these are the days of lasers in the jungle

7/21/10

Exactly 14 years ago this week, I was welcomed into the team that would create the look and feel of CitySearch as it was originally envisioned. And exactly one decade ago this week, I joined a startup that was to change the face of internet gaming with the help of ESPN and Disney. The latter spent $43 million without ever delivering a product, and the former is now a rusting hull of its former self – but both times, the glimpse into the future, and the promise it held, was mesmerizing.

When we were first working on CitySearch, we had to explain to people what the Web was, and furthermore, convince them it would last. After all, many people had grown up in houses with gaslight fixtures long turned off, milk delivery boxes oxidized shut by time, and intercom buttons that were painted over. There was no guarantee that the World Wide Web was going to last any longer than the Tamagotchis that had just appeared at the mall.

tamagotchi(bl).jpg

PLEASE stay alive, you dumb piece of shit

Being an early adopter, or even an early evangelist, is a lonely business. Even if you’re a fervent missionary, there’s always a piece of you that thinks you got it horribly wrong – or, more realistically, that your chosen obsession is a great idea but won’t actually happen for another eight years. Even if it works, is it a craze or a fad?

But those of us on the early front lines of the internet as we now know it… we were right. We established the early rules of writing for the screen (rules I break on this blog almost daily), began the eyeball-tracking research, understood our generation’s attention span for what it was, and, well, I’ve already waxed anaphylactic how much I loved the salad days.

Someone we could have really used back then is commenter Tammy Oler, whose brain I pick whenever in earshot, along with her stand-up guy Ehren, because whatever is happening next in the internet/social media world, they’ll be right about it. And Tammy just started a new thinktank/virtual social club for folks in that milieu called Zeitgeist, which is where those big ideas may well go from haploid to blastocyst.

Which leads me to today’s question: when did you first have your “aha! the internet is actually going to be awesome” moment? Think of the first thing you saw that made you think, “well, that probably changes everything…”

0 thoughts on “these are the days of lasers in the jungle

  1. CM

    Maybe it was when I helped start a weekly trivia night at a bar in the Village, and the people who started coming were able to stay in contact the rest of the week and become friends via e-mail and group messages to each other…I’d spent a lot of the ’90s fairly lonely after college, not really having too many ways to make new friends. The internet made all of that so much easier. Social networking was custom-made for the shy.

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  2. MR

    I entered Carolina in 1996, and that was still the age of doing research by card catalog, reference books, microfilm, etc. By my senior year, I was searching online for recent articles and new information, and was incredulous at how much easier that was. Funny enough, when I got my master’s in 2007, it was a treat when I had to find historical primary sources and got to spend hours with microfilm again. Took forever to find what I actually needed, but the journey was fascinating.

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  3. jon

    Helping a friend get tickets online for multiple events at the 1996 Olympics, because we had a reasonably stable and relatively “fast” dial-up connection at my office. It “only” crashed/locked up 3 or 4 times during the process, and it was the first time I thought there was a chance the internets *might* eventually live up to the hype of the early adopters. My friend got way better seats to see Michael Johnson break records in Atlanta than he would have if he had tried by phone or mail…

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  4. Caitlin

    I am marveling at the Internet right now as I read xtcian from the Haitian Public Health Laboratory on a blackberry in Port au Prince!

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  5. Megan

    Spring semester, 1994: UNC’s School of Information and Library Science. I watched my roommate construct what was then the de rigeur personal homepage featuring photos of her cat that we viewed in a Mosaic browser. We agreed that her particular content was lame, but that the technology would change everything. Which, of course, it did. If I’d been more prescient, I would have figured it out several years earlier when I started using Lynx, but it took a GUI to make things really pop, as they say.

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  6. Lee

    I’m with you since i was at citysearch at the same time. I was a BIG believer. It was harder for me, though, because I was trying to SELL it to the folks in carrboro who didn’t even have computers and still did sales with a lock box. i “knew” when the Friendly Barber told me he wanted to ride with me on the information highway, that it was gonna happen. to see that old guy so excited like a little kid, was pretty frickin awesome. i still think that at the time, $39/month for a website was a waste of money for those who invested, and ultimately why i quit. Funny, huh? 14 years might as well be a thousand.

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  7. Julie

    95-96, working on my masters while raising two toddlers and doing research/homework late at night at home with a connection to database at the library-couldn’t really believe how easy it was to get information. also at the same time I established my first email account and thought wow, this is going to kill my letter writing. And it did. :(

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  8. Jackie

    I was working a reference desk in a small branch library in 1994. We could answer about half the questions that came in. One day they installed a computer with Internet access and. We could answer eighty percent of the questions.
    These days the big question is whether reference librarians have value when so many people use the net. It doesn’t really matter if people aren’t getting good information. Itatters that they perceive that they are.
    But, that moment of realizing that a huge world of imfomation was now available quickly and freely was amazing.

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  9. MarkC

    Porn
    I mean sure, sure booking tickets, doing research, but when it became the primary vehicle for porn, then you knew this was going to make it.

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  10. LFMD

    Some time around 1996 or 1997, my husband wanted to buy a new computer. We were newly-married, living in a crummy apartment, and he was self-employed (read: broke!). Money was TIGHT, and I argued and argued with him that his current amber monitor computer was just fine for him to run his law office! Eventually, I gave in, and he bought a new computer with aol internet access built-in.
    He brought it home from Best Buy, set it up on the dining room table, and my world was rocked! Information! All sorts of information! I was on the internet for HOURS that entire weekend. It was truly amazing. And then, on Monday, he took his brand-new computer to his office and I was sad. I wanted the information back. I knew then and there that I was hooked.

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  11. Deb

    I don’t know when the first moment was, but about 10 minutes ago I said out loud to nobody on the street, “Thank you, internet,” after I couldn’t figure out how to reset the Oil Life display in my car and the manual’s directions failed, but the beautiful Internets were there to solve the problem. For free. Instantly. Unconditionally.
    Swoon.

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  12. julie

    1995 when I was in grad school and my small group was working on one of many presentations. This one happened to be about the functionalities of the typical Emergency Department and we wanted to make the presentation so much more than your standard power point presentation with the clip art graphics and the like. We were searching the internet and found all of these .wav files from “ER” and downloaded them into the presentation. We thought it was an incredibly cool way to spice up a presentation and we were in awe of how we could interface the two.

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  13. kent

    It must have been around 1988 when I was in the Comp Sci grad program at Iowa. I was in the Computer lab working on something, and two of my friends were cackling in the corner. They were typing back and forth in real time with a friend of theirs in Amsterdam.
    Then a few years later I was at a MSLPAS meeting at University of Illinois and Marc Andreesen (who was a grad student there) gave a talk about his work with the W3C Word Wide Web protocol, and the possibilities of web browsers. Like whoa.

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  14. kevin from NC

    Ian,
    For me it was Citysearch.. the spin cycle had an account number that I think was either 00006 or 00008… it was less than ten. I think it is the only time in my life that was on the ‘cutting edge’. Right now I am in CO visiting my former Citysearch rep.. I got some friends out of that.

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  15. Anne

    C. 1981-82. At the magazine where I worked, our IBM Selectrics were hauled out and replaced by Memorex terminals hooked into an IBM mainframe computer. That wasn’t the ah-ha. (More like the “uh-oh.”)
    The ah-hah was: In bright green letters near the bottom of my black Memorex screen, a message appeared from a guy I knew at a university in Illinois. The medium was BITNET (forerunner of the Internet), and I knew right then and there that something big was up in the world of communication.
    I’ve been a constant electronic communicator ever since. Talk about changing one’s world.

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  16. Amy S.

    I can’t remember when I first thought the internet was awesome, but I do remember walking into the computer lab in Dey Hall when Dan Kois walking out. He said, “Hey, what are you up to?” I said, “I have to type a paper. What are you up to?” He said, “I was just on Netscape for a while.” I said, “Ah.” He went his merry way, and I thought, “What the fuck is Netscape?”

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  17. Tammy O.

    I’ve been thinking about this all day and it’s been hard for me to recall a really revelatory “Aha!” moment. I’ve mostly just been steadily excited about the internet.
    However, I do recall feeling pretty thunderstruck by Yahoo Groups back in 2005. We used that platform to organize our roller derby league and it just seemed magical: we could vote, share documents/files, organize all of our practices/meetings, and choose how we wanted to deal with all of the 75+ derby-related emails were were receiving every day. We basically built a functioning, virtual business with 50-100 volunteer employees using the internet. I remember thinking, “Well, hell, this just might change a lot of stuff about how communities and businesses get built.” So, actually, I guess that was it for me.

    Reply

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