Okay, so this has nothing to do with teeth or claws. Or, for that matter, with nature. Though it does have to do with evolution—specifically, the evolution of the internet, and our relationship to it. I was reminiscing about this story recently with my old friend Austin Bunn, and I’m hereby dusting it off for a little summertime nostalgia trip.
Back in the late ’90s, when I edited the Village Voice’s coverage of the emerging culture of the internet, I commissioned an experiment. Austin, my lead writer, would hide out in his Brooklyn apartment and see how long he could survive using only the internet as his portal to the world—for sustenance, companionship, entertainment, information. Today, when trying to avoid the internet is a far bigger challenge, it’s hard to fathom that this piece ran just 13 years ago.
One Wednesday, I holed up in my apartment– no radio, no television, no phone, no contact. Just me, my ThinkPad, and a 28.8 connection.
You kind of have to read the whole piece. It’s in diary format, a time machine to an era full of promise but not yet delivering much beyond email and porn.
12:55. I’m at fitNOW, an exercise site. I have to get another plug-in first to watch a clip of “Abs of Steel.” I spend 15 minutes getting the player. Then, in a tiny, jittery box, Tamilee Webb (M.A., Exercise Science) tells me about her career. I can’t hear a word.
Bizarrely, you can’t access the piece on the Village Voice website (perfect)—though you can read my absurd introduction, in which I mention “the scores of homegrown start-up companies that have dictated the development of the Web— and are now household names: Amazon, N2K, Salon. . .” (Anyone have a clue what N2K was?)
Here’s another gem from the intro:
Aimless surfing has been all but obliterated; the bulk of Internet usage is for pragmatic concerns. (A survey released last month by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 44 percent of Americans use the Net most often “for research or getting information,” 27 percent for e-mail, 6 percent for online banking, and 5 percent for reading magazines and newspapers; 11 percent use it mainly for “entertainment.”)
Reading Austin’s article is kind of like picking up that awesome old dial controller for the original Atari version of Pong. Or like hearing your grandmother talk about the days of party lines.
3:45. The Starr report is posted online. CNN.com is down. MSNBC.com is also full. NYTimes.com bounces me, but I keep pounding until I get through.
Was 1998 really that long ago? Apparently, it was.
9:05. I’m going to have to order food. I cruise the delivery sites: Netgrocer, NYCdelivery, NYC Grocer. Nobody will deliver to Brooklyn.