One moment in time for tech stories
Net Results: Finding a little 20-year-old time capsule
Larry Ellison, chief executive officer of Oracle, bought the Hawaiian island. Photograph: Bloomberg
On a recent visit to California I was given a curious document by family friends. They’d found it while cleaning out some files, and thought it might have some historical appeal.
TimesFax was the title on the cover of the stapled, eight-page document. “A special service brought to you by The Manele Bay Hotel in conjunction with the New York Times.”
Behind that cover was a faxed mini-newspaper. Inside were some interesting tech gems, a little 20-year-old time capsule to remind that, if a week is a long time in politics, two decades is a couple of geological ages in technology.
Some context: the Manele Bay Hotel is a particularly luxury hotel on Lanai, a small Hawaiian island next to the better-known Maui. At the time this document was faxed – faxed! – on November 23th, 1993, the hotel would have been one of very few or perhaps the only hotel on the island. It was accessible by infrequent ferry.
So, getting newspapers across would be a delayed process. The fax service was clearly a handy idea, in a pre-email, pre-web world, to give your well-paying guests something to read over the eggs benedict, papaya and breakfast mimosas.
One front page story would not be out of place today: “China Leaders Favor More Growth”, which ponders whether China’s “soaring economy could be brought in for a landing”. A “Western diplomat” noted “there is no austerity program right now”.
Oh, to have that problem, rather than be Ireland after yet another belt-tightening budget.
In other news war veterans were starting to complain of something called “Gulf War Syndrome”, the “language debate was still alive in Catalonia”, the US government was fretting about North Korea, and law enforcement officials feared a new law requiring a waiting period when purchasing a handgun would be little more than a symbolic act, with no real impact on gun violence.
Clearly the world has a Groundhog Day inability to get things right and thus move these topics off the international storylist. Transplant them into the news right now and they would not look amiss.
The technology stories, however, seem so archaic as to induce knowing, indulgent smiles in a reader 20 years later.
In one a then-young journalist named John Markoff – eventually to become one of America’s best known technology reporters – had filed a little story headlined “Sun Microsystems to Join Next Inc”.
The formal style of the New York Times noted “in a surprising alliance of former rivals”, Sun was due to announce a $10 million investment into Next, described as “the struggling brainchild of Steven P Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer”.