A Bumpy Ride Down Memory Lane

Back in the late Nineties I remember seeing many, many copies of a book called “24 Hours in Cyberspace” littering the bookshelves at the Strand. There were literally hundreds of copies of the damn thing, and nobody seemed to want to buy it even at half the price. Today they sell starting at 1 cent + shipping over at Amazon.

For some reason I remembered it and decided to buy a copy of my own a couple of days ago. The idea was not bad at all – to have photojournalists in different countries to take a bunch of photographs about people using the Internet during a 24 hour window in February of 1996. I was hoping for a nice time capsule. After leafing through the book again I understood why paying more than a cent for it was not a good investment.

As I said, the idea was good. But it seems like the editor picked the most “special”, extreme and unusual uses of the Internet, at the same time selecting the most posed and boring pictures. If you were to believe this book, the average Internet user in 1996 was either physically or mentally challenged, lives in an exotic locale, is a monk of some sort or is really poor. From what I remember, the typical Internet user back then was a pasty white overweight kid or young adult.

As an example of someone running a software company they picked 11 year old Greg Miller of Tenadar Software. Greg should be 20 now, but there seems to be no mentions of him or his company beyond old articles in Wired. I guess 11 year old company founders don’t do much better than 25 year olds and older.

There’s a sense of “fake” and “posed” permeating the book. It reminds me of the Russian word “pokazuha”, a concept probably invented in Russia and best represented by Potemkin villages. An you know what, calling Internet “cyberspace” was not cool even in 1996.

Strangely, not one picture from inside Netscape, even though it was one of the main sponsors of the book. I fully expected to see the famous picture of the Tent of Doom, or at least the Aquarium of Doom. Apparently accordion playing, Speedo-wearing Mahir “I Kiss You” Cagri was not on the web yet. And no mention of Internet soda machines or the Trojan Room coffeemaker.

But then some nostalgic hardware and familiar faces made it into this book.

“Joi Ito, Japan’s “Mr. Internet” and teen Idol Reiko Chiba stroll Harajuku, the trendy Tokyo neighborhood that Ito hopes to wire”. The pompous caption would probably make Mr. Ito, 9 years older, blush today, but the picture is one of the few that look somewhat non-posed. Teen Idol Reiko Chiba looks genuinely bored, although I am not entirely sure that Japan’s “Mr. Internet” is not faking a phone call. That’s a nice chunky phone, I might have one like that in my cubicle technology museum. I wonder, was Japan’s “Mr. Internet’s” writing less boring back then?

[ Image removed due to a complaint by Mr. Boyd. in the image: Joi Ito talking into an early-model cell phone, Reiko Chiba looking bored. ]

(photo credit : Torin Boyd)

And here’s the wife of Internet-creation-initiative-taker-in taking a picture with what the book says is a digital camera, but does not look like Apple QuickTake 100, 150 , 200, Kodak DC40 or Casio QV-11.

(photo credit : AP)