(This is chapter seven of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
The World Wide Web was a social network from its earliest days, but it wasn't much like the social networks of today. It was a small world, for one thing, and everybody in it had some degree of technical skill. Maybe that's one reason the earliest creatures to populate this society tended to be such strange specimens, and also why our friendships often had an obsessive edge.
Soon after launching Literary Kicks in the summer of 1994 I got an email from Malcolm Humes, webmaster of the Brian Eno homepage, who wanted to collaborate with me on a new site about William S. Burroughs. I didn't want to collaborate, but I found that Mal and I had an awful lot to talk about. We began emailing several times a day, and it meant a lot to me to be able to compare notes with another creative techie soul.
1. The e-book scene (also known as the d-book scene, if you read Booksquare) is buzzing again with news of Amazon's new iPhone Kindle application, which allows readers to enjoy the considerable benefits of the Kindle store without buying a bulky and expensive dedicated device.
(This is chapter eight of my ongoing memoir of the internet industry.)
On October 28, 1994, Chip Bayers of Wired Magazine posted on Usenet about an ambitious new website called HotWired.com:
HotWired is new thinking for a new medium. We call it a cyberstation, a suite of vertical content streams about the Digital Revolution and the Second Renaissance with an integrated community space. While HotWired is currently bound by technological limitations that restrict bandwidth, it represents the genetic blueprint that will evolve into the overarching media environment of the next century.
Further down, Bayers' post also said this:
HotWired is free to members. HotWired's revenue model is similar to broadcast media - content supported by sponsors. HotWired's sponsors are some of the bluest chip advertisers in America, including IBM, AT&T, Volvo, Sprint, MCI, Zima (Coors), Internet Shopping Network (Home Shopping Network), Club Med, etc.
I didn't know what to think of all the hype, or of the "tribal" design aesthetic. But I appreciated that HotWired bothered to have a design aesthetic, since most websites still featured black Times New Roman text against a pale gray background. I registered to become a "member" (a new concept at the time), but didn't find much to do with my membership. There were discussion groups, but they felt meager and artificial compared to Usenet.
The most unique thing about HotWired was not its look or its content but its business focus. Revenue model? Sponsors? Now this was something new. I didn't feel much confidence that HotWired would be able to pull this off, but it was the most ambitious concept I'd seen on the web so far, and I couldn't help wanting to quit my job and work for them immediately.
I've been peeved, and I've said so, about the high percentage of John Updike memorial articles citing his Rabbit novels (1960's Rabbit Run, 1971's Rabbit Redux, 1981's Rabbit is Rich, 1990's Rabbit at Rest) as his masterpiece.
(This is chapter nine of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I spent a few weekends during the late winter and early spring of 1995 running around the borough of Queens, New York taking pictures, most often with my three kids in tow. Daniel and Elizabeth loved to go on random car adventures, little Abigail got strapped into the car seat and had no choice, and we usually ended up some place cool like the Lemon Ice King of Corona or the famous "Coming To America" Wendy's on Queens Boulevard by the end of the night. I didn't know exactly what I was taking pictures for, but I had some vague idea about exploring the concept of the Internet as a virtual city by writing online about my real city, figuring this would somehow make sense to readers. Or else I just enjoyed driving aimlessly around Queens with my kids and getting lemon ices. I'm not sure exactly which it was.
They take immense risks with tone and content; they bathe the known world in the waters of irony, rhythmic energy and exuberant formal trickiness.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, global activist and indie publisher extraordinaire, turns 90 years old today. Here's his Litkicks biography page, and here's the poem we've been running on this site for many years:
The pennycandystore beyond the El is where I first fell in love with unreality Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom of that september afternoon A cat upon the counter moved among the licorice sticks and tootsie rolls and Oh Boy Gum Outside the leaves were falling as they died A wind had blown away the sun A girl ran in Her hair was rainy Her breasts were breathless in the little room Outside the leaves were falling and they cried Too soon! too soon!
The great folksinger Pete Seeger will also turn 90 on May 3, and New York City will celebrate him in big style on this date at Madison Square Garden featuring performers like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Matthews and John Cougar Mellencamp. That's going to be some hootenanny birthday party. Pete Seeger and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are two American sages, feisty, stubborn and deeply politically engaged. What blacklisted Communist Pete Seeger and embattled Howl publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti had in common is that they both loved to fight for their causes. They both wore out their competition.
(This is chapter ten of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
On June 7 1995 I reported for my first day at Time Inc. New Media, in the basement of the Exxon Building at 1251 Avenue of the Americas. This was the tech basement, a spillover from the Time-Life Building across the street. Things felt hectic as soon as I stepped into this basement, and I noticed that several new employees had joined in the weeks between my interview and my first day. Pathfinder was growing fast.
Pathfinder was the most aggressive new media venture taking place in New York City in the summer of 1995, and it was all happening under the direction of Jerry Levin, the celebrated mastermind behind Home Box Office and now the CEO of Time Warner. Time Warner had been founded only four years earlier as the merger of a New York magazine company and a Hollywood film studio, but Time Warner's real buried treasure was HBO, which had been Jerry Levin's baby, and that's why he was now CEO of the whole operation. And Pathfinder was Jerry Levin's new baby, so there were high expectations for this project at the time I joined.
Maybe that's why I found the atmosphere in the basement at 1251 Avenue of the Americas a little thick soon after my arrival there. People were working long hours, and they had red rings around their eyes and looked grumpy. On my first day, Oliver Knowlton asked me if I could work Saturday. I hated working Saturday, hated missing a day with the family and a day to read and rest, but of course I had to join "the team" as they attempted to add a new web server to the straining server farm. This staff was driven.
It had been a long time since I'd worked any overtime on Wall Street. It was going to be a lot less cushy over here.
The photo above is me, reading Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor (appropriately titled Flannery), and my yawning dog. She's a tough critic. Anyway, I've been a fan of Flannery O'Connor since I first read her story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" back when I was in high school, and as I got older and read more of her work, my appreciation of her grew. In fact, on my personal list of Date Book-Talk Gone Wrong is the following snippet:
Him: What kind of books do you like?
Me: A lot of different kinds. I just read a short story by Flannery O'Connor this morning, actually. Do you like Flannery O'Connor?
Him: Oh, that Irish guy? He's really good.