Gerard Van der Leun on Thu, 30 Apr 1998 21:40:06 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> <mandel>

[Gerard's flame was bounced by one moderator and approved by another--
 still more evidence of the Nettime Cabal's *ruthless efficiency*.--T] 

A few days ago, Mark Stahlman posted a baseless and
ignorant evaluation of both Tom Mandel and the book
he co-authored with me, Rules of the Net. 

At the time, I replied with a post that was, perhaps,
wisely bounced by the moderator of this  list. It was,
shall we say, written in the heat of contempt for Mr.
Stahlman's uninformed views.

But let that be. In answer to Mr. Stahlman and to, I hope,
counter any impression of Tom Mandel left by him, I
found an article I wrote about Mandel shortly after his
death in 1995. I think it gives a fuller view of the man
and his contribution to the Net than any flame I could

I append it here to, in some small way, balance the



I knew <mandel> long before I met him. This is 
common enough in these days when more and more of us 
live second-hand and  "virtually" in cybersomewhere. 
People bump into other people on America Online, or 
the Well, or some place else on the Net, and after a 
time arrange to meet.  Meeting  <mandel> though 
changed my life. This is uncommon on the Net where 
few personalities have the power, like the Velveteen  
Rabbit, to become real. <mandel> had the force, 
clarity and sheer staying power to become  real. He 
also had the ability to make the on-line medium grow 
and mature. He taught me a lot about the power of 
the Net to make the things of the mind come alive. 
He taught me more still by his death.

Tom Mandel (1946-1995) was one of the foremost 
early members of the  Well, an on-line system best 
known for its new age feel and high level of 
discussion among its members. I first fell into the 
Well in 1986 and within a day ran into <mandel>. It 
was hard not to run into <mandel> in the Well in 
those days. He was everywhere -- in every conference 
and in almost every topic. He was ubiquitous. In a 
very real sense, he was one of the main ingredients 
of the Well. His role? To be a Pain-in-the-Ass. He 
was very good at this. He was a Great-Pain-in-the-
Ass. I loved him for it.

There was no blithe comment that disguised 
ignorance with style that failed to draw his fire. 
The was no grandiose but brain-dead theory that he 
could not smother with an inconvenient fact. Tom was 
the on-line blatherer's worst nightmare. His 
knowledge was wide-ranging, his opinions firmly 
held, his writing clear and he had facts at his 
fingertips to buttress his positions. He hated 
intellectual pretension and had no patience for 
fools or received wisdom. He could discuss the 
intricacies of the publishing business, the nature 
of Alzheimer's, the state of education, foreign 
policy, economics, the prospects of this year's 
baseball season, the books of Asimov or Aristotle, 
and the Military-Industrial complex with equal ease 
and assurance. If you were stupid or crossed him, he 
would flame you hairless -- sometimes for the sheer 
fun of it. He was a great and worthy opponent and a 
better friend.

Mandel discovered on-line conferencing while 
recuperating from back surgery and became, in his 
own terms, addicted to it. I prefer to think that in 
this new medium gave him a chance to  make a 
contribution that had more direct impact on the 
world than his work as a professional futurist at 
Stanford Research Institute, a west-coast think 
tank. And, in the end, he did.

Besides giving the Well a wide range of 
innovations such as the True Confessions and Futures 
conferences, Tom went on to be the master builder of 
the Time/Warner on-line presence. But his most 
lasting contribution was the example of how he lived 
out his life and, in the end, his death openly and 
without apology on the Net.

In what has to be "the year of the Internet", 
when stories about the Net and the Web and the On-
line Services and the wonders of the Information 
Stuporhighway cannot be escaped in any medium, there 
are few examples given where people can see exactly 
what the new medium can be in its full potential. 
Most of the time, we are given bromides and 
platitudes about all the cool stuff, all the neat 
software, all the "information" that is just lying 
out there to be found. What the Net now has in 
spades is content. What it needs most is a clue 
about how to use it, about how to live and how to 
be. <mandel> knew about this. He'd used the medium 
to discuss his childhood, his thoughts, his work and 
his needs. When he was diagnosed with terminal lung 
cancer six months ago, he used the medium to discuss 
the progress of his disease and, finally, as a means 
to say farewell to all those who knew him, not as a 
person, but only as <mandel>. In these final topics, 
continued over the months, a discerning person might 
finally see what this new medium could become is 
used openly and wisely.

What Tom Mandel knew, and what many companies 
and individuals still refuse to learn, is that on-
line is not about selling something to someone or 
bringing information to the starving masses. What it 
is about is people wanting to connect, in a real and 
genuine way, to other people free of the filters of 
older media; to establish, no matter how 
ephemerally, communities of like minded souls who 
are not separated by the facts of geography; to 
create a place where it really is the content of 
one's character that is the first and foremost thing 
people see. Through his work on the Well and Time 
Online, Tom Mandel gave the Net an example of how to 
transmit your soul through the medium of 

<mandel> didn't supply software or hardware or 
a Net connection. <mandel> didn't make it easy to 
point and click your way mindlessly through 
mountains of data and hundreds of slow and mostly 
boring Web pages. What Tom gave to the Net was 
himself. And if you watched him long enough, you 
learned how to do that as well.

Given to a tendency to monstrous 
procrastination in his work, he loved the warp and 
woof and immediacy of on-line discussion. He could, 
it is said, "Type a hundred words a minute and think 
faster." Because of this and his encyclopedic mind 
he could lead and indeed dominate dozens of topics 
simultaneously. If you wanted to argue with <mandel> 
you'd better have your ducks in a row, a lunch 
packed, and be wearing your surge protector because 
you were in for long, wild ride. 

There was nothing he would not discuss. All 
topics were grist to his mill, including the topic 
of his death. For many months on the Well and in 
Time Online, he had discussed with cool candor and 
no little emotion, the progress of his cancer as it 
relentlessly consumed him. The treatments and his 
reactions to them were set out for all to see and 
comment on. He kept almost nothing back. 

Finally, when it became clear that no medical 
procedure would save him and that his remaining time 
in life was shorter than he had hoped, he started a 
discussion on the Well  that he titled "My Turn". In 
this topic, he announced that he was going to die 
and be unable to participate in the medium he loved 
much longer. The effect was electric and hundreds of 
responses flowed into the topic over the next few 
weeks, until, upon his death, it was closed. The 
discussion continued, without <mandel> in the 
Obituary topic.

Tom Mandel died while being held by a woman 
that he loved and listening to Beethoven's Ode to 
Joy from the Ninth Symphony. At first I thought it 
was a beautiful way to die. Then I felt that it was, 
like the Net <mandel> loved and helped to grow, a 
thin thing, -- nice to contemplate but not really 
much good when you just sat still and looked at it. 
Poetic, but it didn't undo the sheer cold fact of 
his death. A fact which I do not approve of at all. 
Finally I decided it was as good a way to die as any 
and better than most. So it will have to do.

But I don't really think about that time all 
that much now. Instead, I think about meeting him in 
the world for the first time. I remember how much 
smaller he seemed that I had imagined him from his 
presence on the Net; how he seemed both tough and 
frail at the same time. I remember knocking back 
serious shots of single-malt. I remember late night 
rambles through Manhattan and San Francisco. I 
remember his apartment piled high with drifts of 
books, papers, tapes and monographs -- crowded with 
the endless subject matter that made up his mind. 

And I think about the last time I spoke with 
him the week before he died. I apologized for now 
saying anything on-line in his "My Turn" topic; that 
I didn't have any words for that subject. He 
understood that, he said. I told him I'd see him 
somewhere a little further down the road. He 
understood that too. He said "I'm afraid to go 
there, but we all have to go. We have to be men."

And that's how we left it, Tom and I. I 
suppose I could always go on-line and go to the Well 
and read any part of the hundreds of thousands of 
words <mandel> left there on any subject under the 
sun. I could go to Time Online and read the hundreds 
of testimonials to him in those conferences.  But 
somehow I don't think I will. I no longer think of 
him as <mandel> -- like the Net he loved and helped 
build that's just too thin. I think of him now as 
Tom Mandel, the first friend I ever made before I 
met him.
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