Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
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I am a “Cubic Thinker” and far wiser than any god, any scientist and any educator who preaches the evil singularity of a single 1st corner.
—Gene Ray, TimeCube.com
Brace yourselves, Internet denizens: The Time Cube is no more.
To readers a bit younger than I am, that name might not mean a whole lot. But for people who were online back in the late ’90s, in many ways, TimeCube.com (archived here) defined both what was great and what was terrible about the World Wide Web, all at the same time. If you’re unfamiliar, it was the brainchild of the self-described “Wisest Human” and probably dementia-addled “Dr.” Gene Ray, consisting mainly of a single, interminable column of Times New Roman text, in varying sizes and colors, raving about the revolutionary “theory of everything” he had discovered.
. . . just be able to acknowledge that there are intellects—supernatural and otherwise—that know a bit more than your own does. And what was this theory? Well. No one is quite sure, but it was something along these lines:
- The earth has four corners, like a cube.
- Therefore, in each rotation of the earth, there are actually four simultaneous days occurring.
Never mind that the earth actually has zero corners and cubes actually have eight corners—on average, he was right.
The remainder of the text was mostly devoted to Ray’s paranoid conspiracy theories about how THEY didn’t want you to know about the Time Cube, even though the Time Cube explained everything, and THEY were suppressing the truth with a deceitful mix of science, religion, and gubmint schoolin’. It was sort of the Internet equivalent of a Toynbee Tile—the pseudoscientific ravings of a madman, so nonsensical and strange that you couldn’t look away.
In any other era, the Time Cube might have gotten buried in the noise, but in the early ’90s—partly because of the insanity and partly because there wasn’t much else to read on the Internet—Ray became a minor celebrity. He was invited to guest-lecture at MIT and Georgia Tech, and his site’s text became the go-to copypasta for anyone on a message board who found themselves locked in a debate with someone unswayable by reason.
A lot has changed since then. Having a web presence has gone from an embarrassment to a necessity to a birthright. The bar for entry has been lowered from a degree in coding to being able to type your name (maybe). And CSS and services like Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress have all but eliminated the sort of unbelievable ugliness that the Time Cube represented.
And yet, maybe not all that much has changed.
We can certainly be glad that Dr. Ray’s example was never followed as far as visual web design goes, but far too much of the Internet seems to have absorbed his approach to knowledge and argumentation. As I scan my Facebook feed lately, I’m much more likely to see a post calling Kim Davis a fat slut and rejoicing in her imprisonment than I am to see something thinking seriously about the Constitutional issues surrounding the controversy. I’m much more likely to see a rant about a government conspiracy to disenfranchise white southerners by banning the Confederate flag than I am a thoughtful piece about what the flag has meant and currently means. The social media posts that have succeeded personal webpages might be less ugly aesthetically, but they’re rarely more thoughtful or informed.
This isn’t about how you feel about those particular issues, either. The point is that we all tend to enshrine our own opinions and then state them as forcefully and rudely as possible, rather than seeking the wisdom of people who actually know what they’re talking about. Anyone who told Dr. Ray that his theory was nonsense was dismissed as part of a conspiracy against him; he even went so far as to offer a $10,000 prize to anyone who could “disprove” his theories, but of course set himself up as the arbiter of such a challenge.
The Bible, though, tells us to “lean not on your own understanding.” I’ve seen certain gifted individuals take that to mean that “See!!! Christians aren’t allowed to think!!!” but I’ve always taken it as a much more reasonable proposition than that: just be able to acknowledge that there are intellects—supernatural and otherwise—that know a bit more than your own does. Contrary to what you believed when you were twenty, you didn’t invent thinking.
So on this sad day, when we all learn that the Time Cube didn’t even make it quite to its own 20th birthday (unless every day is actually four days, in which case it’s nearly 80, or…something), let’s all learn the lesson from it that we should have learned in the first place: none of us is the Wisest Human. Not you, not me, not “Dr.” Gene Ray (who was actually an electrician, not a doctor, but compared to his other delusions, that one hardly even ranks). The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.
So slow down, tiger. Think before you word-vomit—whether it’s on your sub-GeoCities personal site, your Facebook page, or anywhere else.