brownthumb.com

Do it yourself—and leave the Web out of it.

EVERYONE'S GOT a breaking point when it comes to free speech on the Net. Some folks want to censor racist speech, some corporate slander; some would eliminate naughty pictures, others the cookies and bugs that whittle away personal privacy. All of those folk mean only the best. They want to protect themselves and the rest of us from some vaster, greater evil—as do I. Yes, I (previously Little Miss First Amendment) hereby call for immediate elimination of a type of online content guaranteed to send the unwary and incautious completely to hell. I want Net Nanny and CyberPatrol and all the other filtering folk on the case. I want results. I want them now.

We've got to get the handyman and gardening sites off the Net before someone gets hurt. That someone would be me. I'm all thumbs—brown, brown thumbs. I can wilt plants in a photograph. My next book review should be of Ikea for Dummies. My family sees me embarking on a project (whether it's raising flowers or building furniture) and falls down laughing; meanwhile, the object of my attentions simply falls down. I know this and accept it. But periodically—usually a week or so after the bandages come off—I get delusional.

In the days of my youth, a simple trip to the hardware store or nursery would bring me back to my senses. The smell of sawdust and the musical trill of the sales clerks' snickering is practically methadone to me, and I generally manage to skulk away without incident. Shopping offline has that effect: Not only do you get good ideas from talking to live human beings, you get rid of bad ideas, like (in my case) building any kind of load-bearing structure.

But alone in my office I am removed from such checks and balances. (I'm ignoring the five-degree list of the bookshelves. You'd be amazed how well duct tape can anchor such things.) Left outside the bright circle of human companionship, Martha Stewart starts to sound dangerously rational, and garden.com looks so effortlessly verdant that I forget myself. I need lilac bushes! I need a bigger desk! Fetch me my glue gun!

The Net has been a remarkable asset to the home-and-garden community, in direct proportion to its menace to the rest of us. Among the notable sites in the arena are garden.com, for the plant-capable; marthastewart.com, for those worshipping a domestic goddess other than Roseanne; and Home Improvement Encyclopedia, for those who can invoke Tim Allen and not outrage the do-it-yourself gods.

A particularly cranky set of gods they are, too. Even mild surfing around these sites makes me a bit lightheaded. What am I doing in front of the computer when I could be making handmade fabric-covered magnets for the refrigerator, ࠬa HouseNet? If only I applied myself, wouldn't I be able to grow the kinds of roses so lovingly described by the message-board mavens at GardenWeb?

No, I would not, and that's why we ought to ban these sites like flamethrowers at a chili parlor. Someone is going to get hurt, it's going to be ugly, and in any case the whole situation is just too embarrassing to contemplate further.

Never mind sex—sooner or later most folks figure out how to do that on their own. Never mind hate speech—that's only curable by more and smarter speech. It's the damned DIY sites that we need to protect ourselves from. The dead houseplants and toppling bookcases you save may be your own.

 
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