Magazine article Online

Back to the Future

Magazine article Online

Back to the Future

Article excerpt

Reva Basch promises to wipe that smirk off her face before it freezes that way. She is a writer and consultant to the online industry, and the author of Researching Online For Dummies and Secrets of the Super Net Searchers.

Every year around this time, I think about paring down, weeding out, and starting the new year lean, mean, and unencumbered by extraneous baggage -such as subscriptions to periodicals that no longer speak to my needs. It was in that spirit that I found myself sitting on the floor of my office, leafing through Volume 1 of WIRED magazine.

You remember WIRED, the cuttingedge, hipper-than-thou guide to the digital revolution. The premiere issue (simply dated 1993) carried an article called "Libraries Without Walls for Books Without Pages." No, it's not about the Web. In fact, although the Web was already making waves elsewhere in the world (I first heard about it-like the Kennedy assassinations, I'll never forget-on a train from the Karolinska Institute back to central Stockholm in May '93), it didn't register on WIRED's trend-o-meter until late the following year. Up to that point, WIRED was all about bulletin board systems, text-based MUDs, CD-ROM games, hackers and phone phreaks, massive supercomputing applications, the developing infobahn-as if the loathsome phrase "information superhighway" was somehow cooler in German-and the seductive powers of email.

Finally, though, on the cover of Volume 2, Number 10: "Everything you wanted to know about MOSAIC." Inside, the headline read "The (Second Phase of the) Revolution Has Begun." WIRED got it late, but it got it right.

The immediate payoffs of an exercise in retrospection lie not in the formal monuments-the feature stories that grapple with gradually-evolving ideas-but in the middens, the discards of an earlier digital civilization, the silicon and plastic potshards that future archaeologists will analyze as artifacts of our (approximate) era. I'm talking about the ads.

In 1993, AT&T was touting its hot new fax system. (When was the last time you saw an advertisement for a free-standing fax machine?) Apple was targeting the voyeur in all of us with that "What's on your PowerBook?" campaign. PeachPit Press was pushing The Windows 3.1 Bible. NEC extolled the virtues of its speedy 3X CD-ROM drives and Seagate celebrated its massive 200MB disks. On the e-commerce front, an outfit called Send-A-Book was pre-announcing its impending "on-line" presence. …

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