synthetic zero

July 6th, 2010

I like the fact that the awkward “www” managed to survive from the earliest days despite various abortive attempts to replace it with something easier to pronounce, such as “home” or “web”. Many people may have forgotten that it stands for “World Wide Web”, but its survival attests to something a little delightfully perverse in human nature, a desire to retain something that simply looks cool despite its impracticality.

It’s odd to think of the “history of the web” having really started in earnest only fifteen years ago; Katharine is writing about her own struggles with keeping, rather than trying to efface, earlier identities; but we talk about the Internet as of ten or fifteen years ago like ancient ruins from a bygone progenitor civilization. It’s strange to think that most of us were in fact there at or near the beginning of the public Internet; Heather Anne Halpert, with whom I’m collaborating on an exciting new project, recently discovered, via Molly Steenson, that a brief interchange between herself and Peter Merholz about the word “weblog” (a word which Peter coined) is now enshrined in the OED; all people I know and have hung out with at various moments over the years; they’re not historical figures from fabled tales of yore. It’s strange to live at a time when the entire history of something is contained not only within one’s lifetime but within a fraction of one’s lifetime, yet thinking about things as they were ten years ago seems to telescope into something that feels a little like an archeological expedition.

I don’t worry as Katharine does about effacing or contending with my own past, so much; partly, perhaps, because I’ve never written in the overly confessional style myself, online, but also partly because I have structured my life so that even if some or all of my secrets were to get out, it wouldn’t be too terrible. Another reason, however, is simply that information and change seems to be exploding at such a rate that the online past seems to be more rapidly receding than it once did. Remember Alta Vista? ICQ? Friendster?

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one response to this post:
  1. james says:

    on one hand it seems like forever ago, these fifteen years, and yet the other hand is like hold on, what’s so different, what’s changed? that hand knows you and so many others, lives the continuity. and that other hand has no sense of history, doesn’t know or even wanna know about webcams pointing at coffeepots or ftp or message boards or or or… and our feet? our feet still remember the days before computer screens and screeds. typewriters and tape decks and records shops and maybe even letters and postcards, checks, exact change. in ten years it’ll be library stacks and books. a past encumbered/unnumbered by things. strange indeed to stand in this threshold.

    July 10th, 2010 at 11:54 pm

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