Ahh, a blast of sanity from Scandinavia. The Swedish government recently announced that the Patent and Registration Office would no longer allow companies to register with the suffix .com in their names. And no se., www. or @ marks either.
Somewhere, gazillionaires-in-waiting are gnashing their teeth. There is outrage among the libertarians who know that information wants to be free and any restrictions on the activity in, concerning, around, near, in relatively proximity to or in the same era as cyberspace is an abuse of government power and a threat to the continued existence of the digital economy. (Of course, these people also consider the Patent and Registration Office a pimple on the backside of humanity: a pointless irritant.)
I say “thank you.”
The creeping takeover of this world by digital enterprises has gone far enough. Dot-coms (or is it .coms, or dot.coms?) are going to be dot-gones soon enough. Pity we don’t have the equivalent of 404 messages — “URL can no longer be found” — on the stock listings. It would be a good reminder of the folly that has descended upon us.
About 1.5 million domain names were registered in the fourth quarter of last year. Experts predict that there will eventually be 160 million online addresses. If new top-level domains, such as “.law” or “.store” are introduced, all bets are off. The .sky is the limit.
Needless to say, there are big bucks to be had here. Recognizable words were snatched up years ago; cyber-squatting even includes celebrity’s names. Business.com was sold recently for a cool $7.5 million.
Or take an itchy-fingered friend of mine who lost out on the chance to make a mint last October. He’d heard about the planned merger of Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, Fuji Bank and the Industrial Bank of Japan and rushed to purchase the Mizuho.com name (the new bank is called the Mizuho Financial Group). Between the time he logged on to InterNic, the company that handles such matters, and the time he filled out the form (about two minutes) the name was taken.
In this gold rush, particular vowels are especially valuable. Among the millions of URLs are some 70,000 e- and i- domain names. You know, eBay, i3, ilife, e-tc. (Just glance at the listings on the Nasdaq for a dreary recital.) It may be cute and it may be hip (for 15 minutes or so), but it’s also irritating.
I’m inclined to chalk it up to faddishness, a serious lack of imagination and a desire to short-circuit critical thinking about some pretty flimsy business plans.
The problem is that the e-masculation of the i-magination has proceeded a long way beyond the business pages. It started out innocuously enough. E-mail. Sure, it makes perfect sense: Electronic mail. As opposed to regular, snail mail. Or messaging.
Then there was e-commerce. I can live with that, too. Electronic commerce: buying and selling that takes place on the Internet. Not bricks and mortar, but clicks and mortar.
Unfortunately, those relatively harmless ideas birthed an entire bastard vocabulary: e-topia, e-trades, e-business. It seems as if just about every notion that contemplated a cyber-life spawned an e-version.
See? See? It’s infectious. I was going to leap over to the i variant of the e-nightmare: the i-mode, iMac i-rritant. This is the second son of this palsied fever. (But I do wonder: Why isn’t it i-mail or i-commerce?) Go to the Domain Surfer (www.domainsurfer.com) and immerse yourself, if you need further proof (from the top: i-achieve.com, i-acme.com, i-acquire.com, i-activist.com . . .). Does the Old MacDonald syndrome mean that we are soon to begin our run at the o-ption?
I digress. The point I wanted to make was the way this initialization spreads. First, it was e-this, i-that. Then we went from letters to entire syllables. The first iteration was the Net-phenomenon. Net-trepreneurs built net-savvy companies. I would say something worse, but Netiquette holds me back.
It quickly became apparent that the Net-thing wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t really user friendly. It didn’t roll off the tongue easily enough. Nor did it gracefully intimate the bright gleaming future that was supposed to be invoked.
For most people, the image of a “net” is pretty antediluvian: string and twine, wrapped with seaweed, filled with the refuse and detritus of the deep. Not exactly Buck Rogers stuff.
Fortunately, cyberspace beckoned and it held out the prospect of an infinitely expanding cybersphere. The physicists are right about an ever-growing universe, but I’m not talking about the digital universe per se.
Rather, I am referring to the cyber lever: the linguistic crowbar that allows us to shove just about anything into the digital domain. It’s proved as effective as the ubiquitous e, without the smarmy and e-ternally irritating lower case e-xceptionalism. Just slap that prefix in front of anything sitting still and bask in the glories of the 21st century.
It has proven to be e-xtremely addictive, as noted by my slip in the paragraph above. (It comes so naturally — how ironic, when we are talking cyber, eh?) JT editors have standing orders to excise offending “cyber” slips whenever they occur, preferably with a blowtorch.
But even cyber has proven to be less than all-encompassing. After all, cyberspace is a place, and the truly defining element of our brave new networked world is its essence, its being — its ones and zeroes, those bits and bytes.
Yes, this world is digital. The savants are digirati. But I’ve had e-nough. It’s become so bad that I can no longer listen to one of my favorite instruments, the didgeridoo.
We need to suggest a little more mental e-xercise, and make a concerted e-ffort to e-xorcise this blight from our language. I nominate French writer Georges Perec to serve as protector and watchdog against digital intrusions. Perec is uniquely qualified for the post: His novel “La Disparition” was written without using the letter e.