Surfing on the Internet

by J.C. Herz

Little Brown and Co.

321 pp., $ 19.95

Flames, myths, MUD's, MOOs, caffeine and sugared cereals. For months, such was the life of J.C. Herz '93, former CrimeEd, as she immersed herself in the culture and subculture of the Internet to research her debut effort, Surfing The Internet (Little, Brown, & Co). The result of sleep deprivation and stimulant overload is a sassy, hypercharged piece of cyberculture shock which reads like an extended Internet session and takes J.C. to the furthest points of cyberspace and back. Through virtual worlds full of meaningless babble and technological romance, around connection obstacles and cultural consequences, Herz's faster-than-a-speeding-bullet style whizzes through the tangle of the Internet and delivers a book equally accessible to initiates and those who are terminally offline.

How did the book came into being:

I was an intern at the Boston Phoenix, and I wrote an article researched on the net about netheads' reaction to the TIME Magazine cyberpunk story. Of course, they all hated it, and the irony was that TIME Magazine didn't really look on the net. The people who it would have called cyberpunks hated what it had to say, so it was this typical punk reaction of, "Go home, leave us alone, under our rock, and don't talk like you know what we mean." So, I wrote this article called "Netheads," and I started thinking.

One morning I was in the shower, where I am when I get all my good ideas, and I thought well, this world is just so bizarre, it would be a cool book, idea, to just explore. I thought about it, and I called this author I knew, who I'd actually met interviewing for the Crimson. He said, "Well, cool, write up a proposal, and send it to these two publishers" One week, I got a series of calls. Monday, an agent called and said, "I hear you've got a proposal on the table at Little, Brown, do you need an agent?" That was more than I knew, Tuesday, I got the book deal, and Wednesday I signed a lease for an apartment in South Beach.

I just cranked. I figured hell, I could write my thesis in a week, why not a book in seven months?

Did you spend a lot of time on the net researching?

Entirely too much time; I spent more time on the net than any human being should. It was stick, I mean, I didn't sleep for about six months, honestly, I didn't sleep, I existed on various forms of sugared ceral and lots and lots of coffee. But I mean, I didn't mind, I was barely legal to drink, I was writing a book, my life was so bizarre, but I figured hey, I don't know anything different, so I might as well do it.

What was the funniest thing you ran across on the net?

There are things that are predictable, but there was this episode where a fan of David Hasselhoff bursts into the Douglas Hofstadter newsgroup and says, "David Hasselhoff rules the world, do you agree? And that kind of random confusion is just so classic, and so funny. You get on the net and sooner or later you're going to see some sort of online, interactive erotica, that's just a function of time and where you are, but the Hasselhoff thing was so random. I just told my mother.

Did you ever have a bout of cyberromance?

No...I think all of this cybersex stuff is just so amazingly campy that it's hysterical! I just can't personally see how people get aroused by this stuff, it just doesn't do it for me...I think the net, if anything, is more romantic than sexual.

What about William Gibson's Neuromancer?

Actually, I interviewed. William Gibson, and the conversation I had with him kind of became a subtext in the book, because when I talked to him he said that he could never get on the net because he would feel crushed by it. I didn't really understand what he meant at the time, because I was so entranced by it, but by the end of the book, I understood completely what he meant. You can get crushed by it. The man who coined the word "cyberspace" doesn't have an e-mail account.

What do you think about the book's "Generation X" appeal?

I'm not about to parade around, billing myself as the Tabitha Soren of cyberspace. I'm sort of opposed to the whole idea of generational spokesmen. Everyone's different.

The book mentions a species of psychedelic frogs who live in Florida--what's up with that?

There were these frogs who lived outside my apartment, the first apartment I was in, in Miami. It was like this little weird cottage apartment in Coral Gables and there were these little tiny frogs. One of them jumped into my apartment and I caught it. I was going to throw it out, but I did that grasshopper trick where you put your hands over the frog, and it was jumping up and down onto my palm. I eventually caught it and threw it out the door but then I started tripping. It was amazing. I started seeing shooting sparks and I was, like, dude, this was amazing. But it was kind of scary at first because I thought I was gonna die becauseI had heard about those poisonous frogs in Manila that people lick, and it's toxic and stuff, or frogs spit on them or something? I thought "oh man, I would die like this," but then I didn't. Then I kind of kept a look out for these little frogs outside my blue window. A lot of people didn't believe me, and the others were, like, "How do I get in on this? Let's breed them."

Whether Diet Coke really turns into formaldahyde when warm, as reported in the "urban myths" newsgroup?

I haven't tested that particular theory...I would doubt it, I'd somehow doubt it, but anything's possible.

The book is obsessed by snack food...what J.C.'s average late night snack run include?

Some form of caffeine, some form of sugared cereal.

On her favorite sugared cereal?

I'd have to say [it's] Lucky Charms, definitely, because I was never allowed sugared cereals when I was a child, which is why they became such a fetish for me. When I got to Harvard, it was like, "the forbidden fruti," Lucky Charms, Cocoa Krispies, I can eat as much as I want. I had Lucky Charms for breakfast for like, four years, straight. It's a wonder I have any teeth. Count Chocula is another one of my faves, I think it's the marshmallows, but I think it's just the concept that you can eat candy for breakfast, basically, just totally fascinates and enthralls me. I think like a highly gifted eight year old.

Which cereal she picked from the Lowell Dining Hall selection? Lucky Charms.