Sunday, October 25, 2015


While teaching in Heart Butte in 1990, I learned the most basic things about computers.  Even at that, I knew more than the administrators because I’d recently been a UU minister among city people who knew a lot of technology and they coached me.  So when Heart Butte fired me, I bought a Lisa -- a very early computer with a great big body and a little tiny screen, something like the first televisions in the Fifties.  I spent the summer struggling with it and in fall, when I went back to Portland, I took it along and plugged it in next to the washing machine in my mother’s basement.  That was the only 3-prong plug in the house.  It took eight months to find a new job and apartment, but it was claiming computer skills that got me the job as a clerical specialist for the City of Portland.  Soon I was trading up to a series of increasingly better computers.  Then I got to the point (MAC Mini running Yosemite) where I could see the tech stuff was excessive and backed off.  Recently I had to get an “Old Person’s Guide to Yosemite” to keep working.  To me, it's the writing, not the little tech tricks.

Back in my mother’s basement,  the internet was barely operating but a professor in Dillon, MT, was creating a little sub-web.  If you used the right protocol, quite complex, you could be messaging directly to the little teacher’s college.  Blackfeet were there.  The first time I got through, tears were running down my face because I was so homesick for Montana.  Incoherent and without much to say, but connected.  Pretty soon I was on Rez Net and gleeful.

Now I’ve been publishing on since 2005 when I finished my biography of Bob Scriver, “Bronze Inside and Out.”  I’ve published 3496 entries on the blog, called “Prairiemary,” almost all of them 1,000 word essays on something that interests me.  It gets about 800 hits a day, and can top 1,000 if the subject is “hot.”  Today, when I just looked, since July my blog “prairiemary” has had these totals of different “hit sources” since July:   California 4,697; Montana 4,269; Washington 1,752; Oregon  1,077; New York  1,041.  Canada  3,003; United Kingdom  1,972; Germany  830;  Australia  678;  France  640.

"Bronze Inside and Out" by Mary Scriver

The University of Calgary Press printed 750 copies of “Bronze Inside and Out,” and so far they have not all sold.  If you go by money made, it’s pitiful, but typical of most books printed but not pushed.  It's the promotion that makes best-sellers.  If you go by the number of people who read my work, consider that by now 790,767 people have read my blog.  Yet, people who reflect on writing almost totally ignore blogs, even the grand versions with interpolations of video or even music.

I have a varying number of other more specialized blogs, maybe a dozen, and I only post on any one of them occasionally, like the newest one I call “Water Over the Dam” which is about Eastslope Irrigation.  It begins with “Snowball Earth” when ice covered the entire planet, before the glaciation events that shaped this land.  I pay very little attention to these peripheral blogs and am sometimes surprised when one accumulates a couple of thousand hits without me paying attention. 

Paul Seesequasis

But all this is kind of small compared to others and nowhere near the size needed to make money.  Facebook is so corrupt that I won’t go near it.  Google is also not trustworthy.   I use Twitter, in part because Blackfeet in both the US and Canada pop up.  Paul Seesequasis publishes old Indian photos there and since he often draws on the work of Thomas Magee or Walter McClintock,  many are pictures of Blackfeet on both sides of the “Medicine Line.”  Sometimes I even knew those old people, though they are from 1900 or a little later.   I was here in 1961.

In Valier there are several businesses that buy and sell over the Internet, not counting the big irrigation and construction companies.  In a place with dwindling traffic it could be a major source of growth, but many people here seem to think a computer is an instrument of Satan, maybe because their kids are so interested in using it to explore the Dark Side.  (The librarian monitors users and occasionally has to pull the plug on someone.  Once when I subbed at the school, I challenged a computer user who claimed she was messaging to her mother -- who evidently had a very limited wardrobe.)  Or some of them see it as a male-owned machine, because ranchers were among the first users in order to monitor the commodity market.  Women tend to use it for shopping.  We’re still gender-assigned here, though the terms are somewhat different than in the big city.

The gables in the top of the former Meadville/Lombard building.

My seminary has sold its building to the U of Chicago which houses the Neubauer Collegium there.  It’s an extremely elite international think tank and I monitor through the computer.  They are friendly.  Likewise the U of C itself.  I buy used books for a few dollars through Amazon.  A dozen environmental and religious mailing lists and, of course, the automated international news sources, including the NY Times and the Economist, have made it unnecessary to subscribe to any paper but the Glacier Reporter.  I’ve written several other books but since I can’t find a publisher (two are about Blackfeet and publishers are afraid to publish controversial Indian books), I just put them on the internet as blogs people can download for free. Google is my main research method, but sometimes I use Google to find other search engines that are more specialized and less manipulative.

Ironically, in the international drive for profit by trying to control, force, nudge, exploit, and whatever else will work, the internet is now at the point of diminishing returns.  The mystique of quietly and secretly communicating with someone is gone.  It was never real.  We’ve become aware that internet communication is closely monitored in many ways, not always perceptibly.

The difference between a console on a desktop and a pocket hand-held instant messaging and photographing device can be both a great convenience and a stick of dynamite. CIA Director John Brennan and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have allegedly been hacked by teenagers.  It’s almost a point of honor for that level of “suits” to brag that they don’t understand computers and refuse to use them, which now turns out to be at least crippling if not stupid.  But it’s replicated in small towns and schools across the country.

They say that porn was the early engine that drove some of the most ingenious and useful ways of accessing and organizing material, for instance, Wikipedia.  But now porn has become such a familiar constant in our lives that Playboy is actually resorting to putting clothes on the girls (few are old enough to classify as women) in order to keep them interesting.  Netflix is so predictable and so focused on sex and money, that when I run out of CSI reruns, I’ll have to go exploring.  (I was interested that the First Bush watched CSI, too.  Though now the Third Bush’s presidential campaign is the equivalent.  I had fun playing with what CSI might stand for in that context.)

In terms of print rather than movies, there is an online market for immersive (meaning sensational) romance driven by young women and sports for young men.  Most of the writing is not very good, so it depends on being extreme:  time-travel, sadism, impossible exploits -- all pretending that’s not what they are -- also, exotic locations, like right here.

By now, because of my blog,  I’m occasionally contacted by people who are trying to establish online “magazines” of clever nonfiction and startling narratives.   Content is running short.   They pay maybe $50 and might charge a $3 “reading fee” which is a lot less than established paper publishers will charge to read.  The level of outlay necessary to send manuscripts online is finally about like it was in the old days of two-way postage for heavy packages.

The real catch is that one must write for the fancied demographic of the readers, which is just the same as that of the publishers, so that the circle of reader/writer/publisher becomes a repetitious whirlpool.  They keep asking the readers,  “what do you WANT?”  But  only the people inside the circle ever respond.  People out across the world don’t read these little ego-cyclones.  Soon they screw themselves into the ground.

New technology predictably goes through stages on the way to maturity.  A lot of us are going to be pleased when this computerized “yellow journalism” shock and horror is over and we’ve all seen "everything".

For those who like that stuff, here’s something that not even CSI has touched.  What REALLY happens to a body before it is reduced to a skeleton is that it fills up with gas, swells until it explodes, leaving a puddle of guts.  Now that I’ve used this little Halloween image, I can delete it from my archive.   I hope it turns out to be a hoax, like the cattle the aliens from outer space are supposed to kill around Valier.  One of the pleasures of computers is being able to delete things.  Too bad there’s no real life delete button.


Anonymous said...


Stick this in your browser and be amazed.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

As in life, "deleting" is an illusion. So is "Anonymous." All is profit. So first "they" tell you what they knew all along -- ever heard of the "Way Back Machine" that saves everything ever posted to the Internet? Then "they" sell you the cure: double-delete or "private" browsers.

Two free cures: think what you type and keep a tolerant heart.