Slip of Paper Marks End of Pre-Web Era

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.  

This 1993 note represents the end of the pre-world wide web era.

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About Ara Hagopian's The LITERATE Show

For over thirty years, I have enjoyed drawing beautiful shapes and writing complementary stories. The imagery tends to focus on our place in the world—whomever or whatever we may be. I am influenced by Twentieth Century history—I read vintage magazines, books and letters. Inspiration comes from visualizing human achievement and personal interaction—derived from people, places and things which may be obscure, but never insignificant. My pen-and-ink THE MAGNIFICENT RECOVERY was selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for their 2008 summer art auction.
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6 Responses to Slip of Paper Marks End of Pre-Web Era

  1. Jack D says:

    My brother is a professional computer programer, and I saw the beginnings of the internet back in the early 90’s. It was pretty simple back then, but also pretty cool to be able to talk to somebody half a world away, instantly.

    Never imagined it would blossom so quickly into what it is today. It certainly has changed society, and peoples perspective, although not always in a good way.

    It would be hard to imagine going back to a world without the pc, and the internet.

    • Hey Jack. Thanks for commenting. I agree, don’t think the world could handle going back to pre-web. I am glad I experienced both worlds–I’m sure you are too.

      That Guadalcanal book, mentioned in the article, was a great read. And I love finding papers in books!

  2. Hey Ara.

    To most people, the note would have been nothing. It’s nice that you’ve found the puzzle contained therein. You must be a fan of Found Magazine: http://foundmagazine.com/

    • Hi Martha, I nearly threw that paper out a dozen times. It was too “new” to be meaningful; 1993 is still fresh in my mind. Then I realized, that stationery signifies not just another time, but the end of that time. Paper will never been that innocent again. Thanks for the link, I will check it out!

  3. Anonymous says:

    An uncommon thought following a seemingly common occurance. How come I only ever find grocery shopping lists in my books?

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