Bandwidths broaden, and the future of the Internet spreads before us like a vast, unspoiled plain. No longer restricted to mere text and image, the brave new Web will push the multimedia envelope, enriching our lives and thrilling our souls. Its only limitation is the human imagination.
But, oh, what a limitation that is. At noon EST on May 19, CollegeClub.com (a Web portal that bills itself as “the Internet’s leading college destination”) and Broadcast.com will offer a live video stream of the first, and hopefully last, “virtual commencement.” CollegeClub isn’t really a college, of course, so this virtual graduation can boast only virtual students and virtual diplomas. The sole nonvirtual aspect of the commencement will be Elizabeth Dole, who will stump for a half hour or so, and CollegeClub chairman Michael Pousti, who will lecture on “the Internet as a key tool in education today.” Public access television never had it so bad.
“Because it’s the last commencement of the millennium, we thought it was important to get the person college students thought would be the next president to give the commencement speech,” says Pousti. Dole was the front-runner in a virtual primary administered by CollegeClub, garnering a resounding mandate of 32 percent of the 2467 users who voted. In case you’re wondering, Al Gore came in dead last, behind George W. Bush and Jesse Jackson. “Today’s young people surf the Internet more than any other segment of our population,” Dole says, sounding more like a rep for the AARP than a challenger for new-media street cred. “I’m thrilled to be honored by a new generation of voters through their medium of choice.”
It’s a stunt, of course, which is fine. Except it happens to be a terribly bad one. Commencements are one of life’s necessary chores. We endure these long, dreary affairs for their symbolic meaning, not because they beat a good book and a tall glass of lemonade. But a commencement in which no one in particular commences, held to honor that least honorable of figures, the campaigning politician, is pretty meaningless.
Someday, the Web will fulfill its great potential. Broadcast.com has already proven it can entice Nielsen-size audiences to spurn the tube in favor of the monitor: February’s Victoria’s Secret runway show was viewed online by 1.5 million people. But let’s face it: Liddy, for all her touted charisma, is no Victoria’s Secret model.