July 31, 2007 By Chad Vander Veen
Did you know you could buy a (more or less) handheld GPS device in 1991?
The early '90s are fascinating to revisit to see our everyday technologies in their infancy. Facsimile machines, electronic mail, CD-ROM, desktop publishing, 3-D graphics -- so many new technologies burst onto the scene.
When reading through Government Technology from those formative years, one gets the sense that a lot of people were overwhelmed by the rapid technological evolution that was under way.
It's also interesting to look at the issues we faced back then only to realize we're still dealing with the same things. For example, in January 1991, we took a lengthy look at the benefits of telecommuting. Touting the massive reductions in pollution and traffic congestion, the article was ahead of its time, especially seeing how little has changed in the 16 years since.
Tod Newcombe, now editor of Public CIO, wrote a fascinating story detailing the rise of the microcomputer. Coming to Every Government Desktop: The Microcomputer, published in February 1991, hinted that the PC would change through the '90s. In an amusing bit of hindsight, Newcombe quoted Berkeley, Calif., City Systems Information Manager Chris Mead, who said the city had "... made a policy decision to standardize on [the] 386 architecture. My feeling is the 386 is going to be a very stable architecture."
Pentiums came out two years later.
In February 1992, we ran a cover story that rightly pointed out the growing crisis of overcrowded highways. The solution, claimed by many interviewed for the story, was high-speed rail. Several such rail systems were supposed to be operating by the end of the decade, including lines in Texas and California.
"The era of the Interstate Highway System is over," Roger Borg of the Federal Highway Administration told us.
(See Fast Track to Nowhere for a look at why this still hasn't happened.)
After scouring hundreds of pages of old Government Technology magazines, a much sought-after prize was finally found in our August 1992 issue -- our first mention of "the Internet."
It came in a column written by then Editor-in-Chief Larry Madsen, who used the word when referencing the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act of 1992. In only a few more months, the World Wide Web would be born. Ironically in the very next issue, we ran a story that took an in-depth look at the coming age of (er, soon-to-be-obsolete) government service and information kiosks.
Finally as this month's look back draws to a close, we remember 1993 as the year the Internet moved from an obscure federal research network to the backbone of the information superhighway.
Just to prove how "with the times" we were, a June 1993 column written by e.Republic CEO Dennis McKenna includes a shout out to Prodigy, one of the earliest Internet service providers.
WAY BACK FACTS
In 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first popularly elected president in Russian history. Yeltsin, who died in April, left an enigmatic legacy. As president, Yeltsin was both visionary and apathetic, and many would accuse him of corruption during his second term. Well known for having a healthy appetite for alcohol, he was often the target of Russian and international media. With his health failing, Yeltsin left office in 1999, apologizing to the Russian people for failing to bring about many of the reforms he promised.
September 1993 offered a rare glimmer of hope to a perpetually troubled region of the world. In Oslo, Norway, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed peace accords that promised to finally bring much of the conflict in the Middle East to a close. Many Israelis welcomed the accords, as did Palestinian political organization Fatah. Hope soon faded, however, as the more militant Hamas stepped up attacks on Israel. Meanwhile, Israel retaliated with ever-more restrictive policies toward Palestinians. Today, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as bad -- or worse -- than ever.
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