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  • The Virtual Kingdom Is Within You

    Autumn Leaves, the Simpson Trial, and the Internet

    Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)

    The autumn foliage in New England is at its most brilliant. I needn't go far to enjoy the conflagration. A daily four-mile walk from my front door at the western edge of the Berkshires takes me through more flaming beauty than I can ever hope to honor. Pausing to look at some of the richly draped trees, I consider my good fortune, and give thanks.

    But another part of me wonders: might the view on the other side of these hills be still more spectacular? Shouldn't I climb in my car and find out?

    The urge, however, seems just slightly too frantic, too unsettling, too selfish. I recognize in it a kind of greed -- greed that would drive me from sight to sight, seeking an ever greater jolt of ever more transient amazement. Such an insatiable hunger, I have found, naturally coexists with a pitifully inadequate curiosity about whatever now stands in front of me.

    When my senses thrill to their own stimulation in this manner, can they remain instruments of truth? I do not think so. The eye that experiences itself -- whether due to injury or self-indulgence -- is an eye incapable of seeing the world truly.

    Moreover, if I would drink more deeply of nature, the opportunity is everywhere at hand. It requires no venture to the far side of the hills. I can, for example, extend my journey by seeking out the less striking -- but no less instructive -- revelations of the duller rusts and browns, the dirty yellows, alongside their more showy brethren.

    I was reminded of all this when I heard about the crowds gathered around television screens to hear the O. J. Simpson verdict. A colleague at the office to which I telecommute posted a message for all employees: Forget whatever you're doing; it's not as historic as what's going to occur on the tube.

    But I missed it. As it happens, I also have yet to witness the great, televised Bronco chase. And it was only during the week of final arguments that I first saw the beautifully sculpted visage of O. J. Simpson on a video screen, when I chanced to visit relatives. But throughout the trial I did sporadically follow the coverage in the Sunday papers.

    I do not boast of this "cultural isolation." But it does at least have the advantage of providing a relatively detached perspective on certain things. And the first question this perspective prompts me to ask is, Did I really miss out on history by not watching the verdict's live announcement? In hearing it on the evening news, or in next week's paper -- or in next month's magazine -- must I lose something essential?

    I cannot accept that the effort to stand apart from society's compulsions implies indifference to history.

    If I judge things aright, the main substance of the drama -- at least for those who, like me, neither knew the principals personally nor were prepared to help them amid their difficulties -- lay in a morbid and prurient fascination. Mere spectators, gazing upon human tragedy through the keyhole of a privatizing screen, can scarcely avoid indulging voyeuristic impulses to one degree or another. The spectacle of the spectators in this particular case suggests that the d