From: (David Sewell)
Subject: Usenet, No Exit: A Theological Parable
Date: 15 Jan 1996 05:28:09 GMT


A Theological Parable

Once upon a time, Stephen Boursy, John Grubor, Jeff Slaton, and Dimitri Vulis were all travelling together on a bus--probably to "visit" someone, but the story doesn't say. While rounding a hairpin turn on a treacherous mountain road, the bus suddenly skidded, broke through the guardrail, and plunged two thousand feet, instantly killing everyone on board.

Boursy, Grubor, Slaton, and Vulis awoke to find themselves floating on soft clouds before a massive pearly gate, where an old man with dazzling white robes and a long fleecy beard greeted them. "I am St. Peter," he said. "Tell me who you are and what you have done with your lives, to help me decide where you belong."

The four eyed each other nervously. Finally Jeff Slaton stepped forward. "Saint Peter, I have aided millions of computer users by championing free enterprise and protecting the Internet from the forces of socialism and hypocritical elitism. I would be honored to offer my skills in the service of Heaven!"

Next Boursy gathered courage. "I have fought evil outlaws who pretend to be other people in order to cancel their words!" Nearly elbowing him aside in his eagerness came Grubor: "St. Peter, I have valiantly rid the Internet of pushers of hard drugs, and defended the God-given American right of free speech!" Last of all Vulis came forward and flung out his chest as he said, "Like my mentor and countryman Solzhenitsyn, I have exposed the wiles of evil stukachi and the lying forger Pidor Vorobieff!"

St. Peter scratched his head and sighed. "I'm afraid I'm not very up to date on computers, but Raphael surfs the Net. Please wait just a moment." Instantly there appeared a heroic archangel in shimmering armor. "What IS it, Peter?" he said. "I *finally* found a moment to install the ELF binaries on His Linux system..." St. Peter pointed to the four new arrivals, and began a whispered conference with the archangel. Finally St. Peter turned back to them, and with a wide smile said, "We have chosen accommodations for you; Raphael will show you to your quarters!"

Everything faded; and when the four could focus their eyes again, they were with Raphael in a gleaming white room scented with incense and adorned with precious gems. A luxurious feather-bed stood against each wall, and next to each one a gleaming Pentium computer. "Here you are," said Raphael. "You've all got Windows 95 and Ethernet connections, plus full access to the Web."

"What about Usenet?" asked Grubor, a mite suspiciously.

Raphael smiled indulgently. "Would we offer an inferior product here? We who know the secrets of your hearts have designed for you a news network fit for eternity. Ten thousand newsgroups, no article cancellation, no charters, no FAQs, no vote-takers, no rules. As Augustine said, 'Love God, and post what thou wilt.'"

"Do you carry heaven.admin.policy?" asked Boursy. "Yes, my child." " and" asked Grubor. "Of course." "You mean no cancelbots?" asked Slaton. "Goodness, no, the idea!" "Does heaven.culture.russian have a moderator?" asked Vulis. "Who but you, my dear Doctor?"

"You've all got shell accounts on," Raphael continued. "Use trn to read news and Pnews to post. Of course our version of Pnews doesn't give you that silly scolding about how much money your post is going to cost the entire Net."

The four rushed to their computers, and for some time nothing could be heard but the clacking of keys against the faint background of harp music. At length all were silent, until Slaton shouted, "Gather round, and let's see the fun!" As the others crowded about his terminal, he typed "trn", and tapped his fingers impatiently until a prompt appeared:

     ======  4 unread articles in heaven.general -- read now? [+ynq]

"Hmm, that's kind of odd..." Slaton murmured as he hit the + key.

      a Sanctified Spam    1  No more A P O L O G I E S, Suu--eeeee!
      b Doctor of Theology 2  Chris Lewis needs an angelic visitor!
        Stephen Boursy        >Make that two angelic visitors!
      d Dr. Dimitri Vulis  1  First List of lying stukachi Seraphim

      (Mail) -- Select threads (date order) -- All [Z>] --

"WHAT??" the four cried, with one voice. "Where's the rest of the posts? Where's everybody else??!!"

Raphael's eyes gleamed. "Who said anything about anyone else?"

For the first time ever, Boursy had a clue. "Where... just where ARE we, anyway?"

Raphael quickly strode to the door and turned as he passed through. "You know what Sartre said. L'Usenet, c'est les autres! Enjoy eternity!" And with that the door shut and the lock clicked with an authoritative "sneck!".

And as the four rushed wild-eyed to their terminals to compose furious denunciations, eight eyes processed in horror the message that appeared there:

         Broadcast Message from root@otherworld
                (/dev/tty1) at 00:00 ...
         System going down in 2 minutes, back up in a few aeons
         --Chris Lewis, SysAdm


David Sewell  *  | "Seekers for gold dig much
Dep't of Geosciences, Univ. of Arizona         | earth, and find little gold."
 WWW:    |           --Heraclitus
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