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Moore embarks on his quest with minimal Internet experience—and with the technophobic Thoreau as his spiritual guide. It is a situation ripe for slapstick, and Moore doesn’t hesitate to laugh at the pie in his own face. Clothes is funniest when Moore is in farthest over his head. One night, the specter of Thoreau, who seems to have spent too long alone at Walden Pond, awakens him and urges him to explore cybersex. After a week of pestering from this troublesome ghost, Moore plunges into the Internet’s seamy realm and heads for the command-line pickup bars, determined to cyber
Moore explores the digital world thoroughly: He games in a MUSH; logs on to neighborly bulletin boards; attends a real life picnic given by a BBS host in one sympathetic but bemused chapter; and spends time with someone in online therapy. On Usenet, he trades curry recipes with an Irishman and gets advice on raising canta loupes. He chats with an IRA sympathizer who downloads news from the Emerald Isle and distributes it in Pittsburgh bars, downloads White House speeches, and sorts through the Net’s version of junk mail: Spam. He even tells the by-now-obligatory tale of e-mail romance: an intercoastal reunion between estranged lovers (Clothes went to press before Moore learned the outcome). Oddly, though, Moore neglects hacker culture. He doesn’t say whether he has a righteous distaste for this fringe element or whether interviewable outlaws were hard to come by. Maybe hackers just aren’t funny.
Though it’s popular to either malign or glorify the coming information age, Moore’s conclusions are neither dire nor rapturous. To him, the Internet poses no greater threat to privacy than the invention of the phone and promises no greater chance for improved democracy than the coming of the federal post office. The Net may be just an “improved means to an unimproved end”—a quote he borrows from Thoreau—but it’s not a bad one, by his common-sense estimation.