May 1, 2013

From a link with heaven to (wireless) internet

It was on February 1, 1970 that I disembarked in Hook of Holland. After four years in the USA, I was back in my home country, The Netherlands. But coming from a sub-Mediterranean climate of New Orleans, it was extremely cold. And this was not just due to the weather, but also due to the drastic turn in my life.

From my eleventh year onwards I had been in training to be a roman catholic priest in special boarding schools, called seminaries. Life in these establishments was ascetic. From early rise till night, life consisted of prayer, an invisible communication with the deity, meditation, rituals and contemplation. Up to my 25th year, life turned around spirituality or better around a link with heaven.

By the end of 1969 I decided not to continue and left the seminary. I returned home from New Orleans through New York and Shannon. At my last stop, London, I celebrated my turn in life by attending the musical Hair in the Shaftsbury Theatre.

As I had translated books from the Dutch language into English in the States, I started my professional career in publishing. I accepted an editorial job with a publishing house, which was about to start a very innovative general reference project, whereby the editorial staff was assisted by a computer. The first three years I only saw a lot of print-outs, but having moved to another publishing house I got in touch with a computer, a PDP by Digital. By the end of the seventies, I brought the editorial staff online by a fixed telephone line connection with the photo-typesetting operation.

In the eighties I got involved in online for consumers and professionals. I managed a videotext studio for a publishing house after the Dutch start of the PTT videotex service Viditel. And in 1984 I launched on behalf of VNU London the first European, daily online information service IDB Online for the computer industry with the BT service Telecom Gold.

By the nineties I had started my own private consultancy on content strategy. The Dutch online scene was confusing. For consumers there was videotext; for professionals there were ASCII services and separate e-mail services. But by 1993 something else was brewing. On May 1, 1993 one of the first articles about Internet was published in the national newspaper Volkskrant, titled ‘a Continent owned by no one yet’ by Francisco van Jole. On the same day the first Dutch ISP XS4ALL opened its servers for consumers. Perhaps helped by the newspaper article the ISP closed its day with 500 subscribers on the launching day.

And this first result was magnified when on January 15, 1994 Digital City Amsterdam (De Digitale Stad, DDS) was launched. In one month 10.000 subscribers registered and three years later this had grown out to and industry with 1 million subscribers. The Netherlands had made a sudden, silent switch for internet with many new users, coming from university.

Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Dutch Internet Service Provider for consumers. In those 20 years 98 per cent of the Dutch households have traditional internet using mainly PC, but there is also a growing number of subscribers, using smart phones.

Looking back, there has been a red thread in my life: from a link with heaven to (wireless) internet. Was the first part of my life turning around spirituality with its invisible communication with the deity, in my second part of life online and eventually internet has become part of my rituals and contemplation for me. Life needs (wireless) internet.

Jak Boumans
Author of Toen digitale media nog nieuw waren (Pre-internet in the polder 1967-1997).