Then And Now

Out of some misplaced sense of nostalgia, I’ve been re-reading Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs. I think the first time it made it over to UK shores was when Personal Computer World printed the original short story (originally printed in…well, Wired (what else?) in the US), and I bought the book shortly after I started my Computer Science course in Manchester.

(20 years this year, fact fans. How did I get so old?)

I did have another reason aside from nostalgia, though. I was curious to reflect on how its optimism of the net’s expected changes to society tallied with our current dark future. And, ha. There’s a fun moment about mid-way through where the characters create an internal broadcast messaging system that allows people to type a short (around 140 characters) message to everybody. Before the end of day 1, things get nasty and they shut it down. In 2017, we instead give fascists a thousand blue ticks. Or that when the women form Chyx, they’d be getting death threats and SWAT teams turning up on their doorstep.

It does still have a few true things to say about startup culture - working themselves to excess, though the book’s suggestion that part of the appeal is working on a ‘1.0’ product doesn’t really correspond to today’s ‘Uber, but for X’ companies. But maybe I’m just cynical about today. Can’t imagine why. Oh, and the continued swipes at Apple are amusing considering what followed just a few years later.

Anyhow, Microserfs. Incredibly naïve, yes, but sometimes it’s to step back and remember the time when this Internet thing seemed like a fun idea, even if all the while you’re reading it, you can’t stop hearing the Received Pronunciation of Adam Curtis saying ‘BUT THEY WERE WRONG’ in the back of your head.

In other news, I met @Pinboard in person for the first time and managed to retrain from gushing. More of the super-secret (ish) project that resulted when it’s not quite so super secret! In the meantime, the ironing awaits…