NNSFW: A Column Written In Five Minutes About Stuff That Mattered Years Ago

“Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Slaughterhouse Five

In Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most famous book, Billy Pilgrim is a former soldier who finds himself lost in time: forced to live and relive the periods of his life in random order. Today I know how Billy Pilgrim feels.

Sure, for Pilgrim the trigger was the trauma of war, while for me it’s the lunacy of getting ready to launch TechCrunch TV in a few days (more on that soon), but apart from that we’re basically the same. Except that I’m not American. Or a fictional character.

What I am though, is confused. I’m sitting here in the TechCrunch office, on a Sunday evening, trying to placate my editorial paymasters by bashing out something resembling a column in the five minutes I have between conference calls with TCTV contributors. To expedite the process I’m trawling the web; pinging the major technology news sites to find out what big stories I’ve missed this week. The only problem is, every time I click on a story, I discover that I’ve been transported back in time.

Click. Here’s a story on Ars Technica about Microsoft suing a spammer who tried to abuse Hotmail’s anti-spam filters. Hotmail! The defendant in the case is Boris Mizhen and, unless I’m very much mistaken (I’m not), this story is one big déjà vu. Mizhen is the same guy who Microsoft sued for spamming Hotmail back in 2003. And now they’re doing it again.  I mean seriously – if you’re still using Hotmail today, you really deserve everything you get.

But the deja vu doesn’t stop there. With every click, the news timewarp gets wider.


Bebo has just been sold. For a ridiculous price. Is this 2008?


A new paywall technology is about to launch that might save the newspaper industry. Paywalls! Seriously. Is this 2005?


The New York Times is threatening to sue Neighborhoodies for producing a tshirt showing the logo of The New York Herald Tribune. The NY Herald Tribune died in 1966.

So it goes.

Hell, even the Guardian has got in on the act; publishing – today, in 2010 – a guide to understanding the Internet (“everything you need to know”!), like it’s some totally new thing.

I can only assume that the stress of launch has got to me and I’ve lost my grip on temporal reality. Either that or the whole Internet is messing with me, ensuring that all of the big news this week is about companies or concepts that ceased to be relevant years, or even decades ago. The result: everything I might possibly write will be dated before the words even leave my fingers.

Well have it your way, temporal confusion: ironically enough, I don’t have the time to fight with you. Instead, in place of this week’s column, here’s a list of five more headlines that I fully expect to read in the coming week…

“AOL sign-up disks: can they give you cancer?”

“Is your child at risk from Friendster paedophiles?”

“DARPANET: the enemy within”

“Jennifer Ringley: the new face of Altavista”

“Laptops! Kiss your desktop goodbye – there’s a new kid in town!”

Actually, wait, while I was writing this: Slate just published that last story; a ground-breaking report – published today, in 2010 – on how laptop computers are leading to the death of the desktop. Seriously? Desktops are dead?

So it goes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my five minutes is up, my Nokia 8210 is ringing and I have to take this call. Normal service resumes last week.