How the co-creator of My So-Called Life launched the Web series quarterlife.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Feb. 20 2008 6:48 AM

My So-Called Internetlife

How I launched the Web series quarterlife.

Quarterlife. Click image to expand.
Scott Michael Foster as Jed in quarterlife

So I went on the Internet. Took a break from television, from movies, from a career as a highly paid writer/producer/director; took a break from a business that isn't a business at all but rather a modern iteration of feudalism. For here in Los Angeles, everyone exists in a matrix, with those above and below one's own station. You can see it in the restaurants at lunchtime, in the way the vassals and the knights bow obsequiously to the earls and the dukes of the business. And, just as in the days of feudalism, you owe service to the lord above you. Service and the copyright to everything you create. In return he offers you protection—offers but never actually gives it—and enough money to support whatever manors and estates you can afford (an "estate" in Los Angeles is officially half an acre).

So I took a break, because I've never been happy serving anyone. And went to the Internet where I could be free. At least that's what everyone told me. The Internet is the "Great Democratizer" where anything goes! You can do whatever you want!

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Uh—not exactly.

Why? Well, let's look more closely at what the Internet actually is. If, as they say, it's a vast sea of information, the first thing to realize is that this sea is only accessible from certain harbors called browsers, like Internet Explorer or Safari. And, extending the metaphor further, all the information on this sea is contained in boats called Web sites. And then you begin to understand the problem. It turns out that this sea is invisible to us, untouchable, unusable. Our relationship to the Internet is entirely made up of our relationship to browsers and Web sites. And you know what? They suck.

They're boring, one-dimensional, and unoriginal. Who decided that all Web sites should have a top nav bar and be rectangular in layout? Who decided they should abdicate any sense of design and be white and clean and uncluttered? No one did, and that's the point. It just happened, because the creators of the Internet were thinking about other things. Because the creators of the Internet are a very distinct subspecies of humanity:

Boys.

Geeks, engineers, and boys. And because the DNA of the Internet is entirely male, it exudes the best and worst of what males have to offer. On the plus side—it's brilliant, complex, competitive, audacious in how it's changed our way of organizing experience. On the negative side—it's linear, utilitarian, cold, emotionless, disconnected.

Disconnected?—you ask in high-dudgeon. What about social networks like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn? They do nothing but bring people together. Ah, but do they? I submit that they don't.

Social networks—at least as they've been developed so far—are spectral worlds where the public faces of members interact with the public faces of other members. "Friends" aren't friends at all; some people have hundreds of "friends" they've never even interacted with. On MySpace, people advertise themselves. On Facebook—which comes the closest to actual connectivity—members keep a running commentary on the public actions of people they know. LinkedIn offers a utilitarian marketplace where people can size up their competition while angling for a step up the ladder of success.

Even the most brilliant accomplishments on the Internet are essentially cold. Google has changed the world, but you don't snuggle up to it. YouTube is a giant carnival, filled with freaks and mountebanks, a place to gawk and laugh and get bored. Certainly not a place to feel anything. And there's the rub. Because boys and geeks and engineers—and, by the way, I've spent my life among all three and love all three—don't naturally select for emotionality (they'd rather play video games) or exploration of inner life (they'd rather watch porn) or being in deep relationship with other people (they'd rather build Web sites till all hours), the Internet is singularly devoid of these colorations of humanity.

The further I've gotten into the Internet, the more I've become convinced that we've explored only a tiny corner of what it can mean and what we can feel there. When my colleagues and I set out to bring our particular point of view to the Internet, we found that most people in the cyber biz had no idea what we were talking about. Our aim, similar to that of our earlier shows thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, was to present an emotional look at the dynamics of relationships and the storms of our inner lives. This time, the form would be a series and a social network called quarterlife.

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