An excerpt from Post-Modem: The Interwebs Explained, which is released on Tuesday, November 17, 2015. From the Wi-Fi section of Chapter 1, “The Internet”:
By 1958, the Wi-Fi service, which accounted for 9 out of 10 household Internet experiences, was proving its superiority over wired internet which, at this point, was still largely telegraph-based. Not only were the services easier to understand and use, but the entertainment value was greater, allowing consumers to control every aspect of what they saw on television. Says Net Historian Salman Gourd:
“This was the beginning of a true revolution – one that didn’t see itself truly realized until just a few years ago. People were finally given what they had been asking for since the earliest days of radio – the opportunity to get up and interact with the people that were being paid to bring them their free nightly entertainment. They were no longer restricted to sitting on their plush, comfortable couches and easy chairs, passively receiving an entertaining variety of relaxing programs – now they could be active, involved watchers, getting up out of their chairs and physically calling up the operator and telling them about something they read about in the paper recently, and they’d get to see a rough approximation of those various events on the very screen in front of them.”
When local news or requests for the whereabouts of missing acquaintances failed to meet the producers’ standards or to fill airtime, however, the cast and crew of stations like Oneonta, New York’s WIFI 1 opened up the lines to requests for less conventional content. One hot afternoon in the summer of 1959 proved to be groundbreaking for this medium. On a slow news day and with most Wi-Fi users’ children indoors and in plain sight, Oneonta Inter-Man Darius Jeeves asked his presumed audience if they had seen or heard about anything that they would like to share with the other Wi-Fi users.
The response, recalls Darius Jeeves, Jr., was “Insane.” When Ms. Betty Wellman of nearby Laurens called in and dialed 6-2-6-5-4-2-5-3-3-4-6-2-2-5-5-7, Jeeves, Sr. laughed, turned to the camera and said “I’ve got just the thing,” and proceeded to invite his producer, Gregory Funk, to join him in front of the camera. Truly perplexed, Funk made his way to Jeeves’s desk, which Jeeves promptly moved aside as he stood up, shaking Funk’s hand. With a smile, Funk turned to the camera, confused, just as Jeeves drew back his right leg and delivered the resulting kinetic energy to Funk’s unsuspecting groin. The rest, as Jeeves, Jr. puts it,
With a monthly subscription fee of sixty-five cents and just over 12,000 subscribers nationwide, though, Wi-Fi service had trouble supporting a cameraman, Inter-Man, sound man and servant for every major metropolitan area of the United States. This sent Wi-Fi station owners throughout the U.S. into a panic, causing them to quickly add budget line-items for advertisement and publicity. Though it would mean temporary service outages, sending their online personalities to other areas of the country meant great word-of-mouth exposure for the service.
Jeeves, along with other Inter-Men in Cincinnati, Stanford, Phoenix and Chicago, became the first of the nation’s internet celebrities, appearing at conventions in character, an ever-evolving amalgam of the duties he performed on his daily webcasts. Though he opened Upstate New York’s inaugural Wi-Fi program on February 20, 1957 as the sort of traditional besuited spokesperson found on innumerable television programs of the era, Jeeves quickly evolved the character from the “staid, whitebread company-man,” he recalled in his autobiography in 1972 to the kowtowing gentleman servant he became best known for. This was not, Jeeves eventually revealed, a simple reflection of his duty to serve the typical Wi-Fi user, but a comment on the times.
“It was a commotive time at the time,” Jeeves opened his autobiography with. “Just full of commotion. People the country over were trying to start with a blank slate, in terms of what came to be called ‘The Civil Rights,’ and I was right there, on the front lines. It wasn’t easy, but I eventually convinced our producer, Greg Funk, to fire our servant. It was the only way to at least try to make up for all the injustices we’d indirectly taken a part in, as white folk, since this country began. Greg tried to talk me out of it, and so did [station servant] Carl, but I insisted. It was for the advancement of Colored People, like the Association for that, and I stood by my decision.
It took awhile, but eventually it sunk in for both Greg and Carl. Like I told Funk then – ‘Greg, it’s The Civil Rights.’ He couldn’t argue with that. Additionally, I don’t call them colored anymore. I’ve learned my lesson.”
– Jason C. Klamm, B.A.
©2015 Jason Klamm