About 1,000 years ago, while I was working at Reuters, I did a couple of really smart things: I bought shares in a dial-up Internet company with a mere million or so users, and a web search and catalogue service with a very funny name.
It wasn’t 1,000 years ago, of course, but it sure feels like it has been that long since buying shares in AOL or Yahoo would have been considered genius.
These now-iconic corporations more or less defined the heady, early days of the Internet boom, both as investments and as vast unexplored digital continents which, a few minutes before, hadn’t even existed.
It’s not easy to convey the sense of an infinitely possible future brought on by a paradigm shift — the sort of thing people must have felt when radio disrupted the world, and then television and most recently, the Internet. In my bio I confess that my first encounter with the first web browser, Mosaic, was a borderline religious experience akin to that of Roy Neary, who, at all costs, just had to meet the space aliens visiting Earth (again) in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I’ve long divested myself of any individual shares and some time ago ceased to use the web sites of these companies in any particularly conscious way. And thereby hangs a sad, cautionary tale.