Double You Three

By Cornelia Read

I gotta say, I totally love me some Writer’s Almanac. I first got turned on to this when I was driving my kids to school in Berkeley, as it came on the Bay Area’s NPR station every morning at nine a.m. If you are not familiar with this fine institution, it’s basically Garrison Keillor telling you about which writers’ (and writerly persons’) birthdays it is, every day. And then reading a groovy poem out loud. Which is kind of awesome, really.

These days, since I have outlived the maximum-chauffeur years, child-wise, I get it as an email around midnight every night. I miss the lagniappe of Mr. Keillor’s voice, and the poem comes at the beginning rather than the end, but it’s still pretty damn amazing on a daily basis. Just, Snacks-‘o-Thought, in a rather lovely way. And sometimes the conjunction of people born on the same day seems almost prophetic or something. Like, better than a horoscope.

But last night was an especially good one, at least for provoking snacks ‘o thought on my part. First off, today is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s birthday.

And I never knew before that he went through a total shitstorm in his life while quite young and gave up writing for ten years, commenting later: “I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live…” which just, well… mon semblable, mon frere. Let’s leave it at that.

AND it’s also the day Anne Hathaway died. Shakespeare’s wife, to whom he left his “second-best” bed.

AND it’s the day that Robert Burns was roundly and publicly chastised in church for having knocked up a chick to whom he was not yet married–with fraternal twins.

While perhaps having also gotten another chick pregnant (that would be the OTHER chick, pictured above, whom he called his “Highland Mary.”) And even though he THEN got published and all of a sudden chick numero uno’s parents welcomed him with open arms as a son-in-law and stuff, and they went on to have a boatload more children–and he had a separate boatload along the way with a bunch of OTHER chicks, apparently. Which state of affairs (ahem) was accepted with grace by his wife, the former Jean Armour:

She bore his philandering with patience and apparent good cheer, just as she continued to bear him children — the ninth was born on the day of Robert Burns’ funeral in 1796. “Our Robbie should have had twa [two] wives,” she is said to have exclaimed upon taking in one of his illegitimate daughters to raise.


Oh, AND today South Carolina delegate John Rutledge “presented a first draft of the United States Constitution to the Constitutional Convention, in 1781,”

while it’s also the day that Jane Austen finished writing Persuasion.

So all of that seems pretty damn auspicious, to me, but I think my favorite bit from today’s Almanac is the following, in that the innovation has been quite literally and profoundly life-altering for me (and probably you, too, if you’re reading this, which we must presume you are):

It was 20 years ago today that British physicist Tim Berners-Lee posted a description of a project he called the “World Wide Web” to an online newsgroup, effectively revolutionizing modern life. 

Working for CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Berners-Lee invented his service to allow scientists to easily share and access information via the Internet. Although the infrastructure of the “Net” had been growing for years, it was until then a highly technical system known mostly to academics and scientists like Berners-Lee. The World Wide Web, as Berners-Lee conceived it, would use the Net to connect documents with clickable links — or hypertext — and make them searchable.

Under the encouraging headline “Try it,” Berners-Lee’s post included information on accessing the first Web server and a Web browser prototype, and gave the address — or “coordinates,” as he called it then — of an example website he’d created. This Web page — the world’s very first — further explained the project he’d nicknamed “W3,” explaining how to search the Web and how to build your own page. Academia began using the service first, then industry. In early 1993, Mosaic was released, the first Web-browsing software for PCs and Apple Macintosh computers. Anyone with an Internet connection could now surf — and help create — the Web.

Berners-Lee had written in that first post: “The project started with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone.” Today the word “much” seems quite an understatement, and “academic” almost laughable. But it is astonishing to be reminded that so much of what’s on the Web is “freely available” because Berners-Lee created the Web for free. For his donation, he was named by Timemagazine as one of the top 20 thinkers of the 20th century, and was awarded a knighthood in 2004.

Berners-Lee said: “The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished.” 

I mean, DUDE–THE FUCKING INTERNET, right? Or the worldwideweb or whatever. I get kind of confused. But still… I mean, here are ten things that happened to me because of the internet (in reverse temporal order):



  1. I signed up for The Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, and ended up meeting Lee Child and a whole slew of other groovers, including many of the people who’ve written for this blog.
  2. I found my mystery-writing group in Berkeley on craigslist, and got published five years later with the help of all those good folk.
  3. I (earlier, slightly) found, which landed me smack-dab in the middle of a bunch of burgeoning writers who were AWESOME and funny and talented and wonderful, right when my life had totally turned to shit. They gave me my chops back, as a writer and as a human being. Seriously.
  4. Part of the reason my life had turned to shit is that I found out my husband had been fucking the secretary at his office in Boulder, shortly after I learned how to do email. Because I found their emails. (Okay, this one SUCKED, but still–life altering.) We were in Cambridge by that point, but still…
  5. I got to meet a really groovy writer named Dick Pollak (because of an autism chat group on Compuserve) who wrote a deeply amazing book about Bruno Bettelheim, who was such a giant shitheel I would still like to dig him up from his grave and hit him over the head with a shovel. Even though he was cremated. (Bettelheim, not Dick. Dick is excellent.)
  6. Well, I can’t even begin to enumerate all the amazing shit that the world wide web has wrought in my life… because it’s just totally stunning and mind-boggling and FUCKING AMAZING. So I will stop at six. 


But I am hugely, hugely grateful to Tim Berners-Lee. DUDE–YOU ROCK!!! THANK YOU!!!!

What’s the best thing that’s happened in your life because of the web, o dearest ‘Ratis? What’s the shittiest? What would you be doing right now instead of reading Murderati, if this whole shebang hadn’t been invented?

28 thoughts on “Double You Three

  1. KarinNH

    Thanks for this, Cornelia! I still marvel at the access to information we have now, and I am delighted to have a name to put with that achievement. Mr. Berners-Lee had extraordinary vision.

    No Facebook for me, so I've avoided that, but my sons introduced me to Reddit–the world's largest time-suck. It also brings out more of my inner teenage boy which is not a favor to the world at all! (I always tell people I was raised with only brothers and have only sons…a fact that makes me unfit for any polite company anywhere.)

  2. Rae

    Hi Miss C,

    Fab post!

    Best thing from the internet? Meeting people, including you, who will be friends for life. I can't begin to describe how important and wonderful that is.

    Oh, and…..


  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    I think when the "experts" will look back on our age, the Internet will be the number one game changer. For good and for bad we have instant access to everything now. There is no more …. patience because we and the generations who didn't know life without the Internet want EVERYTHING now ….no more "breathing room" to let incidents cool down and gain perspective. It connects us in amazing ways that, like any tool, can be used for good and for not.
    I am an info junkie. I was on the Internet before there was GUI. I wanted to connect with; this would have been around college age. Blazing speed of 1200 baud then 2400. Working graveyard shift at a Kinko's and my geek friends tapping in the register so we could be on the Internet (again, no graphics).
    And now, look at us…..It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…..

  4. Sarah W

    Best things that ever happened because of the web: finding my First Reader though Absolute Write followed by a group of supportive bloggerfriends, mostly through Betsy Lerner's place; and becoming indispensible at the library because patrons who predate the Web still need to learn how to navigate and which websites to trust.

    Worst things: So much porn policing at my job (THAT they have no trouble finding), so little effective brain bleach (I’m not a prude, but Rule 34 has a LOT to answer for); and personal time management — though if I compare the hours I would be using doing (or narrowing) research *without* the web to the time I take playing Plants vs Zombies online and checking out YouTube, it probably comes out the same.

    Without the web, I’d probably still be trying to determine that I needed to cite the British Criminal Justice Act of 2003 and the ICD-10 instead of the 1997 Act and the DVM for two off-hand lines of a story set in London that I finished two weeks ago . . . Took me twenty minutes online—confirmation with a friend of mine over there took less than an hour. Just * traveling* to the nearest library that might have the information in book format would have taken three, round trip.

    Supposing that I'd bothered to check or know enough to check or even try the setting . . . without the Web, I might not have been exposed to enough UK mysteries, information, and *people* to know how to start.

  5. Karen in Ohio

    GUI–graphical user interface–was the demarcation line between the plain-vanilla Internet and the Worldwide Web, which is graphics oriented. Before that, you could interact with others, but only in black and white (or green and less-green). Originally, it was a single line at a time, if you can imagine that.

    We've come a long way, baby.

    The best: Too many to list! In 1990, because of friendships I made on Prodigy and CompuServe (and Usenet, and later AOL), I began greatly expanding my circle of friends, some of whom are still dear and close today. In 1993, I used bulletin boards, along with a couple mailing lists, to compile research for my first (non-fiction) book, then self-published it after getting 30 rejections. In 1996 I started selling books and things on the Web, which enabled me to stay home with my girls more.

    The worst: The way the seamless interaction with many, many friends all over the world has gradually taken over my life. It's good to have friends, including high school pals reconnected with on Facebook, but the time suck factor is heavy!

  6. Cornelia Read

    Oh, Karin… please don't tempt me with further timesuck opportunities!! I can barely tear myself away from free online I Ching readings and Mah Jong solitaire. Talk about irredeemable wastes of life… but good for you for avoiding Facebook!

    Rae, I adore you. So happy we get to hang later…

    Sarah… exactly. On all fronts–porn, people… and just STUFF. In good and bad ways. Also, I love that I can now settle disagreements with my mother over things we BOTH think we're right about at the dinner table, since she usually bets me a hundred bucks that I'm wrong, so that way she has to pay up faster. Heh. Because I am usually NOT the one who's wrong.

  7. David Corbett


    Thanks for the lagniappe of "lagniappe."

    You have not merely endured, Ms. Read, you have prevailed. Somewhere, Faulkner is drinking to your success. (But then, that's his response to damn near everything.)

    Best experience due to net: The ability to combine the lengthy and thoughtful expansions of a love letter to the immediacy of a phone call. Call it the amorous email. Crucial for long-distance romance. (And the ability to check in momentarily throughout the day with brief billets-doux.)

    Worst: Now solved with the downloading of Freedom, software that allows me to turn the damn thing off for any amount of time I want so I can focus on work. Which I shall go do now.

    Oh wait, no: Worst? The time I hit "send" before realizing the nasty email I'd just written ABOUT someone was inadvertently (hmm …) sent TO that person. I believe the phrase "slimy asshole" was involved. And elaborated upon. Lawyers were discussed afterward, And one consulted. A Larry David kinda moment, much funnier in hindsight.


  8. Barbie

    The best and the worst thing are the same, actually. I've met, wonderful, incredible people that meant the world to me at some point. Eventually, they broke my heart. In a way or another. And I don't mean men or romantic relationships, in a way, just friendships.

  9. Terry Shames

    Best thing: Not having to talk on the phone about little things. And Zappos.

    Worst: Like PK said, people react too fast–no breathing room.

    Always love your posts, Cornelia!

  10. Fran

    Better or worse it's hard to say, but without the internet, I'd still be living in New Mexico teaching. That might very well be cool, but then I'd never know about youse guys except maybe by accident and just in passing. I doubt I'd ever really be in the bookworld.

    The cool thing is I'd still have Lillian, since we met in real life in NM and were friends, and I suspect/know we'd have let what we have grown anyway. But she woudn't have to continually be my computer geek, and that's an aspect of our relationship I just love.

    But, in passing reference to your rant over on The Lipstick Chronicles and staying away from politics because I do know the rules, I do have to say that without a 24-hour-news cycle, we might still be acting like adults in the business and political world. Maybe.

  11. Cornelia Read

    The best thing about the WWW, was that my son who was five at the time was introduced to our first computer. He learned how to hack the password at an early age, also learned a lot by pressing keys to see what would happen. At first he drove my husband and I crazy but in later years we used the computer as a tool to making him behave.

    Today he has his own company and is doing quite well. The down side to the Internet has been when my computer got a virus and my office email was infected as well. The powers that be locked me out of my office account until I had my hard drive reformatted. My son looked after that for me.

    I would be sitting with my nose in a book, a good murder mystery if the net hadn't been invented. No change there as far as I can see.

  12. JT Ellison

    I still think the Internet is the devil…. (HA!)

    Love me some Writer's Almanac too – it's one of those special things in my daily world – along with Anu Garg's Word of the Day.

    Glad you're continuing to prevail, dear C. Fucking A.

  13. Daisy

    Best thing from the internet? Well, I do have to say that it's provided me with a very nice fiance. Also some very deeply discounted designer shoes.

    But mostly the fiance. Really.

  14. KarinNH

    Cornelia, I was telling my husband about your post, and we started talking about YouTube as well. Unbelievably, It is only 6 years old–founded on February 14, 2005. Crazy…

  15. lil Gluckstern

    The best thing is interacting with interesting, super people like you guys. Second best, access to book sites so I can feed my addiction, third best thing is the access to information-I know, I'm cheating. Worst thing-with others, the time suck which is sooo addictive too.

  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I suppose I'd be at a library doing research now, instead of the cafe where I sit now. The Internet has allowed me to talk loudly and spill coffee on things, which would have got me banned from the local library.

  17. Alafair Burke

    I usually have a hard time picking one single "best" for any question handed to me, but this one has a clear answer: Best thing that ever happened to me online was my totally awesome husband, whom I found on the computer. And then Zappos 🙂

  18. Reine

    Alafair, I love that. One of our boys met his wife on the Internet. He was selling his tickets to a Stones concert. She was looking for tickets… .

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alafair – what was Sean doing on your computer? I mean, how did he get into your apartment? And hadn't you noticed him before – didn't he make it very difficult to type?

    Hey Stephen – if you want a list of things you can do to get you banned from the local library, I'm sure we can bend our minds to it …?

    Hi Cornelia. Great post. Particularly loved your rant about Bruno Bettelheim. Remind me never to get on the wrong side of you ;-]

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Thanks for all that literary history!

    Best thing for sure is research, and I also love being able to chat with readers. But I think I was more social before the Internet. The Net is social with no dancing. 🙁

  21. Reine

    I think I'll change my best to being able to order books online – to buy, borrow, and download.

  22. Kay

    Great post! LOVE the internet.

    The best thing that's happened to me because of the www was when I had a short story published on an ezine. 🙂

    Worst thing was my credit card was hacked. It caused a boat-load of trouble in my life until it was straightened out.

  23. Marcus

    I owe my entire career to the interweb! Sat up till the wee small hours every night for a few years trawling it for photoshop and design tutorials until I taught myself enough to lie my way into jobs.

    And my God, the friends I've made!

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