22 JANUARY 2006
IT'S almost midnight on a mild, windless Wednesday. A perfect night to chuck the cat out because he inserts random letters while my back is turned making more tea.
I started writing this column five and a half years ago. That's 235 columns and 200,000 words, give or take the odd er... or em... .
During that time there have been only two occasions in which I found myself struggling to find the right words. It happened while writing my first column in July 2000 and it's happening again with this one, my last.
In the dim and distant world that was 2000, predictions for the future clashed dramaticlly with what was happening in the present.
Future worlds featuring cloned humans, robots and paperless, bookless reading was hard to reconcile with the death rattle of the internet. After all, if technology was so powerful and determining, why was one of its greatest creations floundering?
The collapse of the dotcom era brought a swift end to hyperbole, snake oil sellers and ridiculous email addresses. A time when those addresses were swapped instead of telephone numbers. When Hotmail was a fashion statement, a lifestyle choice, a major, accepted brand and logo of the then internet.
To suggest writing a column about the internet before it had been waked didn't bother me in the slightest. It troubled the business editor Brian Carey even less and the required green light was blinding.
I had seen all this before and, I've no doubts, so had generations before. The invention of electricity, telephones and cars (to name just three) all either threatened society with massive change - chaos even - or they would herald a world of plenty and leisure.
For millennia, humans have invented tools and used those tools to make other, unrelated, ones. Some were useful, life-enhancing, life-giving and others brought pain, suffering and death.
I believe it has always been so and will continue for hundreds of years. Because of one tool in particular. The one you're using right now to read these words.
The human brain is an incredible tool, limited only by our understanding of it and its physical size. We're using computers to overcome the latter and the former is now solidly in the crosshairs of scientific and philosophical thought.
Computers are tools which can extend the capability of the brain. In the same way an axe is an extension of an arm or a car is an extension of the feet. Tools can do nothing on their own.
Future fears about technology have been aptly addressed and eased by computer research and programmer Alan Kay: "Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower".
Over the last five years, I've enjoyed the ease of swimming with the tide and cursed when I had to swim against it. One of the most exciting aspects of writing the column was the parallel existence of another, independent, publishing medium - the web.
Matt Cooper gave the thumbs up to putting the columns on my site a day or so after they appeared in the paper. Other editors would have baulked at the notion of putting 'content' (a despicable description) online for free.
Besides the internet providing a tool for information and communication I couldn't do without, it posed a challenge to write across two very distinctive mediums.
I never viewed them as conflicting, just different. Newspapers have been in my blood since I was old enough to read and electronics was ever present in my life through my father. It seemed the most logical thing to me that the two could fit together.
Newspapers have a long and generally positive history. The tradition of newspaper reading has a long course to run yet. Many technologies live on longer than predicted - personal favourites being light bulbs and biros.
Newspapers, or print technologies, are similar. The demise of the Sunday Tribune newspaper has been predicted for decades but for entirely non-technological reasons.
It was a struggle to survive sometimes but even in the midst of that there was innovation and risk-taking, hallmarks of a great newspaper. This column was the beneficiary of that, for which I am most grateful.
I also want to thank those pioneers of the Irish internet community who were very generous with their time, knowledge and observations.
Finally, I want to thank you. For reading the lines, including between them on occasions. For the emails - encouraging or otherwise, but especially for the ones that made me laugh out loud. I hope that continues online, where I'll still be found racking my brain.
Slan go foill.