A Screensaver Manifesto_

I hate PointCast.

It offends me, not in implementation, but in concept.

Ages ago, in the dark ages of computing, screen savers were a functional thing: that's how they got their name. By detecting when you were idle and painting the screen black, they saved the phosphor from burn-in.

However, clever hackers being what they are, screen savers began to evolve, because it turned out that all that was necessary to prevent burn-in was simply that the pixels not stay on: a moving image was just as effective as no image at all.

These days, it's almost never actually necessary to save the screen, as modern color display tubes are nearly immune to burn-in. But the screen saver, despite its utilitarian origins, gave rise to a new medium, a channel for the distribution of computer-based art.

Screen savers were eye candy. Screen savers were cute little hacks that made your computer look like the computers in the movies do. Screen savers were art, pure and simple.

Or at least, they used to be. There was something pure about screen savers. I for one was shocked (and delighted!) that Berkeley Systems was actually able to build a business out of something so intentionally and explicitly frivolous.

And then came PointCast. Now finally someone has found a way to sell the screen saver to those born with a deplorable lack of creativity: those sad people whose heads always list to the left because they have no right brain at all: the MBA, the MIS manager.

Oh boy.

There are actually people in the world, and I think this is really sad, who think that boxes of text sliding by playing commercials at them, commercials for Pete's sake, are more entertaining, more intrinsically cool than pretty colors or interesting geometric shapes.

Just wait until one of your company's middle managers (probably the same one who sends out three messages a day asking everyone to give a warm welcome to the new regional sales manager for outer Slobovia, because after all, everybody needs to know) gets to be the one who decides what kind of corporate-sponsored prolefeed should decorate the glass in your cubicle when it's not in use. This will probably be the same person who picks out the Corporately Correct art that lines the hallways: you know, the paintings of eagles soaring, eagles swooping, eagles perched on a branch looking triumphantly into the sun. That guy.

Pretty soon it won't just be magazines who are in the business of selling audiences to advertisers: it'll be your boss, too. This is as offensive an innovation as product placement in movies. Some things were better left un-thought-of.

And the best part of it is that it displays all this great data... when you're not there! It is truly one of the stupidest ideas since the car doors that opened out with the hinge at the back. Of course, if you're like most of the zombies in the marketing departments at every place I've ever worked, you probably spend most of the day watching your screensaver while dreaming up ways to kill the company and run, so maybe that's exactly the target market they're going for.

Fight the power! Save not your screen with text, for that is the slippery slope to the dark side!

(c) 1996 Jamie Zawinski <jwz@jwz.org>