Sunday, May 13, 2012

I been doing the interwebs since before you was born

Well, that’s pushing it a bit, but I have some undergrad students for whom this is true (which makes me feel frickin’ old). But, nonetheless, back in 1994, me and my friend Steven started an internet magazine (I say we, it was mostly Steven who worked on it, I just helped to write and threw ideas at him). At the time we were living in Hong Kong, and so it was imaginatively called “HK Zine”.  I think we initially did it so we could pretend to be movie reviewers and blag free tickets to see films. Which, in fact, we managed to do. Albeit we never got tickets for blockbusters, but we did get freebies for “Flipper” and “Cutthroat Island” and other B-list films. Now, I’m a big fan of all things piratical, but Cutthroat Island, even a free viewing, was bloody awful, and I remember we had fun keelhauling that one.

Mostly the magazine was kind of a proto-blog, however, we did do at least one bit of serious journalism that I was really proud of. Just before our little internet escapade, I had broken my foot (in a karate class if you must know, the latest in a series of breaks and injuries thanks to my martial arts classes) and a couple of weeks hobbling around Hong Kong made me realize what an unfriendly place it was for the disabled, and I thought it would make an interesting article - but we decided to take it a step further.  We borrowed a wheelchair from a facility for the disabled, and had an interview with the manager their, who warned us that we were going to find our little adventure difficult, but wished us luck with it nonetheless. So off we went for a jaunt around Hong Kong to find out what life was like for a handicapped person in this bustling city. In one word: crap. Most buildings did not have disabled access, and usually had steps at the entrance. We only found one doorman who would help us get the wheelchair inside. People often ‘tsk’ed or swore at us for holding them up. Pedestrian lights changed so fast that you couldn’t get across roads in time, especially seeing as there was no inclined kerb on either side of the pedestrian crossings, so we had to do several wheelies to get up onto the sidewalk. We also tried to navigate the underground system, which we found was more difficult than we expected. You had to find an underground employee to let you into the elevator (admittedly I remember them being very helpful), but there were only two stations with elevators, everywhere else had stairs/escalators, so you were pretty restricted as to where you went !
The cherry on the cake, however, was our visit to a high end hotel. We’d planned to have a couple of drinks to celebrate our journalistic endeavors. But we found that not only were the staff unhelpful in circumnavigating the revolving door into the hotel, but they didn’t want us to enter in case the rubber of the wheelchair tires marked their marble floor. The manager was surprise later to see my miraculous recovery after we’d had our drinks, and as we walked out we threw a snide comment about how helpful and generous they were to the disabled.  I won’t mention the name of the hotel, but it’s a big chain in the US (and in fact around the world). To this day I avoid that hotel if I can.
I was quite proud of our little piece. And taking imitation to be the sincerest form of flattery, I was very gratified to see a similar piece (although not as witty or sarcastic as ours was) appear in a national newspaper shortly after. I felt that we’d got the message out, even if in a small way.
Incidentally, Steven went on to become a successful journalist (he’s been published in GQ, Esquire and the Financial Times amongst others), podcast producer and author, and an expert on blog and  e-book publishing. When I first met him, he was clueless about computers and used to call me up for advice, but went on to become a technology columnist and editor. Anyway, I like to smugly think that our little proto blog/e-magazine was the first step in launching his very successful career, and that if I get to bump into him again, he’ll owe me a drink or two…

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