Several years ago I began a tradition of piling media clippings collected throughout the year into one very large drawer in my filing cabinet.

Then, the last week of the year, I make a big pot of coffee every morning and begin sorting and rereading the stacks.

From those shreds of yellowed paper and computer printouts, I try to figure out what events made a difference from my own perspective.

This year, as I write my last Netropolis column before my online replacement takes over, I can’t help thinking back to 1992, when I first learned about the Internet and felt fortunate if I knew even two people who had ever heard of it.

Back then, it was all text and all community. Librarians communicated with other librarians, researchers worked collaboratively from different continents, and The Well in the San Francisco area was forming the online social version of Haight-Ashbury’s streets and cafés of the 1960s.

Those early subscribers had their own secret universe and the rest of the public, well, they still had cable television.

Then, a piece of software called Mosaic was created that allowed computers to view images and hear audio, among other things.

From Mosaic came Netscape, Internet Explorer and other "browsers." This was a turning point if ever there was one. It changed everything.

Soon, the commercial-free Internet became better known for its naked Pamela Lee Web sites and spamming controversies than for cool discussion lists. Community became something you paid for rather than belonged to.

The once sleepy but lucrative computer business went into overdrive overnight, seizing and driving the Technology Revolution, with its reigning king Bill Gates at the helm.

His Microsoft empire grew along with all the other little silicon empires across the country.

I stopped trying to keep track of who was now owned by and buying whom. The computer industry had developed its own celebrity superstars: Spokespeople of the future who leapt from one start-up enterprise to the next, sometimes within months.

But for the first time this year, those little clippings told me that a backlash had occurred.

The most vivid evidence was in February, when Bill Gates got four pies thrown in his face at the entrance of Le Concert Noble on Arlon Street in Brussels, Belgium. The pie commando was a 52-year-old Belgian author, film historian and actor who was quoted in First Monday as saying, "Today I am convinced that he really was the idyllic victim ... more than the victims we are actually threatening: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac ... They are puppets, only Gates is pulling the strings. Many people think that after him there is only one other powerful man in the world, the Pope."

And think of this — if the Clinton scandal and Iraq weren’t dominating the media’s attention, the anti-trust lawsuits against Microsoft would be a likely contender for the leading drama.

For all you conspiracy theorists out there, this would be a fun one from which to draw your own conclusions.

In looking back at the year in cyberspace, it seems so much has happened and yet not much has changed.

People now know more about PC operating systems than they know about Michelangelo.

Technology is the redheaded stepchild of our future, whether we like it or not. It seems destined to evolve, on a global level, in a way that creates greater disparity between the haves and the have-nots. But for the first time, it also creates a relatively equal platform for those have-nots to control their own information and insert different voices into the slipstream.

As I look over the different clippings piles I’ve made, certain categories have emerged. The main stacks are Y2K, cyber pedophilia, Starr Report, Lara Croft (animated warrior princess of gaming), Gates-gate, cyber porn, digital cash, and mergers, acquisitions, start-ups and bankruptcies.

I’ve dedicated the entire dining room table to clippings about hardware, software, games and peripheral devices. There’s also a pile depicting the rosy future for computer and technology professionals looking for jobs.

But those piles only represent what gets reported, and not really what’s going on in the world of the Internet. There’s so much more.

In 1998, cyberspace had a year of catching up with itself and sorting through the details, and in 1999 it will find itself doing more of the same — the Internet, like it or not, has become the new mass medium. Consumerism and hype may have taken over the Internet, but it is not by far the essence of the Internet.

Since writing this column, I’ve met people in our community who are enthusiastic and alive with fresh ideas about community building and communication through the new tools of technology. And it’s only the beginning.

As I sign off on 1998 — and writing this column — my final bit of wisdom is: If you think you’re being overcharged, you’re absolutely right.

Keep e-mailing your congresspersons, and may your connections be constant and colorful. Remember, you can always find me swinging from bit to bit in cyberspace.

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December 1, 2021

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