NON-FICTION, 580 words.
Copyright 2012 Ara Hagopian.
A recent article, Hidden treasures in old books, examined in detail a postcard that had remained tucked in a 1943 magazine for nearly 70 years. Today we’ll take a look at another piece of paper found in a used publication–and although it’s not quite “vintage”, the scrap of paper represents the end of the pre-world wide web era.
Sometime in 1993, Jimmy Franco, then a publicity assistant for Warner Books, jotted a quick note on a sheet of his custom stationery, reproduced below. Franco then placed this note into a brand-new copy of Warner Books’ The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal and sent this bundle to persons unknown.
The book–and note–ended up in a Boston used bookstore.
The note is unremarkable; its ten-second creation is one of hundreds of tasks a publicity assistant handles on a given day at a busy New York publishing house. What is remarkable is the timeframe this note was written–1993–and what the notepaper does not contain.
There’s no URL.
A phone number is all that appears at the bottom of the sheet. The lack of a web or email address is indicative of a simpler world, where your pen, your phone, or your shoes did it.
If a typical person wanted to contact someone pre-1993, there were three options: meet them; phone them; or send a note on paper. Period. Compare this to today: You LinkedIn, you post to their Facebook wall; you email/text/call their cell; you Tweet, Skype, IM, blog, and converse on discussion boards. You can even communicate via online obituary guestbooks.
Jimmy Franco’s innocent 1993 note is interesting because at that very moment–that is, the beginnings of the internet–the world’s means of sharing information was about to fundamentally change. According to Matthew Gray of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there were 130 websites in June of 1993, the earliest such data was tracked. Franco’s notepaper–indeed, all of our notepapers–would never be the same again.
Technology rises to the human brain. We build tools to meet the needs and capabilities of end users–at a price. With internet communication, what we gain in convenience we lose in anonymity. Viewed quite basically, Franco’s note could only reach one person, who we, ironically, have no way to track. The replacement means of communication tracks, trends, archives, and shares. Franco’s note was truly the end of an anonymous–and more private–era.