The Birth of the Present

1995: The Year the Future Began by W. Joseph Campbell

1995: The Year the Future Began by W. Joseph Campbell

University of California Press, 2015


W. Joseph Campbell, a professor of communications and a former journalist, makes the case that 1995 was a watershed year, citing what he argues were five crucial developments that helped set the United States on its course to the present. First, the Web went mainstream: Netscape Navigator, Amazon, Wiki technology, the JavaScript programming language,, and an early version of eBay all debuted. Second, the Oklahoma City bombing ushered in the security state. Third, the O.J. Simpson trial brought forensic evidence and DNA testing to the public's attention. Fourth, U.S. bombing led to a negotiated end to the war in Bosnia, reinvigorating interventionist sentiment—and setting the stage for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And, fifth, Bill Clinton first gave Monica Lewinsky the googly eyes in 1995.

1995: The Year the Future Began, by W. Joseph Campbell


Young political reporters and congressional staffers who want to understand the political '90s.


The 1995 government shutdown "produced extraordinary circumstances that gave rise to intimate sexual encounters that eventually tarred Clinton with the ignominy of impeachment."


The first two chapters—on the rise of the Internet and the Oklahoma City bombing—present fairly strong arguments for 1995 as a landmark year. But the lines between the events of that time and the world today grow curvy from there. Campbell fails to nail down the O.J. Simpson trial's exact impact on the current justice system and downplays the case's influence on the national racial dynamic, writing that "the lasting effects of the Simpson trial on race relations in the United States proved to be far less dramatic and more nuanced than they seemed in October 1995." And as for the Bosnian peace settlement, it's hard to argue that it was much of a factor in precipitating the Iraq War as compared with, say, 9/11.


Lawmakers who seek to regulate rapidly evolving technology might note the tale of Democratic Sen. J. James Exon. in 1995, he introduced the Communications Decency Act, which sought to ban the transmission of pornography or "patently offensive" material to minors over the Internet. The intent, as Exon put it, was to "keep the information superhighway from resembling a red light district." No matter that "Exon's office on Capitol Hill had neither email address nor Internet connection," Campbell writes. "Exon and his allies thought of the Internet as a cesspool oozing smut," rather than "a place of vast and untapped potential, where riches were waiting to be made." The Supreme Court gutted the law in 1997.


The events of 1995 fueled features of the current social, cultural, and political landscape, ranging from NSA spying to social-media-driven news.