Dr Fishlock has left the building

The internet is far from perfect technology and its potential hasn't even begun to tapped yet, but there's no question that it's the killer app that Computerworld has speculated on endlessly during the past 15 years.

“Gidday, Dr Fishlock’s secretary here.”

Fifteen years ago that was my job: an antipodean answering service and mail opener for David Fishlock, the science writer for the Financial Times in London.

It’s the strangest job I’ve ever had (and there are few other wacky ones to recount – the month spent on scaffolding with a bottle of acid and a wire brush cleaning the exterior of the Adelaide town hall, for example).

My qualification for landing up at the FT as a temp secretary was that I’d been a reporter for five years. Presumably, they figured that would mean I’d be able to relate to the good doctor. The odd thing is, I never found out, because he was absent the whole time, on sabbatical. The phone hardly rang, there was next to no mail and no stories by the doctor to snip and file.

So after a month or two of struggling with the FT crossword I left, just as ignorant of Dr Fishlock as when I started. It’s only now that I’ve had a chance to find out a bit about him. And he appears to be an eminent chap, apparently belonging to a very good London club, and has been awarded an OBE, no less.

The wonders of the web – or Google, more specifically – are the source of this “information”. The numerous hits on a search of his name seemed astonishing, and I’ve taken it as confirmation that that episode of my life wasn’t imagined. But I can’t say I trust the information very highly.

Nonetheless, it was a reminder of the single most dramatic change that the computer industry has wrought on the world – the extension of the internet into the lives of most of us. It’s far from perfect technology and its potential hasn’t even begun to tapped yet, but there’s no question that it’s the killer app that Computerworld has speculated on endlessly during the past 15 years.

This November 19 issue of Computerworld is full of other references to the last decade and a half, as is fitting on Computerworld’s birthday. It draws on the recollections of staff and commissioned writers whose combined personal histories in the industry total more than 100 years. (If some of our memories are a bit wayward, put it down to old age.)

I could go on and on about the discoveries we’ve made going through the back issues, but I’ll spare you. I merely hope that there’s something in this issue that strikes a chord. And if you want to speculate on the killer app of the next 15 years, I’d love to hear your pick.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.