Friday, July 17, 2009

BPN 1360 Silence, please; history in the making

It feels like a monastery at home. Silence all over the place. No telephones ringing. Discipline in working hours. I am working on my book, a project of almost 10 years. It is a book (mind you) on the history of new media (what a contradiction in terminis) in The Netherlands. It has been a project ever since 2000. In that year the Dutch new media industry had been commercial for 20 years. In the newsletter Telecombrief (now extinct due to the publishers’ negligence) I published a series with 24 instalments: four introductory instalments and for every one. I did not produce a small book of it, as the instalments were only 400 words long; not exactly the space to describe developments. Over the years I stayed with the idea for the jubilee year 2005, produced a series of postings 25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments and worked on a book, spanning 25 years. Due to other business in the company this idea was never realised. And I am glad.

Writing a history book is not easy. Finding an editorial formula for it is difficult, as it easily becomes a compilation of events (and then, and then). Besides there are no real examples to which I can compare. I guess it was in 2008, when I met Sindy de Vries, a script writer for Dutch TV; we got to talk about the book and without knowing the full story she recommended to look for drama. This took some time to sink in. How the hell could you dramatise the history of new media in The Netherlands? But it changed my scope. I started to see the Dutch fight between CD-ROM and CD-I; the rest of the world against Philips and Sony. It brought confused the Dutch general publishers and even the Dutch government officials, who offered grants for CD-I learning projects and not for CD-ROM multimedia projects. And there were more situations coming up.

The real discovery for me was the discovery of the break of 1997. On January 1, 1997 the Netherlands went fully internet. Consumer internet had been introduced since 1994 and business internet started in the Netherlands in 1992. So in less than five to three years the first phase of new media industry disappeared, almost over night. Why? This is the quest of the book. So now the book spand the time between 1967 and 1997, covering the first phase of new media in the Netherlands or the rise and the fall of the first phase of new media.

So after the introduction, I first dive into the stone age of online. This feels fantastic, reading about the database retrieval companies like Dialog, SDC, BRS and NewsNet. Especially the real pioneers of the online industry Dialog and SDC with resp. Roger Summit (ill. left) and Carlos Cuadra (ill. right). I have met them both in person at Online Conferences in London and New York; while I got my introduction to online from Carlos Cuadra himself, when he was invited by a VNU company. I also trace the Stone Age in the Netherlands. From that point onwards I go chapter by chapter through the developments of various technologies the Netherlands has been through from ASCII to teletext and videotext, e-mail and BBS to CD media. And I have collected economic data on the industry.

Now I am writing chapter by chapter. The manuscript should be ready September 1, 2009. Of course, the manuscript is not enough for a book. I will have to do also picture research. I hope that it will not take as long as writing the book itself. Of course the manuscript has to be indexed, a literature list composed and a timeline set up. One artefact is ready: the cover, made by my Italian friend Chiara Boeri. She produced it last year and probably thought that it would never be used.

The book, written in Dutch (sorry), should be on the market in 2010. And no, the book will not be translated as it only concerns the Dutch situation. You have to live in the country to understand the situation. But I promise to write a summary of the book in English, when I am done.

And now I go back to writing. I first play The Dissection and Reconstruction of Music from the Past as Performed by the Inmates of Lalo Schifrin's Demented Ensemble as a Tribute to the Memory of the Marquis de Sade (what a title!); it is an old time favourite since 1969. And yes, I will go back to the sacred silence after that great music.

BTW If you have Dutch new media artefacts or photographs from the period 1967 till 1997 please let me know. For the time being I only need photographs.

Blog Posting Number: 1360


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