Start 2015 with 1995

1995Remember life before the web?

It’s now hard to imagine (or recollect, depending on your age) that a generation ago, in 1995, Sergey and Larry were just meeting at Stanford. (“Their mutual first reaction was that the other was pretty obnoxious.”)

Craigslist, Match.com, and Salon.com all began in 1995. Yahoo was incorporated in 1995. eBay was launched (as AuctionWeb) in 1995. Netscape IPO-ed spectacularly, and Jeff Bezos launched Amazon. In fact, during the course of 1995 the Internet and the World Wide Web—a word of the year according to the American Dialect Society—went from “near-invisibility to near-ubiquity” in the words of legendary Internet pioneer Vinton G. Cerf.

Other events that occurred in 1995?

The Oklahoma bombing, the O. J. Simpson trial, the Dayton Peace Accords, and the start of the Clinton–Lewinsky relationship—all of which had lasting effects and consequences for American culture. It is “a year that matters still,” according to W. Joseph Campbell, and 1995: The Year the Future Began shows why.

The author of five other nonfiction books (including Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism), Campbell is persuasive as to why 1995 represents a “clear starting point for contemporary life,” and elaborates his argument via a chapter on each event:

They were profound in their respective ways, and, taken together, they define a watershed year at the cusp of the millennium. Nineteen ninety-five in many ways effectively marked the close of one century, and the start of another.

At his blog devoted to the book and the year 1995, Campbell answers the question “why write a book about 1995?”

Campbell’s prose reflects his 20-year background in journalism; though meticulously researched, the book reads like a thriller. Given that Campbell is social-media savvy as well as a lively writer—as befits both his subject matter and his current ‘beat’ as a Professor in the School of Communication at American University—let’s let him do the talking: you can listen to his recent Newseum interview here.

Newseum

Quick as he is to demur when queried about, say, Marc Andreesen’s re-tweeting him—“we’re not acquaintances or anything … but it makes a difference when he re-tweets, for sure”—Campbell comes prepared for most social media situations (as befits his coverage of the massively “up-and-to-the-right” rise of American Internet adoption).

The best way to experience 1995 is just to start reading. Remember the roots of the Internet as you relive 1995. Once you’re hooked, explore Campbell’s other books, blogs, and feeds.

You’ll be in august company: not long ago, Intel CEO Brian M. Krzanich—at the Consumer Electronics Show keynote in Las Vegas, no less—declared that “1995 was a watershed moment in consumer technology.” You can’t get much better confirmation than that!

(Yes, this hyper hyper-linking is an homage to what’s changed in just two decades … or, in ‘Internet time,’ approximately 1,000 years. And if you believe you’re as prescient as Vinton Cerf, please share your predictions for five events that 2035 will look back upon as watershed exemplars of the ‘mid-teens’ of the twenty-first century.)

Getting it Wrong

Newsrooms have been meeting tech for a long, long time and typically have not dealt very well with it. One of the chapters in Getting It Wrong discusses the famous (or infamous) “War of the Worlds” radio dramatization of 1938, and how newspapers really took the occasion to beat up on radio as an immature and irresponsible medium. By doing so they helped perpetuate what was an exaggeration of the notion of nationwide panic and mass hysteria caused by that program. It did not happen. There may have been some frightened people that night, but nowhere near on a national scale, nowhere near mass panic or broad-based hysteria.

It’s a recurring theme in American journalism that established media treat upstart new media with suspicion and a fair amount of skepticism, if not overt hostility, and they often do so to their detriment. We see that same trend in 1995 with the rise of the Internet into mainstream consciousness. One of the top editors at the time said, “Well, thankfully, people getting their news from the Internet is a very small audience, and likely will remain as such for a long time.”

Campbell’s provocative Getting It Wrong won in 2010 the Society of Professional Journalists’ national award for “Research about Journalism.” He maintains the MediaMythAlert blog.