Cindylu inspired me. For the next six weeks I’m going to experiment with blogging like it’s 1999. Each week I’ll publish two short, stream-of-consciousness blog posts that have little to do with my work.
Over the past year I’ve been going back to old journals that I kept from 1997 and to 2004, before I started blogging. It’s been surreal: reading over the reflections, dreams and anxieties of someone who shares my essence, and yet has relatively little experience in, you know, life. Blogging was the way I tried to make sense of my politics, my identity, what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live. Everything seemed so expansive and possible.
In December 1999, I was 19-years old and in my final weeks of a study abroad program in Nepal. I had just finished a 30-day trek with all 15 of my study abroad classmates and was preparing to return home after seven months of living abroad. I spent most of my final week in Kathmandu sauntering around my favorite neighborhoods and occasionally ducking into cyber-cafes to check my email and catch up on the news.
On December 23, as one breed of alarmists were preparing for Y2K and another for the end of the world, I was in a Katmandu cybercafe trying to figure out my plans for New Year’s Eve back home. I wrote that night in my journal:
So I just did my catch-up on world news. First it was Time and an article on the Seattle protests of the World Trade Organization. It included a bunch of articles on free trade, which I’m still undecided on. Henry David Thoreau has a “new book” from an old manuscript that I want to read when I get home. Then it was to Newsweek and what to expect in the new millennium. New technology was obviously a big part, including cell watch phones and portable MP3 players, however that will work out. As always, there were updates on world suffering. Interesting note — the International Organization of Happiness (or some such ridiculous name) said that Iceland is the happiest country in the world. Finally, it was to the Economist for an article on how the Internet promotes lack of privacy — I guess it’s the price to pay for convenience.
“Portable MP3 players, however that will work out.” Ha. Two years later Apple released the first iPod, which stored up to 1,000 songs and cost $400 — the same amount of money I spent on rent each month, the same amount of money I made every two weeks working full time. Still, I purchased the first version of the iPod in the first week it came out — and spent the rest of the year digitizing my leather book of CDs and downloading songs from Napster and Kazaa.
It took Apple a bit longer to fulfill Newsweek’s prediction of “cell watch phones.” It’s 2017 and we still don’t know if the next version of the Apple Watch will be able to connect to directly to the internet.
Last week was Thoreau’s 200th birthday. His 1862 Atlantic essay Walking still speaks to me as if it were written last week. Everyday I would be happier if I spent more time wandering observantly in nature.
In the years following this journal entry I became staunchly pro-free trade, pro-immigration and anti-borders. It’s a position I still hold onto today, though I never anticipated (as Tony Judt did in 2010) that free trade and immigration would threaten democracy in the US and Europe.
And to look back on the December 1999 Economist article about privacy and the internet — it is both quaint and prescient:
Is all this fuss about privacy justified? Has new technology really made it much easier than in the past to dig up information about someone? In one sense, it has. The various “people-finder” and “business-finder” services on the Internet have made it much easier to obtain telephone numbers and addresses. Once dozens, even hundreds, of individual telephone books would have had to be consulted to complete a search which now takes seconds.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, moving around certain parts of cities, or walking through a secure office building, will leave a data trail which someone, somewhere will be able to store, analyse and read.