We All Compute ► Throwback Thursday

As I downsize the condo, I have discovered some amazing buried treasures, like my old business card.

It was tucked into my mother’s address book on the end table in the Florida Room, which I left as a small, bizarre memorial to her after she died 11 years ago. That’s when I moved to Florida to take care of Pops. I had never looked inside before. The card must have meant something to her because there were very few business cards inside. Or, she just just stuck it there when I sent it to her and promptly forgot all about it.

In the Go-Go ’90s, I was a columnist for We Compute. We Compute was, just like television, designed to be a conduit for advertising to the masses, with the content almost an afterthought. Like most of my freelance writing it started by studying the publication in question and then pitching the editor, who I had never met, an idea.

The pitch was simple:  How about a column on how to navigate the World Wide Web?

Sounds stupid, right? Yes, in retrospect it does sound that way. However, at the time it was a stroke of brilliance. Today getting around the web is second nature to people of all ages, but at the time it was neither easy, nor intuitive.

Those were the days when most of the population had yet to hear the words “World Wide Web” and “Information Superhighway.” Computers were not yet ubiquitous. A vast majority of households still did not have a computer. Of those that did a vast majority were not even connected to the interwebs. Those that were connected had to deal with spotty dial-up service on phone lines that would disconnect in the middle of a giant file download. [When I was your age…] Online veterans, of which I was already, were beginning to dump their 300 baud modems for 1200 and 2400, speeds that seemed fast as lightening compared to what we had been used to. Internet cable still didn’t yet exist.

Web browsers were still pretty new and Netscape quickly became the preferred way to get around the World Wide Web. These were also the days when trying to find what you wanted was next to impossible. There were a lot of interesting web pages being created, and one could spend hours upon hours wandering around, but the navigation — the lack of road signs on the early superhighway — would get you lost almost every time. One of the only choices for a search engine was AltaVista. If you didn’t spell something properly, or use the exact upper and lower case, it would kick up no results, or bad results, or funny results.

After a while I wrote about whatever I wanted, not just web navigation

So, I created a column pitch that I thought was a no-brainer. Every month I’d write a column giving We Compute readers little tips and tricks to navigate their way around the web and then highlight some web pages they may not have ever discovered on their own. My editor was also a no-brainer. He did not see my vision and had to be convinced that it was a good idea.

Then he named my column Web Headly, which I never thought was a good idea.

IRONY ALERT: Even though I was writing a monthly column about the internet, once a month I would have to save my article onto a 3 inch floppy drive and then trek the 11 miles across town by transit, a trip that would involve a streetcar, transferring to the subway, transferring to another subway line, and then a trolley bus to the We Compute offices. With luck I could be there in an hour, but if there were any delays, it could take me as much as 2.5 hours.

Incidentally, that’s where I first met Roxanne Tellier, whose writing I have followed ever since. She’s also become a very dear friend over the years and I get to see her whenever I visit Toronto.


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Headly Westerfield
Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.