obvious, and in turn make use
of this knowledge in an entertaining and lucid manner. Additional accolades
to DPAK for being the only eL!te duDeZ to use a four letter acronym instead
of a three letter one. The vision, the sheer wow!
Mega-Supra-Surfin-the-Ozone Thanks to Mondo 2000. Beyond the sea of screaming
fluff and designer hyperbole contained within the covers of any issue of Mondo,
there is also a great deal of truth to be found about Cyberspace, music, art,
film, and life in general. Mondo has thus far shown itself to be beyond reproach
as far as journalistic ethics and presentation of the facts are concerned. It
is also to be commended as a publication with a sound belief in typing words
at random and letting them fall where they may.
Finally, tremendous gratitude goes to Jim Thomas. A person I do not know and
have never spoken with, yet someone who has done an exceptionally important
service to all of Cyberspace with the forum presented by Computer Underground
Digest. Irrespective even of CuD, I have heard nothing but praise and well-wishing
from the many you have helped. Thank you.
Additional thanks to: Paul, Yuri, Eric & Eric, Ken & everyone who has made
the move to Phibro Energy, Drowned Fish, Andrew, Randy, Carl, The Plastics,
TV, Eric Madeson, Richard, Harlequin, Dane, Jeff, The Galactic Knight, Laszlo
Nibble, Colleen, Cereal "I live to be annoying" Killer, the cast & crew of LightStorm
lighting and Manny "huh?" Riggs at Record Plant.
Patrick K. Kroupa
Phantom Access Technologies, Inc. +1 212 988 5987
*1Lyrics are (c) Copyright, some year or another by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards,
otherwise known as the Rolling Stones. The version I was listening to is a cover
version done by Jane's Addiction.
*2 Lyrics are (c) Copyright, 1991 by Guns N Roses music/Uzi/Suicide Records.