The Danger In Being Kibo

June 12, 1997


"There aren't half a dozen stand-up comedians in the country who could match wits with [Kibo] for even a few minutes-he's a walking sociological study."

-Tjames Madison

It was grim. All journalistic decorum had evaporated during our on-line interview. E-mail was fired back and forth with the velocity of neuron charges:

"How old are you?"

"Two," James "Kibo" Parry replied.

"Seriously."

"I'm younger than William Shatner but older than his hair."

"You've written almost 10,000 newsgroup posts in the past 10 years. What motivates you to keep going?"

"It's too hard to do fine Italian Renaissance calligraphy on bathroom tiles. What motivated you to write 900 words about Kibo? Are you a private eye impersonating a reporter for evil purposes?

"I'll ask the questions here."

"Why?"

The edition of The Oxford English Dictionary which came out earlier this year includes a few entries obviously added to encompass Internet culture. One is "kibo," defined, somewhat incorrectly, as Web slang for God.

Perhaps it's the finest tribute to Parry, who is the original Kibo, and to some, the only Kibo. Regular Netters are keenly aware of people who respond to almost every newsgroup post with some sort of smart-aleck comment or conspiracy theory. The Internet's awash with prophets, fools, ranters, and wise guys. Kibo is king of them all. He's been around the longest and still does it the best.

Not a bad rep for a guy who, his friends say, is intensely brilliant but shy around strangers. Parry is a lanky 26-year-old Boston-based graphic designer who reputedly bears a passing resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, if only because of his beard. He spends about 20 hours a week on the Net.

Parry first saw the letters "k-i-b-o" spewing from a malfunctioning computer which was hopelessly trying to display an error message. Majoring in writing, literature, and publishing at Emerson College, he and two friends created Kibology in a Chinese restaurant. Not knowing what Kibology was exactly (a problem remaining to this day), they decreed that "Kibo" means "God" and that Parry should be Kibo.

In the ensuing years, Kibo certainly was omnipresent on the Internet (although it was much smaller then). Netter "Tjames" Madison remembers that in 1991, "If you were on Usenet, you knew Kibo. He was the glue that held things together. . . . It didn't matter if you were reading sci.physics or rec.pets.cats, you had to deal with Kibo every day, somehow."

Kibo's posts, which tended to be flippant, were not always greeted enthusiastically. The regulars of alt.slack and talk.bizarre tired of his antics and created a newsgroup especially for Parry, called alt.religion.kibology (ARK). In Parry's words, they "decided that maybe if there was another sandbox for me to play in, I might not build my sand castles on their turf."

ARK ballooned in popularity; Netters filled it with vague allusions to religion and winding threads of self-referential jokes. Today it remains one of the most frequented newsgroups.

Madison remembers that Kibo, who works in spurts, could post at any one time "78 messages and all of them [were] incredibly, gut-bustingly hilarious, and you would open up ARK with your newsreader and see 19 new threads started by Kibo, and then you would rub your hands and say, 'Yay! It's Kibo Time!' and there went your next three hours."

It's goofy stuff, humor you either get or don't. In the newsgroup alt.torture, someone wonders if a person could be kept alive with liquid food enemas and, if so, would Ensure work? "I hope U take it out of the canz first!!!" Kibo answers.

Kibo's posts are filled with arcane references to SeaQuest, physics, and TV bombshell Claudia Christian. Sometimes they're purposely filled with misinformation ("Kurt Vonnegut wrote Chariots of the Gods" or "Majel Barrett was on Star Trek only because she's married to William Shatner") to draw earnest and sometimes angry corrections, which he further mocks.

"His personality is kind of a contradiction," says Scott Ramming, a friend of Parry's. Ramming tells me that while Parry seeks attention on-line, and can be as creatively hyperactive when with friends, he shies away from crowds or interaction with strangers. Ramming recalls that when they were ordering software by phone, Parry wanted to combine his order with Ramming's just so Parry didn't have to speak with a telephone operator.

So Parry might never do stand-up comedy, but he's found the perfect outlet for his endless creativity. By the same token, the vastness of the Net into which Parry projects Kibo might produce a shadow so large as to overtake the man. As Ramming says, "Sometimes it's hard to tell if it's James talking or if it's Kibo."

When our interview started, I worried that I had E-mailed Kibo too many questions. I didn't want to overwhelm him. But he answered them all, and made up a couple more himself and answered those too. Still, it wasn't enough. "Send more questions if you have time," Parry E-mailed. "You haven't asked about my collection of radiation suits."

Aerial reconnaissance: David Cassel.
--Joab Jackson



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