The discussion generated by the original HOLY SHIT LIST has been far more interesting than the first post. Of particular obvious note, people’s lists varied based on their relative age. GO FIGURE. Whereas one person found Doom to be of particular significance, another would point at Ultima Online as being the seminal gaming event in their life. What is interesting to me isn’t that the lists are different based on a person’s age, it’s how a HOLY SHIT such as Doom becomes assumed or maybe perceived as irrelevant because it occurred outside the scope of a person’s life. Your HOLY SHIT list is a lot like your Amazon wish list. It is an indirect way of explaining who you are relative to what you care or cared about WITH LESS 1-CLICK OFFERINGS.
The second pass on my list:
Macintosh: One rule about anything on this list is that you must distinctly remember the moment when you first saw the thing in question. The Mac is easy, I was a punk kid who liked to get my jollies walking to computer stores and writing dumb programs in Basic on Apple ][s.
10 PRINT “BALLS”;
20 GOTO 10
One day I went into the shop and there was a Mac sitting there in the middle of the store. No one was using it. I walked up and stared at the mouse… WHAT THE HELL. A quick nudge of the mouse and there was the HOLY SHIT. Two dimensional control over the desktop. MacPaint was open. I clicked on a circle, selected one of the horrible fills on the original Mac, and clicked’n’dragged my first circle. HOLY SHIT.
I don’t remember the tiny little screen, I don’t remember the lack of applications, and I certainly don’t remember the price tag. What I remember was that my IBM PC felt like a clumsy piece of junk and I didn’t come close to forgetting that feeling until Windows 95.
Windows 95: The years between the arrival of the Mac and Windows 95 were painful ones. As my community of friends were PC users (including the Dad), we were constantly engaged in a useless conversation about when the PC was going to catch-up with the Mac user interface. We deluded ourselves into thinking that Windows/386 was actually useful, but we mostly used it because Ami Pro was the only decent graphical word processor out there. We praised the day that Windows 3.0 showed up, but were mostly just happy that we no longer had to stare at Windows/386.
I was working at Borland the day I first installed a beta of Windows 95. I’d read rumors they’d made progress on the user interface, but when I finished the EIGHT DISK INSTALL I arrived at the HOLY SHIT. No longer was I trapped in the program manager, no longer was I forced to stare at a horribly conceived user interface… Finally, Windows was an operating system that outwardly appeared to slightly care about the user experience.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been wrangling with whether or not to leave Windows 95 on the list. As I compare its impact relative to the other items on the list, it feels like a second class citizen because, face it, it was an operating system simply trying to keep up with the Macintosh experience. “Me too” products probably don’t belong in my HOLY SHIT experience.
Telnet: This should really read “Unix”, but as I’m a Windows dork, I’m going to leave it as telnet. In college, we needed to submit our programs via shell accounts on University servers where they’d be compiled and graded. During this process, I quickly learned there was a bevy of programs on these servers. It was here I was introduced to various multi-player games as well as the wonders of VI. A friend mentioned I should telnet to another server to check out a MUD and he might as well have been speaking Swahili. Obediently, I typed telnet some.other.server.com, logged in, leaned over to my friend and said, “What’s the big deal?”
“You’re on that server.”
“And it’s in the U.K.”
I stared at the screen, typed return a few times, and then the HOLY SHIT that would become the Internet dawned on me.
Mosaic / Netscape Navigator 3.0: Many years after my telnet epiphany, a co-worker at Borland dropped my desk. He said, “Hey, you want to get on the web?” Again, sensing that I was missing something crucial, I nodded my head and he went to work on my network preferences. A few minutes later, Mosaic was on my desktop. He pointed me at his personal site, smiled, and said “Oh, and you can order pizza, too.”
I don’t remember what sites I traveled to in that first day, but I’m guessing it was the primal Netscape site along with SGI’s which was viewed as cutting edge at the time. The HOLY SHIT was of a similar nature to the TELNET HOLY SHIT in that the technology suddenly, violently made the world feel overwhelmingly accessible.
Napster: Atandt gets props for pointing me at Napster many years back. I was searching for an MP3 on the Net and was growing increasingly frustrated with the distinct lack of an organizational system to easily find what I needed.
A quick search pointed me at an innocuous little site. I downloaded and installed the program, typed in my query, and sixty copies of the song I was looking for showed up in the list. HOW IN THE? Knowing nothing about peer-to-peer file sharing, I spent the morning figuring out the technical details of P2P while downloading my first gigabyte of music.
I called everyone in my family that night. I stumbled over my words as I tried to explain that YOU COULD GET ANY MUSIC YOU WANTED INSIDE OF FIVE MINUTES. YES, ANY MUSIC. DON’T BELIEVE ME? TRY ME.
EBay: I was way late on EBay. Sure, I got the basic idea, but the only way to truly experience a HOLY SHIT is from personal experience and I waited a good many months before I dove into EBay to find it was the Napster of Random Crap You Could Buy.
My HOLY SHIT was at Thanksgiving several years back. I knew EBay was stocked with stuff, but I hadn’t tested it. I asked everyone at the dinner table to think of an antique or hard-to-find item and write it down. I took the list of ten items to EBAY and searched for antique Jane Austin books, random electrical engineering gadgets, some type of strange microscope I’d never heard of, and the rest which I’ve since forgotten. EBay had multiple listings for every item. I printed them out, brought them to the table, and HOLY SHITTED my way through turkey and mashed potatoes.
EBay is a HOLY SHIT which keeps on giving because I later discovered that it not only represents a great place to buy, but it’s also a place to sell. Being gadget oriented, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on Palms, routers, and other useless crap that I use for three months before I throw it in a box to rot in favor of next version. While it’s not painfully convenient, EBay allows me to recoup at least some of the countless discretionary dollars I’ve thrown out the window.
Doom: Probably my favorite HOLY SHIT because I like to think I saw it coming. Set the way back machine for the early 80s. A friend and I had just spent hours playing some low resolution dungeon game. By low resolution, I mean that the dragon was a single green square. A troll was a single purple square. Yes, this was the peak of entertainment in the early 80s. That and the Dukes of Hazzard.
In our post-game-haze, we dreamt of new version of the game. You were literally walking down a hallway with a first person perspective, picking up gold, battling creatures building from more than a single pixel. It was this moment that I remember when I friend showed me Doom. He moved the mouse left and the character looked left, right… right… and up… well, he looked up, too. (Incidentally, UP is the reason I’m not listing Castle Wolfenstein… I don’t remember being able to look up and, for some strange personal reason, up made all the difference in Doom).
The beauty of the HOLY SHIT list is that it represents truth. An honest HOLY SHIT is one which completely penetrates the PR, the BUZZ, the marketing. It’s the moment when you clearly see the value of a technology and how it will permanently alter your world.