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The Cyber Editor: Musings on a Citizen of the World

By Ian Irvine

When Thomas first began posting his thoughts about life on the World Wide Web he considered himself a citizen of Australia only. He had a wife and a child, he had a well paid job as an English teacher, he had a house and he drove a late model car. Though he was generally a tolerant man he had his prejudices. These prejudices came from the fact that he simply didn't know much about the rest of the world. He'd never been out of Australia and thus he found it difficult to empathise with people 'out there', people he only ever saw in photos or as flickering images on a television screen. In a sense he was proud of his provincialism.

But the people 'out there' flooded to his web-site to read what Thomas had to say about life. They left messages, they wanted to talk to him on chat lines. The outside world was beginning to live in his soul - there were real people out there. Those people responded to Thomas' writings on many different levels and from many different cultural perspectives. Thomas only realised later that they were helping him through a difficult stage in his life. Thomas' marriage, you see, was almost over.

As Thomas read more and more from the hundreds of people who e-mailed him every month he decided to include some of their thoughts, poetry, stories, sound extracts and visual images in his pages. Thus his personal pages gradually turned into a fully-fledged e-zine. As the submissions started rolling in from the four corners of the globe Thomas felt a growing sense of excitement. Before long he had friendships with poets, writers, essayists, philosophers, thinkers, artists and musicians from all over the world. More remarkably he found that it was often to these people that he spoke most honestly about his life, his goals and of course his fears.

One day Thomas' wife finally left him for another man. It had been coming for a long time but the final parting still hit him very hard. At the end of the day all he had left was a fist full of money (from his share of the house sale), his job and of course the core of his being, the electronic magazine he was editing. His wife, his home and, for all intents and purposes, his child, were gone, for his wife was doing everything she could to exclude him once and for all from her life.

Apart from a few of his close friends in Australia Thomas found that it was his internet friends who most understood the difficult period he was going through. This was around the time that he began to see his e-zine as international rather than simply Australian. He began to enjoy the prospect of making the e-zine placeless and yet everywhere. It dawned on him that it was his ideas rather than his regionalism that was the zine's core. Why should he pretend that he was only limited to Australia? His ideas after all were universal, that was what had made the publication so successful in the first place. The zine had been improving in terms of popularity and creative excellence for some time, to the point that it now had its own international e-mail address where electronic mail (plus file attachments) could be downloaded from anywhere in the world. It was also archived by half a dozen national governments and arts organisations and had won numerous awards for innovation in design. Likewise, friends in literary organisations on five continents had agreed to sort local 'snail-mail' for him and post submissions to Thomas' editorial address electronically. Regardless of where he was in the world so long as an intenet mailing site was near by Thomas could send and receive mail for the journal and thus publish the journal every three months.

Increasingly he was flooded with requests for full-length audio versions of some of the music that had appeared on his site. Many people also wanted to view more of the art produced by individual artists They also wanted more audio interviews, more video snatches, better quality animations as well as cumulative versions of the e-zine for their own immediate reference. Thomas soon decided to open the zine to CD-Rom subscriptions for non-downloadable material. The huge number of people who accessed the site were happy to pay for the additional material, artists to were pleased to receive royalties for the sale of their work and within 6 months Thomas found himself all but financially independent. The CD-Roms were cut and distributed by companies on all the major continents. The last reason for staying in Australia - the need to work at something he didn't enjoy - disappeared. And so Thomas decided to travel in the flesh. He became, in fact, a Cyber Editor Backpacker, and a true citizen of the world. For a time the internet came to represent a kind of world wide home for him, many of the relationships he made, once cemented by personal contact, became lasting. And of course, wherever he was in the world he could still contact Mohammed in Syria every day, likewise, Geoffrey in Scotland, Frances in Canada and so on. Thomas, you see, was not obsessed with computers. He preferred face to face communication with people.

It was not hard to take his work with him. He bought a powerful lap top computer with various sophisticated add-ons. He also purchased a backpack, a medical kit, international insurance, a decent camera and he took to the open road. Every couple of days he sorted through the plethora of images, stories, poems, thoughts and sounds that the world sent to his portable mail box. He organised e-mail (or occasionally face to face interviews) with alternative psychologists, writers, musicians, artists and spiritual leaders from all over the world. Gradually the editorial of his e-zine became influenced by what he saw on his travels. Only hours after taking a picture of the reefs off Lovina Beach northern Bali he found himself scanning the beautiful images of fish and coral into a web page as accompanying photographs for his next editorial. A week later he stayed with friends (and past contributors) in an artist's commune West of Jakarta. He edited whilst he sat around eating papaya and making low-memory recordings of local poets for inclusion in the poetry pages of the next edition. He was learning more and more about 'the people out there' and also about life as a travelling cyber editor.

For a time his life became a kind of pilgrimage. And as part of that pilgrimage he found that he was almost involuntarily forming an overview of planet earth in the late 20th century. What he saw filled him both with sadness and excitement. The world was a chaos of clashing and co-existing cultures, a maelstrom of colourful histories and sometimes mutually exclusive realities. Everywhere he looked there was injustice and tragedy, beauty and spirit. At times when he contemplated the human condition he felt a kind of cosmic sadness which he approached from different angles in his writing. Others too understood this sadness and they too painted or photographed it, poeticised or spoke about its contours. Almost unconsciously Thomas began formulating a different vision, a utopian vision, of mankind's future. More and more he included writers and poets, artists and musicians who could contribute to this vision.

One day on a visit to see friends in Brazil, and whilst learning Spanish and attending meetings with recently dispossessed Amazon Indians Thomas realised the degree to which he had developed a global consciousness. He realised he felt hurt when he heard about floods in China. This was partly because he'd been to China. It pained him that Lao in Shang Hai - who translated the zine into Chinese every three months - might have friends or family in the flooded areas. Likewise, he feared for his good friend Mohammed in Syria every time he heard that tensions were rising in the Middle East. There were millions of men like Mohammed in that region and likewise many many people who talked and looked like his Jewish friend Asher who lived in Czechoslavakia. And so in contemplating all of this Thomas often felt sad, frustrated and even angry that people in certain parts of the world still viewed other people, people they had never really met, as objects to be treated inhumanely, to be bombed, raped, starved, oppressed, exploited, etc. And Thomas also wrote about this in his e-zine and as the years went by his thoughts and the thoughts of the many hundreds of people who contributed to the journal were translated into dozens of different languages.

This story has a happy ending. After a while Thomas fell in love with a Canadian woman he'd met whilst making a special for on Nepal for the zine. Together they returned to Canada and later moved on to Australia where they had a child together. Although Thomas his wife and second child lived in the Australian bush listening to kookaburras and watching the kangaroos gather in the back paddocks at sunset part of him remained, ever after, 'global'.

Copyright, 1998, all rights reserved.
e-mail Ian Irvine at
asphodel@iaccess.com.au
or visit 'The Animist' electronic journal of the arts (which I co-edit) at
http://animist2000.netgazer.net.au/
P.O. Box 309
Strathfieldsaye, 3551
Victoria
Australia.


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About the Author:

Ian Irvine is an Australian poet (text and performance), writer, academic and musician. He has had a great deal of short stories and essays published about the place, most recently by the Canadian Journal 'The Antigonish review', Lotus magazine, The Bendigo Advertiser, VICE, Curiosity's Escape (US), The Resistance (NY) and Parabola Magazine of Myth and Tradition (NY). Over twenty poems from his recent self-published collection 'Facing the Demon of Noontide' are about to be (or have already been) published in a variety of Australian and international magazines and e-zines including the US journals ACME Poets (Kansas City), Kitty Kaboolas Diamond Life Magazine (Chicago), Island Life (Milwaukee), Flies on the Ceiling, and Conspire (New York). A great deal of other material is also currently being considered by publishers both in Australia and overseas. 'Facing the Demon of Noontide' will soon be released electronically (PDF format or CD-Rom). Ian's reviews and poetry also appear regularly at Australia's major literary net site 'Ozlit' .

Ian is also co-editor of 'The Animist' electronic journal of the arts http://animist2000.netgazer.net.au/. The Animist features some of Australia's (and increasingly other countries') best writers, poets and thinkers and is archived by the Australian National Library as a journal of national cultural significance. The Animist may soon be available on CD-Rom. Ian has just completed a PhD on ennui in European literature, philosophy and sociology and the manuscript is currently being reviewed for possible publication by Melbourne University Press. He also has a novel and a play at both conventional and electronic publishing houses. In former incarnations Ian was an alternative rock singer/songwriter with a band called 'Goya's Child' and a professional cricketer in England and New Zealand. He has taught history, literature, sociology and mythology to postgraduate levels at La Trobe University Bendigo.

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