I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided : who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.

Patrick Kavanagh Epic www.poemhunter.com/poem/epic/…

In My Beginning Is My End

The idea for this material first came to me in a wave of nostalgia and wistful regret, when I started thinking back on my career and wondering why someone else hadn’t written this all down. So much was being lost!

It was like climbing up a mountain, reaching some plateau, looking behind while taking a breath, and seeing all the scree I’d scrambled up vanish into sodden mist. I disliked the feeling that important things had vanished, things that should not have been forgotten. In the twenty-or-so years I’d been working with this Internet thing, the equivalent of whole electronic empires had risen and fallen, multiple times, but only the more hardened and embittered journalists were inclined to reference the full historical context for the happenings they reported.

So, this is my attempt to redress the balance, to make the thing I’d wished someone else had made, and write history with regard for both the victors, and the fallen. It is a relentlessly personal view, although I have done my best to be even-handed and objective where possible. It is personal because I cannot eliminate myself from the picture; for good or ill, like Forrest Gump or Wally of the “Where’s Wally?” series,Where’s Waldo? in the USA and Canada: a series of books where a figure is hidden amongst many others in a larger scene. See e.g. Wikipedia. I was accidentally present for many important moments: on the periphery but watching with interest. Of course, I was not a central actor. Instead, I was a bit part waiting nervously in the wings, sometimes afforded a revealing glimpse behind the stage.

So, yes, it is personal, but for stories where my part was more peripheral than usual, but where the story needs to be told nonetheless, I needed to bring other viewpoints in. Therefore I have relied not just on personal knowledge, but the recollections of others. My interviewees, each with their own fascinating story, have contributed their insights and humour towards this brash, breezy, admittedly biased and incomplete account, thereby hopefully redeeming it a little. In a field which seems to be particularly prone to amnesia – perhaps influenced by the ahistoricity of its cradle, Silicon Valley – the whole point of attempting to record what took place is undermined. Things move so fast, runs the argument, there’s more history here than elsewhere, and even if you could write it all down, what use would it be anyway?

My response would be that in these areas – computing, networking, the Internet in general – we are both inevitably shaped by history, and yet we reject it. The same press release which praises some incremental improvement to some website, on foot of some great vision, will often not mention the things before that make that vision possible. We are not standing only on the beach, but also on the shoulders of giants: we should acknowledge this.

Finally, why just Ireland? Ireland is tiny and doesn’t matter. Whatever happened here that was relevant anywhere else? runs the argument. I guess there are a few reasons; the history of the Internet generally has been quite well-documented elsewhere, and by better Irishmen than I. Another reason is that Ireland is an interestingly distorted lens through which to examine America; much has been made of our special relationship with America, and in a certain way, thanks to the IDA, it is the modern theatre of operations for the fight between the globe-spanning ZaibatsuJapanese term for (family-owned, although this is less relevant here) mega-corporation. who face each other uneasily across Grand Canal Dock. Another reason is of course because I live here.

But although Ireland has been unusually successful in attracting Internet-related companies to its shores, its political elites and even the woman on the street have remained deeply ambiguous about what it is doing to society, and what it will continue to do. For all that I have discussed above – the impulse to record, the value of learning from experience in a habitually amnesiac world – the main reason for writing this is ultimately personal: I knew this giant thing, which dominates our daily lives today, back when it was small and weak, barely able to survive, and I find that transition fascinating. Does it matter if the story is on a small canvas, when the story is large enough?

To begin the story, you can see how the 1990s treated Ireland.

Acknowledgements and thanks

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About This - Niall Richard Murphy