One exceptional gentleman would occasionally burst in, rescuing me from the accumulating stank of Counter-Strike and Baldur’s Gate II. Blonde and tall, he gallivanted around campus in a German officer's coat, calling himself “an elitist” and “The Wolf,” unapologetically quaffing as much of my rum as he could get.
The Wolf had a knack for making sumptuous, stunning websites. He had grown up using Photoshop, writing poetry, and coding clever little experiences. I remember opening up his personal website, alone one night in my dorm room. His rambling blog (a word that wasn't yet in common use) spoke like Kerouac, but was backed in explosive, Picasso color. You could tell it was The Wolf. It made eye contact. Compare that to 2013, where two-thirds of the population of the United States shares their lives in the same homogenized blue-white dentist office waiting room called facebook. I guess that layout shouldn't surprise anyone, Zuckberg's parents are dentists.
If The Wolf had never shown me how elegantly individualized websites could be, I might've been just as content as the other billion members of McFacebook.
I had this professor at the same time, Dr. Aaron Delwiche, who'd been teaching us Wolf Skills. He made the point then – and has since made it in a TED talk – that if nobody knows how to program for themselves, if everyone starts believing that only men in white lab coats can do it, then we're essentially leaving the internet to folks like Zuckberg. We'll pour in the words and pictures that make up our lives, just so that a billion dollar company can own those. In 2001 Delwiche made a pretty straightforward affair of helping 20-year-old, caffeine-addled students (like me!) pick up basic HTML, CSS, ActionScript, Photoshop, and so on. With that literacy, I'd start adding my own color and voice to places I'd only been an observer, or a player. I'd held up The Wolf – who'd known how to work most of this since the seventh or eighth grade – as a true-to-life Wizard.
I'm not convinced I was wrong, not completely. As much as the fear of programmer magic might be out of proportion with the reality, as much as I'd love to see more color and voice online, most people do blithely settle for boring, banal shit. With everything, they take it in every other part of their lives. Why not online, too? For now, people like The Wolf are Wizards. They might wear German Officers Coats, or black turtlenecks, or lab coats. The magic comes from a desire to express themselves – to do more than just sit on their asses playing, watching, or reading.
All this, sadly, never really clicked for me in college. Play, for better or for worse, had me locked in its spell. I didn't even see the magic in The Wolf's site until he drowned. When his real, vibrant, stick-thin body slipped under the cold waters of Greenlake one night, was not retrieved in time by any of the poets or artists he’d been with. The last time I saw him, a couple days prior, I'd cruelly denied him a second glass of my rum, straight-up.
I skipped the funeral, avoided the poetry slam he’d been organizing (now dedicated to his memory) and in both cases sat alone in my dorm room, finally seeing his website. I just stared. It was just The Wolf. Just there. And very, very occasionally, just staring back.