It was 14 years ago today that I purchased the Disquiet.com domain.
I thought I’d make some cursory notes as a means of marking the anniversary. I’ve typed much of this in various forms and contexts over the years, but it’s helpful to reflect on it again.
I’d had a web presence on various sites since 1994, at generic URLs hosted by Netcom and Calweb and elsewhere, but I’d felt it was time for a proper home. Also in the running were cilantro.com and yellow.com — at least as memory serves, because according to Whois both of those had already been purchased by someone else by the end of 1994. (Perhaps they’d momentarily lapsed when I was making my decision?)
I went with “disquiet,” the word borrowed from the title of the best known book of the late Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet, as it’s commonly known in English. As far as I know I’m the first person to own the URL. Such a thing sounds fantastical today, when common-word (even semi-common) URLs are hard to come by. The recycling of domains over the years brings to mind that great essay by Colson Whitehead (see nytimes.com, November 11, 2001) about becoming a New Yorker:
[Y]ou are a New Yorker the first time you say, “That used to be Munsey’s” or “That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge.” That before the Internet cafe plugged itself in, you got your shoes resoled in the mom-and-pop operation that used to be there. You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.
There isn’t exactly a direct correlation with the Internet, no commonly experienced “Oh, I remember when that URL was an online grocery delivery service, before it was a tech-news site, before it was a discussion hub for enthusiasts of East German munitions.” More applicable is the opening sentence of that same Whitehead essay, which begins, “I’m here because I was born here and thus ruined for anywhere else.” Today, there is a generation that was born on the Internet, born into the Internet (perhaps, some argue, ruined for life without it, though that’s a subject for a different, more considered essay — though for the record, that is not my point of view), while all of us older than that generation came to it as a recently discovered, mostly undeveloped, and seemingly infinite territory.
Whenever I think back to that URL purchase, I remember needing to use a fax machine to handle some of the (then literal) paperwork. It took days for DNS servers to recognize a new website (yeah, gather ’round the campfire of burning cathode-ray monitors, youngins). Phone calls were necessary, and (again, if memory serves) identification — it was very much like crossing a border.
The summer of 1996, I’d left print for the web, left seven years at a print magazine for what turned out to be almost six at a web firm. I’d left print less because I saw a professional opportunity than because I recognized that the Internet was something I wanted to participate in while rules were still being made and norms were still being set. Such thoughts were reflected back at me over the course of the past year when I read about the “locked in” nature of programmed technology in recent books by Kevin Kelly, Douglas Rushkoff, and Jaron Lanier.
At first Disquiet.com was just a place for me to post articles after they’d run their course in whatever print publication I’d written them for. Then I began to receive emails asking when I’d next be publishing something online. It seemed like a weird question — the factual answer was, “I’d be publishing something online as soon as a proper amount of time had passed after I’d first published that same thing in print.” Then it occurred to me to just write things for the site. Blogging comes second nature to us today, but it was a revelation to me when I, say, added a date stamp to an article for the first time (at the suggestion of my coincidentally Portugal-reared friend Jorge Colombo).
Anyhow, if you’re reading this, I’m writing this because you’re reading this. That’s as simple as it gets. It’s been 14 amazing years, with more to come. Apparently December 13, 1996, was a Friday, which means the URL was purchased on Friday the 13th. So much for bad luck.