A lot of things happened ten years ago today.
Not many people were paying attention to the new phenomenon known as the World Wide Web on the morning of August 9, 1995. A young computer programmer at the University of Urbana-Champaign in Illinois, Marc Andreesen, had invented the web browser (called “Mosaic”) a couple of years before. Some venture capitalists partnered with Andreesen to create a company based on web technology (which was considered a wacky idea at the time). They initially called the company Mosaic Communications, but Mosaic was already well-known as the name of the free, open-source browser, so the company changed its name to Netscape. Ten years ago today, this company went public on the stock market. It was the first internet IPO, and a big financial success. The dot-com craze was born.
I had only recently left my job at a Wall Street bank to begin working for a media dot-com in midtown Manhattan. We were too busy that morning to watch the stock market news, but news of Netscape’s runaway IPO rippled through our office. It was a validation of everything we’d been working on ourselves for the past few months in our basement office of a skyscraper. It meant things were going to get more exciting.
I was in a lunchtime meeting that day when I heard that Jerry Garcia had died. My first thought was to call my daughter, because only two months earlier I had taken her to see the Grateful Dead at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. They opened with “Feel Like A Stranger” into “Bertha”, closed the first set with “Deal”, opened the second set with a great “China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider”, badly mangled “Wharf Rat” and then pulled out the Beatles “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” for the encore. It was an amazing show and a really fun evening for the two of us.
It happened that today was also her tenth birthday. When I called, she had already heard the news and was, of course, sobbing. We agreed that she and her mother and her siblings should meet me in Central Park that evening, because word was already out that everybody would be going to Strawberry Fields for Jerry. It was a sweet, sad gathering that August night, acoustic guitars and flowers abounding.
A couple of days later, having an annoying time at work, I stepped outside, sat on a park bench, gathered my thoughts and wrote the first poem I ever wrote in my adult life. Until this day, I had only written fiction, non-fiction and various forms of experimental prose. But I was feeling something different in the air, somehow, somewhere, and I wanted my writing to become different as well.
Ten years later: people are still listening to the Grateful Dead, which has weathered the past decade better than the dot-com stock market. Netscape’s share price tanked and the company got bought by America Online, which then merged with that very same media company I was working for when I heard the distant news of its IPO (this company even briefly changed its name to AOL Time Warner before coming to its senses and changing the name back).
Today, my daughter is celebrating her 20th birthday (she’s now a college student in Manhattan, a creative writing major and an editor of the student paper). As for me, I hope I am writing better poems. Beyond all this, I think the ripples are still spreading, but I know not where.