I found a 486 in the trash last week. That’s one funny thing about New York City – you’ll walk down the street at night and see people hovering near the trash you’ve set out.
It’s not homeless people I’m talking about, but people from your own neighborhood who are thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe someone actually threw this stuff out. As soon as no one is looking, I’m going to grab this stuff and bring it up to my place.”
Sometimes, in fact, you can get lucky. A telltale sign that someone is about to throw out an obsolete computer is the ubiquitous cow-schemed Gateway box set on the curb. In last week’s case, someone who had just received a Gateway 500 MHz PC was so thrilled that he dumped his old computer in the Gateway box instead of donating it to charity. I came across it on my way home from work. I pulled it out of the Gateway box and hauled it back to my place.
The old computer looked a lot like the computer I used when I arrived at Y&R in 1994. After drying out the inside of the box with a hair dryer, I plugged the computer in and hooked it up to a monitor and keyboard. Surprisingly, even after spending an indeterminate length of time in the cold and damp NYC air, it booted. What followed was a virtual stroll down memory lane.
Windows 3.0, an ancient version of WordPerfect, an old Rockwell modem. Heck, this machine was pretty close to the one I’d used to dial into the campus network back in college. With some work and some parts I have lying around my apartment, I might be able to throw Linux on it and use it to surf the web.
The whole experience got me thinking. Look how far we’ve come in the last five years. Five years ago, the computer I found in the trash in 1999 was standard in both homes and offices. Five years ago, I might have worked an entire summer digging ditches for my dad’s lawn sprinkler business to pay for a machine like that. In November of 1994, the first commercial copies of Netscape Navigator were just beginning to show up.
Here we are, about to head into the year 2000, thinking we can reasonably predict what will happen in the next five years. Could you have predicted back in 1994 what interactive media would look like at the close of 1999?
On Monday, I was shopping with my dad at the outlet stores in Riverhead on Long Island. There, among the dozens of novelty stores, there is a tiny shop that sells cable modems and net access. I steered my Dad into the shop and showed him how, for a mere $29 per month, he could download web pages in the blink of an eye.
He wasn’t interested, even after getting an earful from my sister that morning about how my mom’s “ancient” 33.6 kbps modem was taking “an eternity” to download the latest version of Internet Explorer. I wonder how long it will be before Dad winds up back in that store, subscribing to a year’s worth of high-speed access. My guess is: Not long.
As I type this, the Fox affiliate here in New York is running another segment on the Internet Fridge. It’s still a joke, but not as funny a joke as it was six months ago. Now that people are buying their groceries online, the Internet Fridge is starting to show signs of actually making sense. How long before folks stop laughing and start saving money for an Internet-enabled kitchen appliance?
We’ve been through a lot in the past five-plus years. And there’s a lot more to come. One of the most important things we must realize is that no idea is too crazy. No vision is too intense. No long-term predictions will be right on the money. We’re about to enter a much more exciting time, a time that I, for one, will be toasting come Friday night.
I want to wish everyone a safe and wonderful New Year. Please be extra careful on Friday night. And don’t forget to toast our accomplishments thus far and all that will come in 2000. Peace. -TFH