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Do-It-Yourself Adventure

"Interactive fiction" moves to the Web.

The "Why?"s Have It

For a nation of strangers, the simplest questions can help bridge the widest distances.

Dances With Words

Experiments in "information choreography."

Non-virtual Communities

Competing visions of post-suburban life give new meaning to the "global village."

Gothic Gardening

Martha Stewart it's not.

Pay Day

Slate's big gamble.

Banking on Bright Ideas

What do lost-pet ads, dentist-office ceilings, and in-flight recordings have in common?


Techno-savvy kids.

Mapping Cyberspace

Is there a "there" there?


Sometimes the Web can be its own best antidote.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
April 23, 1998

Lili Martinez Lili Martinez is perched on a folding chair at the base of a cluster of skyscrapers. Click on the bar beneath her portrait and a close-up appears, then click again for another, this one a coy pose. Read Lili's favorite Cuban proverbs scrawled in her handwriting on the screen to her left, listen as she narrates the sayings both in her native Spanish and in English, and after a couple of minutes Lili is no longer a stranger. Such is the charm of The Wisdom of the World, a feature for The New York Times on the Web. A multicultural "multimedia essay," this site marries the skills of Beatriz Decosta -- an American immigrant from Brazil now working as a freelance photographer in New York City -- and the capabilities of the mBED Interactor, new design software for the Web.

Likened by PC Computing to a Swiss Army Knife, mBED -- which bills itself as an "easy-to-use authoring tool" combining interactivity and animation -- was first introduced in December, 1996. The "Interactor Lite" model, introduced this month, enables anyone -- from corporate designers to at-home Web-page makers -- to use all the bells and whistles of Java without the complex programming.

For The Wisdom of the World, Decosta collected from fifteen of her immigrant friends and acquaintances proverbs unique to their native lands, along with their portraits. "The more immigrants I met," she explains in her introduction, "the more I realized ... they brought with them the collective strength of their homelands." It is this strength she attempts to convey on the site.

Promotion That attempt notwithstanding, it is actually the site's interface and design -- so vivid and elegant -- that is compelling. Aside from Decosta's evocative portraits, The Wisdom of the World offers only a handful of feel-good proverbs, along with the recognition, none-too-shocking, that despite our global differences we are all essentially the same. It turns out that what we've been interacting with is as much an advertisement for mBED as it is a multicultural "multimedia essay." But so it goes. If Gandhi and the Dalai Lama can be used to sell Apple computers, why can't multicultural New Yorkers sell software for the Web?

Discuss this Web Citation in the Digital Culture forum of Post & Riposte.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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