Reflections In Compressed Time

Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam ponders the future in 1997

The other day, I got a poke. A Facebook poke.

And I thought, god, that really takes me back. All the way back to, well, August. Jeez, those were the days.

I can’t really blame the author of the poke for being behind the times. He’s a guy I knew in college twenty-some years ago and he lives in Japan. They do things differently out there. Friendster, it’s said, is still very popular in Pacific Rim countries like the Philippines.

At any rate, I was struck by just how distant the era of the Facebook poke seemed to me. I had a similar reaction to Ondi Timoner’s We Live In Public, a documentary account of the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Josh Harris, one of the first e-commerce instant millionaires of the mid-90s. It was Harris who first postulated that web culture would lay waste to mainstream media and that we would be streaming our lives in real time over the Internet, with little regard for privacy. Unfortunately, he conceived these ideas in a world of beep-blooping dial-up modems and single-frame-per-second image streaming, so his innovations (and his creepy webcam surveillance experiments) earned him more notoriety than respect.

This was during an era when it was still possible to become an instant celebrity by merely turning a webcam on yourself. I can still remember plugging my first Gateway PC into the wall in 1997 and enduring the interminable wait for my modem to connect to the Internet so I could watch Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam sit at her desk and file her nails. Millions were enthralled. The future arrived and then became the distant, hazy past in a matter of months.
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