A Tribute To J R Mooneyham

This is a tribute to American science fiction author J R Mooneyham, creator of one of the most excellent websites on the early Internet. The eponymous jrmooneyham.com was (and is) a treasure trove of hyperlinks to all kind of futuristic and scientific advances, as well as the superb Future History Timeline, which showcased Mooneyham’s predictions for the future.

I discovered this website around 1996. At that time, only people with a special interest in technology had a personal computer with Internet access. If you were friends with such a person, it was possible to access a world of information many times larger than your local town library. For any true nerd such as myself, this was a thousand birthdays all happening at once.

Because the early Internet was populated only by people who could get their heads around the new technology, it was full of the kind of niche interests held by those people. Serial killers and Satanism were favourite topics, one of the highlights being a Richard Ramirez tribute page that said “Hail Satan” through the speakers once per minute – a terrifying experience to anyone discovering the site at night!

Another favourite topic was science fiction. The sort of person who was an early adopter of the Internet was often a science fiction fan. After all, the Internet was clearly the technology of the future, and science fiction deals with the future. Many early Internet users were either science fiction fans or even writers. One of them was J R Mooneyham, who created the website that bears his name.

Mooneyham’s webpage was the first one to really instill in me a sense of awe at what the Internet was capable of. Not only did the page consist of a number of pages all hyperlinked together, but many paragraphs were backed up with hyperlinks to other parts of the Internet. For a young person who had only previously been exposed to books, both of these things were incredible, an entirely new dimension of information arrangement.

On the Signposts of the Future pages, Mooneyham made a number of predictions, some of which I agreed with, and some of which I thought ridiculous but which ended up coming true. Apart from the usual cyberpunk-style predictions about ever-increasing surveillance technology and an ever more precarious geopolitical situation, there were more specific predictions

I scoffed at his prediction that technology would lead to child millionaires, reasoning that the new technologies would be so complicated that it would take many years to study them long enough to have mastered them. Mooneyham had the last laugh, however, as shown by the 8-year old YouTube star Ryan Kaji, who made $26,000,000 this year.

Mooneyham predicted that a major terrorist event would strike New York City near the beginning of the 21st Century. This may have not been too hard to predict, given that there had already been a Muslim attempt to destroy the World Trade Centre in 1993. In any case, Mooneyham was proven correct in spectacular fashion by the events of 9/11.

He also predicted that America would, at some point in the 2010s, start using their military and economic advantage to spark a trade war. This came true with the ascension to power of Donald Trump and the start of the trade war against China. This was part of a wider trend, foreseen by Mooneyham and discussed at length, of hard power giving way to soft power.

My favourite Mooneyham prediction, though, was the “Bounty Economy“. Today we call this the gig economy, but Mooneyham predicted in the 1990s that we would end up with an economy characterised by precarious working conditions, suppressed wages, the mass importation of cheap labour – and tremendous profits for those best positioned to take advantage.

All of this was found in a website that was nothing more than HTML. For a young scholar in the 1990s, the simple genius of this was astonishing. Here was a glimpse of the future of life on Planet Earth, in more than one sense. Although websites such as Mooneyham’s are out of fashion today, thanks to fat data pipes shifting the focus from text to images and then to video, the elegance of the site appeals to the same sort of person that it appealed to in the 1990s.

There will always be a niche, in informational space, for someone targeting the high-IQ sort of forward thinker that actively seeks out information (and who reads, as opposed to passive information seekers who watch YouTube videos). VJM Publishing has targeted this niche, and to that end we have modelled the organisation of our site on jrmooneyham.com.

Some people have criticised the VJM Publishing company page on the grounds that it looks like a Geocities page from the early 2000s. It is our contention, however, that this is what a website ought to look like. It is the excellence of J R Mooneyham’s page, discovered over two decades ago, that inspired the clean, text-heavy and massively hyperlinked look of our own company page.

J R Mooneyham is a pioneering figure in Internet culture, especially in the high Internet culture that has avoided the televisionisation process that has occurred since the coming of FaceBook and YouTube. He ought to be more widely known. Thus, this article is in tribute to him, and to the minds he expanded thanks to reaching people with his excellent website.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

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