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First published: 5/4/01

The History and Philosophy of thought experiments lain

A story to be told...

Over the last year and a half, I've written a lot about lain, but so far, I haven't written much about the website itself: how and why it came to be, what motivated me to start and maintain it, where it's gone, and where it's going. Such a treatment has been long overdue, so here's my story for anyone who's curious...

Since it opened on August 4th, 1999, thought experiments lain (TEL for short) has served as a guide of sorts to help people understand the story of serial experiments lain and to encourage them to create and explore their own imaginative (but well-reasoned) interpretations of the anime.

thought experiments lain has indeed been a grand experiment for me, with unexpected and pleasant results. When I first watched serial experiments lain in the Spring of 1999, little did I know it would lead to all this. When I jotted down my first notes, it didn't occur to me that so many people might find them even moderately interesting. And I certainly didn't expect my short page of notes to evolve into the detailed website that currently exists.

In the beginning

the first steps

I had the pleasure of seeing the first two episodes of lain projected on a big screen. (Someone at The Davis Anime Club, which I was a member of in 1999, had fansubs.) For about an hour, I sat hypnotized by the sights and sounds projected on the screen in front of me. Enthused, I arranged to get low-quality VHS copies of the episodes from my college friends at the Cornell Japanese Animation Society. The episodes were untranslated, and like many early fans of lain in the United States, I relied on Keisuke Shindo's translated scripts on the web, courtesy of the lain ML and the unofficial lain webpage. The series didn't hook me completely until around layer:09 PROTOCOL at which point I couldn't resist and went ahead and read the rest of the scripts before actually watching the rest of the anime. Amazed and almost deliriously happy at what I had stumbled across, I eagerly finished the series, and was not disappointed.

Being the type who enjoys analytical writing, I felt inspired to write about this anime which was obviously so full of information and compelling in so many different ways. To organize my thoughts, I decided to write some notes about the interesting characters and things presented in the anime. An early version of this document was entitled "Lain Notes ver 1.0", partly inspired by "Lotus Notes" which I had been reading about (since it incorporates some of the principles of Ted Nelson's Xanadu project). "Lain Notes" consisted solely of a short glossary of terms and names without any "related links". When I mentioned to my CJAS friends that I might want to make these notes publicly available on the web, they were very encouraging and helpful. As such, I worked tirelessly for several days to complete my first release of TEL with related links, links to other lain sites, and a simple (but halfway clever) splash page. Finally, I opened the site on August 4th, 1999, submitting the link to Anipike, and announcing it on the lain ML, a few web forums, and Usenet.

Site traffic was light in the early days, as the end of the series had not yet been released in the United States. A few people who had seen the fansubs, however, offered their early enthusiasm for TEL. Much thanks to those long-time readers if you're still around. Slowly but surely, especially after the final DVD was released, TEL began to attract more widespread attention.

The (not-so-secret) purpose of TEL

From the start, I've tried to fill a previously unoccupied niche in the world of lain websites. I didn't want to create an all-in-one comprehensive resource featuring episode summaries, character pictures and bios, image galleries, music collections, movie files, message boards, chat rooms, and the like. Numerous lain websites, even in 1999, already had those features. Instead, even if it meant reduced site traffic, I wanted to create a more specialized site with unique and uncommon information, and then provide links to the sites which I felt had the best image galleries, episode summaries, music collections, etc. I believe the anime web community should work together to provide the most amount of information to fans. Instead of drawing traffic away from the other lain sites by providing the same content as them, I provided my own content and linked liberally to sites which had unique content of their own. While I've inevitably spawned some imitators, I feel it's better to be imitated than give into the urge to imitate.

Reading is fundamental

I wanted to create a unique and useful reference guide, both for myself and for other fans of the anime. In fact, TEL continues to be a reference for me. After all, I haven't memorized everything I've written on TEL. When I'm away from the computer and in need of lain information, I will sometimes call up my friends, have them look up a section of TEL for me, and have them tell me what it says. ^_^

At the same time, I didn't want to provide a scene-by-scene explanation of the entire plot. TEL's purpose has never been to authoritatively proclaim exactly what happened and what everything meant. Considering how many questions remain unresolved regarding individual variables in the overall equation (ie. exactly who was Lain's "family" working for or who did they think they were working for? who were the MIBs working for or who did they think they were working for?), I've been unable and unwilling to publish a singular irrefutable account of the events portrayed in the anime. Instead, I've provided my thoughts and the results of my research regarding individual interesting components of the anime, and have purposely left plenty of room open for individual interpretation.

For me, lain has been a doorway to numerous fascinating topics I never would have explored in-depth had I never watched the anime. So in addition to being a reference, I wanted TEL to introduce people to those topics, guiding intrepid explorers on their way to exciting and previously unvisited realms of thought. Returning the favor, several readers have written to me, sharing their insights and experiences, and pointing me in new directions, as well.

The heart of TEL is the Annotated Glossary. It's where I spent the most time and energy, and it's what I'm most proud of. Beyond the glossary definitions and interpretations, I took great care to add high-quality "related links" so readers could further explore the topics on their own. For a long time, the glossary page was the only page of TEL, and it still serves as the intended starting page. The daughter nodes, misceLAINeous and Infomania, came later. misceLAINeous was really just assorted odds and ends that I didn't see represented on other lain sites, such as information on the promo DVD and Lain figures. It started small but grew into a full-featured site of its own. Infomania, the Apple Computer & lain page, is an addendum of sorts to the original Annotated Glossary and its appeal is somewhat limited to the Apple Computer savvy/curious crowd. Still, I had a lot of fun with it, especially the Think different "poster" I made.

Highlight reel: special moments in the history of TEL

Kawaii magazine
  • On August 15th, 2000, an article I submitted to Slashdot was approved and posted, resulting in a tremendous flood of visitors to this site.

  • TEL was referenced heavily (with permission) for a feature article on lain in the Polish anime magazine, Kawaii.

  • Both with and without proper attribution (and/or permission), parts of TEL have been quoted, copied, and translated into numerous languages, including Polish, Spanish, Korean, and Italian.

  • During the early days of TEL, I shared a brief correspondence with Chiaki J. Konaka, the screenwriter of lain. I also got in contact with Douglas Rushkoff (the author of Cyberia), introduced him to lain (in which he is mentioned), and helped him establish a correspondence with Chiaki Konaka. In August of 2000, I showed Chiaki Konaka several lain-related strips from Real Life (Greg Dean's online comic), and he added links to those strips from his website.

  • Many kind webmasters worldwide have linked to TEL. Some people will say that's a very common thing not worth mentioning, but to me, there's nothing quite as thrilling as being linked to. Many thanks to the various webmasters who have generously found my site worthy enough to grace their link lists.

  • Finally and most importantly, I've made new friends because of TEL, strengthened old friendships, been inspired by the intelligence and resourcefulness of the fans who have shared their thoughts and information with me, and felt a true sense of camaraderie toward my fellow lain webmasters. Collectively and individually, the lain fandom community is as unique as the anime we love, and I'm proud to be a member.

"He lives for the written word"

Thanks to all who wrote and gave their feedback, encouragement, critiques, interesting tidbits of information, and love. It's been great, and I've learned so much about lain, the web, and people in the process. Returning the favor, I hope I've done some good for somebody out there.

[If you've written to me, I do read all the e-mails I receive. Unfortunately, I have a large backlog, which explains why I may not have responded to you yet. Please accept my sincerest apologies. If I promised to add a link but haven't done so yet, hopefully I haven't forgotten and it's on my to-do list, but feel free to send me an e-mail reminder.]

Where I've been, where I'm going, where I am

I was going to write this last August to commemorate the first year anniversary of TEL's opening. Unfortunately, I was busy at the time with schooling (working to complete my Master's degree in Plant Biology at UC Davis). After earning my degree in October, my web updates became more infrequent as I had other things, other ideas, and other projects to work on. While TEL has been and remains my most successful web project to date, my creative impulses have urged me to explore new vistas. Nonetheless, TEL isn't something that will ever be "finished", and there are actually lots of things I want/need/intend to add to the site. So there will be updates, but they'll be slower than before. The more feedback I receive, the more likely I'll be motivated to update faster. ^_^ If you have a new lain site that you want to share, don't hesitate to send me the link. I really enjoy watching the growth of exceptional lain sites. They inspire me to work that much harder on TEL.

Best of luck to you all, thanks for reading, and stay Wired until next time.

yours truly,
Lawrence Eng

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Last updated on June 24th, 2001
Lawrence Eng