The Internet is such a ubiquitous and necessary (for us addicts, at least) part of life in the late 2000-aughts that it’s strange and time-warpy to think of how recent that ubiquity really is. Vanity Fair has compiled a fun oral history of the Net that serves as one of those occasional reminders of the absurd pace of change over the past 15 years. (The oral history covers the Internet’s 50-year history, but the best parts are about the World Wide Web era.)
I first became aware of the post-CompuServe Internet when my brother was in college, circa 1992. I was so excited that he somehow had access to all the important information I couldn’t find anywhere else: namely, the special moves for Street Fighter II. I think Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam secrets were also big on my list of Net-procured info, but Street Fighter was the main treasure.
I remember my brother mentioning Archie and Veronica — two early search engines — and I had no idea what he was talking about, though I must have used one or both to find the video game tricks. Oddly enough, I don’t remember the first time I used a Web browser. In my memory, browsers just exist after a point.
Anyway, here are some interesting bits from the Vanity Fair piece…
Marc Andreessen (Mosaic/Netscape/Ning maven), on making a graphical program to access the Internet:
It sounds obvious in retrospect, but at the time, that was an original idea. When we were working on Mosaic during Christmas break between 1992 and 1993, I went out at like four in the morning to a 7-Eleven to get something to eat, and there was the first issue of Wired on the shelf. I bought it. In it there’s all this science-fiction stuff. The Internet’s not mentioned. Even in Wired.
My first thought after reading that was, Then what the heck was in the first issue of Wired? But after a quick glance at the first issue, I see that Andreessen is maybe exaggerating just a tad. (The Wired article that does mention the Internet — possibly a library/academic version if you want to be charitable toward Andreessen’s memory — includes this pre-file-sharing sentiment that’s either prescient or quaint [italics added]: “If someday in the future anybody can get an electronic copy of any book from a library free of charge, why should anyone ever set foot in a bookstore again?”)
In the unheeded-visionary department, we have two gems. First is Silicon Graphics/Netscape Communications founder Jim Clark:
One of the things that struck me at that early embryonic state was that the Internet was going to mutate the newspaper industry, was going to change the classified-ad business, and change the music business. And so I went around and met with Rolling Stone magazine. I met with the Times Mirror Company, Time Warner. We demonstrated how you could play music over this thing, how you could shop for records, shop for CDs. We demonstrated a bunch of shopping applications. We wanted to show the newspapers what they were going to undergo.
Ummm, good thing there were so many media folks who paid attention to people like Jim Clark.
Then there’s Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, who had an even more specific pitch/warning for newspapers:
The media people essentially did not think the Internet would be important or disruptive. In 1996, I got together the C.E.O.’s of 9 of the 10 major newspaper companies in America in a single room to propose something called the New Century Network. It was the C.E.O.’s of The Washington Post and The New York Times and Gannett and Times Mirror and Tribune and I forget who else. They couldn’t convince themselves that a Google, a Yahoo, or an eBay would be important, or that eBay could ever replace classified advertising.
The luddite ignorance would almost be funny if not for the current havoc that stems pretty much directly — albeit a decade in the making — from said ignorance.
Of course, the Internet being the Internet (i.e. awesome), I also came across two posts today that show how far ahead of the technology curve journalists are in many respects.
First (via the always-excellent Hitsville) is a story from the Arizona Republic about a fight between Phoenix’s mayor and a county sheriff. In the course of reciprocal investigations, the sheriff sought six months worth of Phoenix officials’ e-mails. Can you guess how the information was delivered? No — not by burning the material on a CD. That would be too easy and cheap! Instead, they printed out more than 10,000 pages and scanned them, costing $2,000 in taxpayer money. (Though as Bill Wyman points out at Hitsville, the paper somehow construed this as saving taxpayers money.)
And finally, we come to this fully reassuring quote from a John McCain campaign official (via The Plank):
You don’t necessarily have to use a computer to understand, you know, how it shapes the country. … John McCain is aware of the Internet.
I can see the bumper sticker now: “McCain in ’08: He kinda sorta knows about that Internet thingy!”