IS INTERNET UTOPIA? GOOD HEAVENS, NO

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The video is riveting, the cuts dramatic. The copy is staccato and repetitive, sometimes overlapping, sometimes sequential, sometimes disjointed. There are many faces and voices holding out the same promise, yet the appeal is as diverse as the cast assembled to express it.

Indeed, the style is so distinctive, that in the first second you know what message to take away:

Give her a ball and let her play. When she grows up, she will be a better, happier woman for it.

"People here communicate mind to mind," the spot begins. "Not black to white. There are no genders. Not man to woman. There is no age. Not young to old. There are no infirmities. Not short to tall. Or handsome to homely. Just thought to thought. Idea to idea. Uninfluenced by the rest of it. There are only minds. Only minds. What is this place? This place? Utopia? No. No. The Internet. The Internet. The Internet . . ."

The Internet?

Oops. Sorry, our mistake. We could have sworn it was one of those bracing, austere Nike commercials directed by Sam Bayer that idealizes and melodramatizes the importance of sports to girls. Turns out, it's actually a bracing, austere MCI Communications Corp. commercial directed by Sam Bayer that idealizes and melodramatizes the importance of the Internet to democracy.

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, produced the spot for the MCI Network, and it's a pretty good one, too-considering it's a bunch of hooey.

Who says there is some sort of pristine egalitarianism to the Internet, free of prejudices and other human foibles? Yes, if you are using the Net as a teletype to talk to strangers, it is true your interlocutor cannot see you. But that doesn't change the quality of his communication, or yours-as any random peek at any bulletin board will reveal in an instant. Empty thought to empty thought. Bad idea to bad idea.

The same qualities of distance and anonymity that make each interlocutor faceless also make the medium remote and impersonal, ripe for deceit, exploitation, neurotic escapism and, of course, mindless blathering. Surfed lately? Seen many sites worth revisiting?

Nobody's saying the Net isn't a remarkable medium and a priceless resource, but like any other technological advance it is just that. MCI's comparison notwithstanding, it is not utopia. It is not a panacea. And it certainly is not as heroically humanizing as MCI would have us believe.

There is ample utility and promise in this technology to fill a thousand commercials with a sense of awe, wonder and concrete benefits. Indeed, a second MCI spot, about a telecommuter who participates in major executive decisions while wearing bunny slippers, charmingly does just that. So why must the anthem spot so compulsively overstate, overhype and oversell?

Now it happens this is a striking ad in spite of itself, and the values it celebrates are worth celebrating. But it's gratuitously optimistic, and just too high-toned to bear. The Internet is a better mousetrap, and for e-mail alone the world is beating a path to the online-access door. Why bother to imbue the mousetrap with an aura of spiritual transcendence? What people need to know is where to buy it, and how.

Of course, some people who see this spot will be moved promptly to action, albeit not necessarily to enjoy electronic communications free of superficial

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