Friday, July 14, 2017

On the Age of the 'Human Search Engines'

"Human Search Engine," by Douglas McDaniel

This one could have just as easily been called "The Aderall Diaries." It's based on my experience as senior editor for Access Internet Magazine 17 years ago. An experience ending with the breaking of the so-called "Dot-Com Bubble" in 2001. So there we were in a beehive of more than 100 employees in Needham, Massachusetts, in a cube farm e-mailing each other all day long, in addition to attempting to respond to incoming phone calls and e-mails for a tabloid style magazine with a circulation of more than 11 million as inserts in newspapers across the nation, much like Parade Magazine. And let me tell you this right now: Information disease is a real thang. 

Anyhow, Access spent about $27 million over maybe three years but then went bust in the second quarter of 2001. I left the position maybe three days after New Year's Day that year. I had been declared someone who "didn't get the vision." This was actually relayed to me on a printed piece of paper. Why? Because of several reasons. The first was I had done a story on something called, and that story got pulled, maybe because of the language but mostly due to the fact it was charting the number of internet start ups going out of business around the fall of 2000. Also, I had wanted to do a story on something called Echelon, the NSA surveillance program in those years, because I felt it related to the internet consumer, the purpose of the magazine, however, that story got spiked, too. That very week Steve Kroft, the brilliant and tough-minded reporter for "60 Minutes," did an expose on the NSA surveillance program. And yeah, maybe after that, I was getting a little wiffy on the "vision" at Access.

For example, I kept calling their internet side a "roach motel," since it wasn't really open-ended like Yahoo. In fact, I had proposed something called "The Interactive Advocate." Now that I look back on it, the whole idea, written out in great detail like Jerry McGuire's "mission statement," was a lot like Facebook now. Of course, like a lot of my ADHD ideas, I was told to go back to my desk and focus on doing things about new cooking and shopping sites. However, the beauty of having such a high-profile job was it allowed me to take all of this excess productivity and start writing for such internet offerings as and, the latter of which was edited by the late, great Rod Amis (God bless you dude, barely a day goes by where I don't thank the little plastic baby Jesus for getting to know you in real space).

Moving forward, as I choke back the tears over this, I'd have to say one of the next-to-last things that ruined my "vision" at Access was pulling together a cover story on the top 100 shopping sites for the December 2000 issue. Now, based on what I was hearing from an editor at Disinfo, as well as the drift I was getting at and, I was feeling very, very troubled about promoting so many shopping sites. I wanted to do something a little more visionary and call it "The Revenge of the Brick and Mortar Stores." I told my editors many of these businesses would be out of business shortly after the beginning of the year. It was shortly after that, the executive editor, who was an apparent fan of L. Ron Hubbard and now is still doing kick-ass stuff for other computer magazines, handed me the slip of paper over the "vision" thing. The very last thing I turned in for Access was a cover story on the potential for what we now call e-books. Which "Human Search Engine" now is.

However, that story got spiked, too, perhaps because I put a little too much in about it on William Blake, and on how he would walk upon this Earth trying to sell his illuminated books for shillings apiece. Fortunately, later on, I found the time to write another book that I think still holds up like "Human Search Engine," called "William Blake in Cyberspace." 

Without giving the plot away, let me just write this: That William Blake once wrote the following words, "That which is now proved was once only imagined."

 Again moving forward, in a fine Promethean romp, Access went out of business exactly six months after reaching its zenith as I was getting handed the note over the "vision" thing. In fact, I went to the office in Needham the very last day it was open in order to get copies of the magazine for job hunting purposes. The place was a ruin. No more cube farm. Just a lot of wires hanging from the ceiling and coffee stains on the carpet. But I got a ton of issues, and then went on to my merry day. Finally, this: As far as I can tell now, this book "Human Search Engine" is one of the few remaining relics left from that amazing publication, since there doesn't seem to be much online left about it.

In fact, copies of the magazine can go as collector's item for $50 buck apiece, which is far less than what I charge for either my e-book about the place, or, of course, the brick and mortar book about it. I recently told my former editor at Access about this. She told me to never contact her again. And so, I won't, at least not directly. All I'm going to say is, this one goes out to you, S.C., who's got the fucking "vision thing" now! Namaste.

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