Ticker Tape Parade

Neal Stephenson, the noted SF author, is one of the few who has made the link between the statistics produced during the industrial baseball production process, their subsequent reproduction as part of a baseball telecast from a remote location, and the data that creates the virtual spaces of the internet. In his book In the Beginning…was the Command Line, he writes:

When Ronald Reagan was a radio announcer, he used to call baseball games that he did not physically attend by reading the terse descriptions that trickled in over the telegraph wire and were printed out on a paper tape. He would sit there, all by himself in a padded room with a microphone, and the paper tape would creep out of the machine and crawl over the palm of his hand printed with cryptic abbreviations. If the count went to three and two, Reagan would describe the scene as he saw it in his mind's eye: "The brawny left-hander steps out of the batter's box to wipe the sweat from his brow. The umpire steps forward to sweep the dirt from home plate," and so on. When the cryptogram on the paper tape announced a base hit, he would whack the edge of the table with a pencil, creating a little sound effect, and describe the arc of the ball as if he could actually see it. His listeners, many of whom presumably thought that Reagan was actually at the ballpark watching the game, would reconstruct the scene in their minds according to his descriptions.

This is exactly how the World Wide Web works: the HTML files are the pithy description on the paper tape, and your web browser is Ronald Reagan. The same is true of graphical user interfaces in general (p.17).

Ronald Reagan mask

But even Stephenson — at least in this passage — draws short of the depth that is possible in the realm of simulation. No longer does the baseball statistic provide for the counterfeit that is radio, as in the days of Reagan the radio broadcaster, but rather it drives the videogame, fantasy game and, most importantly, the sabermetric simulation — all in pre-production.

Just as it is no accident that Reagan the former actor became the American president in the age of simulation, so it is no accident that baseball enjoys a renaissance in an era of networked information technologies.


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