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Witness: Roads to Refuge

An innovative online documentary looks at the plight of Bosnia's uprooted population.

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We introduced our weekly review with a look at one of the country's -- and the Web's -- most extraordinary resources.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.

October 16, 1996

Some Web sites that seem to be mere gimmicks nonetheless merit philosophical consideration. Such is the case with Thomas Boutell's "World Birthday Web," where a lengthy list of Web users' birthdays appears daily, with links to e-mail addresses and homepages. The effect is peculiar: the site offers visitors a somewhat voyeuristic peek into the lives and personalities of fellow Web users. Perusing a daily compilation of résumés, anecdotes, and photos (office parties, favorite pets, special occasions, significant others, and so on) invariably prods one into thinking about the implications of electronic communication, even if at an individual level many of these homepages tend toward the banal and irrelevant.

View the homepage of Hans in Germany, for example, who works in the computer lab at the local university and whose girlfriend only grudgingly tolerates his enthusiasm for country music. Will she allow him to listen to country music today -- since, after all, it is his birthday? Or how about Kristen, who works for the phone company in Wisconsin? She and her friends went on a disastrous ski trip last year and have the pictures to prove it. Are the friends still wearing slings and casts? Will they throw a party for her today?

Think of this as digital dadaism: every day a collection of Web users' homepages is thrown together into a grand composition, the sole organizing principle of which is a shared birthday. The work is self-renewing but always unpredictable, perpetually dismantling and reconstructing itself. It forms an appealing mosaic of wired humanity, the pieces of which are drawn together, if only for a day, from disparate lives all over the world.

Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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