NPF: THE WILD FRONTIER

Long-time readers know that I love eBay. On Tuesday, I finally reached a milestone that lets me know that I love it a little too much: the 1000-feedback pedestal. This should not pass without comment.

There are no physical frontiers left in this country. There is no Wild West to settle, no exploration of rivers or continents that may or may not exist. We can go to Google Earth and get a 0.5-meter resolution picture of nearly every square inch of the globe. This is part of the reason why the internet is so phenomenally popular with younger people – whereas the age of exploration provided a ready outlet for the outcasts, the quasi-criminal, the incurably curious, and the foolhardy, the collapsing of physical space over the past century has eliminated the physical frontier. So we jump into the electronic one with both feet.

I estimate that I was one of the first 0.01% of users on eBay. I remember the incredible shadiness of the early days, and I can only compare it to what the general attitude toward laws must have been like in 1880 Dodge City. All those eBay rules you see? They exist because someone tried to do everything they now forbid. Want to know why eBay has a No Organ Sales policy? Because I remember the guy who tried to auction a kidney circa 1998.

That 1000 feedback mostly represents Ed allowing the libidinous, slightly criminal aspects of his mind out of the cage in the noble cause of supplementing his meager student income. I have illegally sold many copies of copyrighted works. I have printed and sold t-shirts to hippies. I sold "information" (seriously) about how to rack up thousands of frequent flyer miles at almost no cost – and I made WalMart change one of its corporate policies in the process. I bought hundreds of rare coins for peanuts at an estate sale and sold them. I sold items I didn't even have thanks to an arrangement with a wholesaler. Strangely, I feel fine about all of it. I was always honest (99.6% feedback, the red badge of being a dork) even while engaged in fundamentally shady enterprise.

I've concluded, regardless of whether or not I spend some time in purgatory for laws I may have skirted, that the world needs a giant legal gray area accessible to all. A place where people are trying to hustle and rip you off. A place with numerous rules but a ridiculously casual attitude toward enforcement. A place that doesn't coddle the foolish (who, in this instance, are ironically almost always the wealthy). That brand-new 80gb iPod on sale for $49.99 from SUPER BUY #1 ELECTRONICS located in Beijing? If you can't spot the scam, consider the $50 you lose to be a tax on your incomprehensible stupidity.

Thanks, eBay. The more legitimate and mainstream it gets, the less fun there is to be had. My next thousand won't be nearly as awesome as the first. But good lord, I will always remember and love the days of fully-automatic firearms, organs, and, pre-PayPal, the lingering assumption that the money you dropped in the mail would disappear into the hands of a scam artist, never to be heard from again.

3 thoughts on “NPF: THE WILD FRONTIER”

  • Your ebay longevity dwarfs mine, but I agree that it (and the Internet) is a place that best serves the needs of outlaws and renegades. I recently foiled the ebay policies and managed to sell a pair of used underwear, which I am both proud of, and yet somewhat ashamed. The fact that the guy who bought them was also collecting sweaters and musical instruments made it all worth while though.

    Down with rules!!

  • "The only rule is…there are no rules." While the work of folks like William Gibson remain the purview of geeks and losers (guilty as charged!), it's eerie how those who examined the implications of the internet early on recognized that it would a place where the millenia-old paradigms of 'society' simply didn't exist anymore. In much the same way that, say, the VCR transformed 'adult entertainment' from something you had to work up the stones to actually go out and experience first-hand, to somehing the whole family could enjoy by phoning the number on the catalogue and waiting for the mailman to arrive, the internet has allowed so much that the public nature of the Real World had suppressed. (Small wonder that the only sure-fire way to make money in this new frontier is either to steal it or sell sex.)

    In a way it's awesome because, as you rightly point out, it enables discovery, experimentation, wild-ass self-expression, and the ability to do pretty much whatever the f*** you want. And in the exact same way, it's kinda terrifying, in the same way that, oh, I don't know, the Belgian Congo was a pretty scary place. Anywhere that people can do *anything* they want and get away with it is going to yields monsters. (Kiddie porn, anyone?) But hey, we can look forward to the cyberspace version of HEART OF DARKNESS, so that's something.

    Wouldn't change it, though–it's the means by which governments lose the ability to control their citizens' access to information, as well as the means by which the folks who run Scientology lose sleep at night. Gotta love that.

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