Way Back Machine

Revisiting 20 years of Government Technology magazine

by / October 2, 2007

Picture the most ill-timed product launch possible: Say, for example, the railroad was introduced around the same time as the automobile. Or, what if the cassette tape came out right as the iPod hit the shelves? You'd look back at the situation, bemused, wondering why cassette-tape makers didn't pay attention to digital music technology.

Such was the case in 1994 when we and many other media outlets were all atwitter about a harebrained device that would supposedly revolutionize the way government served citizens - the kiosk.

In our September issue, we announced our cover story, Kiosks on the March, in a ludicrously large font. The article told of kiosks and their visionless promoters. Kiosks would make filling out government forms and applying for government benefits as simple as driving to the grocery store and waiting for a free kiosk - so much easier than going to an actual government office, right?

Why kiosk advocates couldn't see the likelihood of the increasingly popular World Wide Web doing everything a kiosk could do but from a home PC can't be explored in this limited space. For now, just be thankful the $25,000-a-piece machines were, even then, on the march straight into obscurity.

By 1995, it seemed Government Technology had become profitable, judging from the beefy advertiser index and 100-plus page magazines of those days. Awash in cash, we finally transitioned from crummy newsprint to the glossy paper typical of most magazines.

It's easy to forget that only a dozen years ago, government was still new to this whole Internet thing. In February 1995, our cover headline was America's Infostructure, and was supported by three unique stories that detailed the challenges state and local governments would face in the years to come. Peppered throughout the issue were buzzwords of the day, like "information superhighway" and the "national information infrastructure." Comparing what we had then to what we have now, government can certainly give itself a pat on the back. Everyone has come a very long way in what has been but a wink in time.

In our March issue, Editor Wayne Hanson tried to peer into the future and predict how different life would be in 2005. Hanson imagined that in 10 years, cash would disappear and armed robbery along with it. We're getting there, but it's going to be a long time before the cashless society exists. He also believed that by 2005, we'd all be using biometrics like fingerprint scanners to conduct transactions. Hanson's predictions were also a bit grim as he imagined a world where the government maintained DNA records for all citizens and privacy was quickly being eroded in the name of security.

Thankfully most of these Orwellian fears haven't yet come to pass, right?

Later issues in 1995 reinforce the fact that the Internet was a wonderful and frightening new frontier. Government Technology featured articles and editorials that shed light on the growing amount of Internet pornography and the murky First Amendment issues it raised.

The Government Technology Conference events of that year featured something called the "Internet Theater," an elaborate booth designed to help attendees become more adept at surfing the Net. We even ran a column that claimed the "superhighway" metaphor was already dated.

Though just 12 short years ago, 1995 was witness to the creation of a whole new way of life.


Wayback Facts:
In Santa Clara, Calif., a Web site formerly known as Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web is incorporated. The site was renamed Yahoo. In 2000, Yahoo's stock would reach an all-time high of $475 a share. A year and a half later, the company's stock bottomed out at $8.11 a share.

In April 1995, a terrorist attack perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh

and accomplice Terry Nichols decimated the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The bombing claimed 168 lives. McVeigh was later executed in 2001, and Nichols was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Though many of us were still getting comfortable with the CD, in 1995 the next generation of optical media was announced. The digital video disc - DVD - more than sextupled the capacity of CDs and would soon supplant the videocassette as the preferred medium for recording video. Now the question is whether DVDs will be overtaken by next-generation Blu-Ray discs, which have up to 50 gigabytes of storage.

In August, the much-anticipated Windows 95 is released. The operating system's launch was like no other before it, with Microsoft spending a reported $300 million on advertising - including paying millions for the rights to the Rolling Stones' classic Start Me Up.

Americans were infatuated with the so-called Trial of the Century during 1995. For 134 days, TV cameras gave the public a courtside view of O.J. Simpson's murder trial. The trial was roundly regarded as a fiasco and, despite the jury returning a verdict of not guilty, many still claim "The Juice" got away with murder.

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.