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97.01.15
Martin Luther King Jr.

A selection of sites that pay tribute to the life and works of Dr. King.

97.01.08
Swoon

What Swoon lacks in substance it makes up for in entertainment value.

97.01.01
Café Herpé

Tacky? Macabre? Helpful? Slickly commercial?

96.12.25
Radio Free Cyberspace

Will the Internet make the world safe for democracy?

96.12.18
The Web of Memory

An online exhibit commemorating the Great Chicago Fire brings history to life.

96.12.11
World-Wide Weather

Separating the average weather watcher from the bona fide junkie.

96.12.04
Crossing the Frontier

A challenging look at the American West.

96.11.27
AOL: Back to the Future

A sure escape from the confusing Web space of the present.

96.11.20
The CIA

One of the great oxymorons in cyberspace.

96.11.13
Web Del Sol

The "Locus of Literary Art on the WWW."

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.

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January 22, 1997

The home page is black; the look is velvet and neon; the jargon is psychoanalytic and confessional. There are no advertisements. Welcome to The Couch, an odd and puzzling site at which "eight dynamic, soul searching, fast-living characters meet for group therapy in a psychiatrist's office in Manhattan's Flatiron Building." The subject of the current therapy session, the twenty-third to date, is "Mothers." Those who have stumbled across the site for the first time are likely to want to find out more by clicking on the link that asks, in small print, "What is this?"

Like MTV's The Real World (in which ordinary young people live ordinary lives and have ordinary conversations in an ordinary group house in front of an ordinary MTV video camera), The Couch appears to make the private public. Also like The Real World, some would argue, The Couch is less than real. Explore a bit and you'll find you have intimate access to the thoughts and lives of each of the eight aforementioned "characters," in the form of both transcripts of group-therapy sessions and personal diaries. The dialogue and the diaries are often mundane and plodding, baring neuroses for all to see -- and, in the conference area, titled "Transference," for all to discuss. ("Transference is a threaded discussion forum, inviting YOU to converse with Couch characters and one another. Tell us about your childhood!!! [Registration required].")

Exposing private thoughts and lives is nothing new -- what else do novels, memoirs, and biographies do, after all? -- but the practice seems ideally suited to the Web. After all, anonymity -- which the Internet has in abundance -- encourages many to share thoughts and feelings that they would otherwise keep hidden. The Web is an especially appropriate medium for games of voyeurism and self-revelation: people can be whatever they present themselves to be. Self-revelation and confession are assumed to be intricately wrought fiction; fiction is assumed to be thinly veiled autobiography. And who's to say which persona is more real -- the scintillating wit who flirts by night in cyberspace or the homely librarian who can't bring herself to crack jokes with library patrons? Personality, in other words, is both fact and fiction.

The Cyborganic Corporation, the somewhat mysterious firm that produces The Couch, explains on its company home page that it aims to design "sites that encourage human-to-human interaction" and that reflect its "community-based company vision" of "what the Net can and should be." But The Couch is a self-described work of fiction, a serial drama collaboratively written by several contributors, each assuming the role of and writing in the voice of one of the characters. As such, how sincere is the "human-to-human interaction" it encourages? Given its status as fiction, the question is not only What is this? but Why is this? The Couch must take a lot of time and effort to produce. Is it intended as an advertisement for Cyberorganic? Is it a project undertaken by members of the company for fun on the side? Is it supposed to be educational? Is it art for art's sake? Nothing is obvious, but, in the psychoanalytic tradition, the questions The Couch raises are more important than the answers -- and they can be applied to any Web site.


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