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Pictures of Nothing for Free

Art by Mike LeeFOR THOSE WHO CONNECT TO THE INTERnet via modem, the time spent waiting for inline images to load is most often spent . . . waiting for inline images to load: lingering, quietly fascinated by the progress bar, anticipating the wait's end signified by the resulting insulting, animated GIF whose excessively dense color pallet caused the bottleneck. "Each uninvited ad is like a non-cute 4-year-old smearing a booger across your screen," claims Dr. Valerie Sprellis, perceived authority figure of the fictional yet reasonable Merryman Institute, a privately funded organization studying correlations between advertising and suicidal depression. "Only in this case the booger has been researched, developed and designed by 40-year-olds with clean fingers who claim to be doing something other than panhandling in suits and ties."

Since the promulgation of banner ads in 1994, the Internet has festered exponentially with uninvited images of all colors and creeds. According to Sprellis, between 81 and 89 percent of inline Web images -- advertisements and otherwise -- are not worth looking at. "There is no demonstrable benefit to the individual forced to observe the imagery," says Sprellis. "Yet 92 percent of daily Internet users uphold their browsers' default setting that allows all inline images to appear automatically, regardless of their size, content or origin. Commercial browsers offer but one viable alternative, which is to change the settings to not load any images. This, while relieving users of the appearance of 3.9% FirstUSA Platinum banners, also deprives them of the ass-kicking, hardcore porn at Don Knotts Cybersex (www.columbia.edu/cu/jester/knotts/knottssex.html)."

Armed with evidence that the remaining alternative -- loading each image separately through a mouse-breaking series of points and clicks -- is not a viable one, Sprellis and her Merryman Institute are lobbying hard for more image control. "Cookies are a perfect example," she says. "They're a pain in the ass, but a controllable pain. It's not just Yes, cookie, No cookie; we have a number of choices: Accept all cookies always, accept no cookies sometimes, accept only those sent back to the same server, and -- most important -- ask the user before accepting."

For some users, the serenity of image-free browsing induces powerful religious experiences or psychotic episodes. By changing just one setting, the user nullifies most advertising and increases page-loading velocity by up to a thousand percent, thus decreasing the chance of reactive cardiovascular disenchantment while unaggressively pissing off evil people who want to blanket the planet in dollar signs. "It's a power trip," says Sprellis. "It makes some people feel special. I'm not suggesting that cutting back on image consumption is a better way to browse for everyone -- some inline images are wonderful; for example, the Andy Griffith Show Autographed Photograph at www.wallsoffame.com/assets/images/GRFIFFITH_BY_5_bwa.jpg; and I'm sure there are others -- but I am suggesting that imageless browsing is its own viable form which presents its own viable pleasures; and that having as much control over images as we have over cookies is not a privilege but a God-given right."

The Merryman Institute's unavailable promotional literature is filled with real-life examples of advertisement-induced addictions and their socioeconomic effects. One prominent citation is that of my mother, who, after spending one hour each Sunday clipping coupons from the local newspaper for 20 years, spending over a thousand hours to save almost $400, died. "At our present rate of interest," says Sprellis, "by 2002 there will be more inline images not worth looking at than there are all other images combined. And some of us will be dead."


"We are often asked why we give away a product that many would happily pay for. The answer is that we are determined to carry out our mission: to free the world from junk communications." Venerable if not humble privacy warriors since 1996, Junkbusters (www.junkbusters.com) now provides The Internet Junkbuster Proxy™ -- "free privacy-enhancing software that can be run on your PC or by your ISP or company. It blocks requests for URLs (typically banner ads) that match its block file. It also deletes unauthorized cookies and other unwanted identifying header information that is exchanged between Web servers and browsers. These headers are not normally accessible to users (even though they may contain information that's important to your privacy), but with the Internet Junkbuster you can see almost anything you want and control everything you're likely to need. You decide what's junk.SM Many people publish their block files to help others get started." Extensive installation and configuration information is available in Junkbusters' FAQs (www.junkbusters.com/ht/en/ijbfaq.html).


A Picture of Nothing (www.dsuper.net/~dev/blank.html) printed from your browser with both headers and footers turned on (important) is arguably as suitable for framing as a Campbell's Soup can once was, and far less marketable.