I BEGAN in this lamentable business, this bourne of wretchedness and ill-feeling, in November of 1993. I
had downloaded the DTD for HTML 1.0 at the insistence of a mad computer science professor who had
been surfing the nascent net for some six months, gleefully imbibing Nathan Torkington's WWW FAQ
and NCSA's little primer on HTML. The IMG tag had just crept into the lexicon, and was beginning its
reign of overuse in a slow, polite fashion.
At the time, it seemed a wondrous fairyland; the chains of Gopher and .cap files had been sloughed off in
favor of effortless navigation, pretty pictures, and some degree of learning. The initial ideals of the Web --
exchange of information, scholarly and otherwise -- were in full bloom. Place information out there, of any
sort, and it would be gleefully consumed by the avid and curious. The little Centris 650 on my desk was
abuzz, running MacHTTP 1.2.3 and grinding to a halt at any time that it received more than three
simultaneous hits. My productivity did not slow, but tripled, as twenty more hours informally appended
themselves to my workweek. I remember cornering one of the Uncles of the Net, before he was famous,
running him out in my car to a Chinese restaurant, and pummeling him with questions for three hours on
just how CGI scripts were supposed to work. I hope he enjoyed his Family Bean Curd; perhaps he
remembers the indigestion to this day.
My Noble Employers were enchanted by the Web and its promise. They put me to work on grand
exhibitions along the lines of their personal interests. Lock me in a room with a scanner for three weeks,
and lo, their favorite things would appear on the Web, available to the world. Sales were next. Forms had
appeared, and, as in a science fiction novella of the 1950's, all the developments of the future seemed to
be just around the corner, compressed into some six months in 1994. My sector of commerce was slow
to appear on the Web, so we were the first; as such, we appeared in HotWired and the LA Times, and I
received half a billion calls from eager entrepreneurs curious as to whether I could put them, their dogs,
and their Arabian Spice Market on the 'Net. (One such entrepreneur, a mafioso by training, would keep
after me for the next six months.) Our hit rate went from 5,000 a week to 90,000 a week to 210,000 a
Already, though, signs of the future to come were amassing. GNN was becoming corporate, the NCSA
What's New List was growing ever longer, and comp.infosystems.announce was moribund. The Future
Fantasy Bookstore was doing some very strange things with CGI scripts; state, which that Uncle of the
Web had mentioned to me with the wonton soup, was being maintained between pages. The team for
Netscape 1.0 was being assembled in a hotel room, ready to spread chaos uniformly over the world --
"ten bugs on every desktop" was a goal that had already been achieved many times over by Microsoft,
but there was no harm in trying for more.
I cannot go forward chronologically. To look back from today seems an exercise in regret and metalepsis.
But, across the Web, large teams have taken over the work that I have pursued alone. Where I learned
Unix, Perl, Photoshop, and Illustrator in a mad dash towards dilettantism, specialists execute their given
tasks with a speed and finesse that I lack. I watch as the companies that hire and exploit them grow great
and then fold inward, like chrysanthemums. My Noble Employers seethe with impatience, as my
once-proud exhibits wither on the file tree. I seek aid in the arms of consultants, only to watch them stare
into the void of my Noble Employers' dreams, and flee, taking some of our money with them. The
prepackaged systems that would make their dreams real are geared for large corporations, not priced for
ordinary businesses. Little packages peep up from time to time, but one always gets what one pays for, in
the end. The Uncle of the Web spoke, over the fortune cookies and orange slices, of "low barriers to
entry"; they have been drawn up. High school students will take the bottom feeders for the ride they
deserve; "multimedia houses" will do the same for the cash-rich and cash-proud.
The Web will become television with a 'buy' button. The operative distinction will be the one between
network television and public-access cable; they are both television, but the production values and the
audiences differ in quantity and quality. Asymmetric cable modems will make sure that what streams into
the home like the spring freshets will dribble out as a series of monosyllabic assents, assuaging the tension
built up by the content with a soothing flow of product.
As for me, I am teetering on the brink of obsolescence. I can read, and I can learn, but the Web is no
longer what I am. My creative friends flourish, and I am happy for them, but I am almost finished. Even
my style -- the jeremiad -- has been appropriated and made cheap by the so-called net.moguls. Perhaps
someday, they will try to appropriate the Word of G-d, and in so doing, come away with a sense of their
own finitude. They may call faith an opiate; at the very least, it can alleviate pain and loss with the hope of
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
All Rights Reserved, © 1996.