I'm a little slow today. I just switched to Sanka. So...have a heart?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Remember When the Internet New?

Remember when we very first went on the "online?" I was thinking about this tonight, because my Bellsouth DSL connection slows down to 1990s era speeds every night (seriously) so it gives me a lot of time to think about things while I'm watching a streaming movie buffer...and buffer...and buffer... for minutes at a time... (GRUMBLE).

We were on the early side of home Internet users in my family... we got it in mid-1993 to communicate with my father when he was stationed in Seoul for a year. The time difference (ungodly early in one house, ungodly late in the other) and the quality of the long distance connection (there was always an annoying delay, and sometimes an echo), as well as the cost of calling Asia, meant that an significant component of our communication was via email -- as a result of that year, both of my parents are pretty fantastic emailers, when we email (Speaking by phone is easier now.) they're comfortable and conversational, and not at all clumsy, disjointed, and clueless like some other baby boomers are on email...

Anyhoo, remember when you would turn on your computer, which was a gigantic box, and a gigantic monitor that sat next to (not on top of) the box, and hear this:

(This is actually later in my family's internetting -- our first internet provider was "CompuServe," and its first interface was accessed through DOS -- so the internet was WHITE TEXT on a BLACK SCREEN, in DOS prompt... I think we paid for it by the hour? Or by the minute?)

That music is so... what is it? Mysterious? Ethereal? Oddly melancholy? (It was 1995 presumably composed in Seattle -- it was the height of the Gen-X-era...and I'm fairly certain that same song is now played in the Regal 18 Theater during the PSAs telling you to silence your cellphones.) It resonated something almost science-fictiony-futuristic - in that you were turning on your PERSONAL COMPUTER.

And then after Windows had booted up, you would insert a floppy disk (it was a hard disk - but "hard disk" was something mysterious in the computer that we would never see and never, ever touch) (also -- remember - "disk" was spelled with a "k," not a "c.") and install the updated internet program that might come once every six months or a year... and the disk would make springy, scrapy, "thp-thp-thp ERRRRRR beep beep!" sounds while the computer was reading it... (when they started sending out the updates on CD, it felt extravagant!) and then you would log into to the latest updated version of whatever your internet provider was back then, by dialing it up on the phone. On your computer.

Like this:


And sometimes you'd get a busy signal. And sometimes, like in the video, it wouldn't connect. And sometimes, you'd spend 20 minutes trying to get the damn computer to dial into some number... off in...God-Knows-Where... And sometimes your parents would be FURIOUS, FURIOUS with you because you had been on the Internet all afternoon long after school, and they COULDN'T GET THROUGH TO YOU AT HOME TO TELL YOU SOMETHING IMPORTANT! (And one day, your family just got another phone line to dedicate exclusively for the Internet).

And eventually, you'd get into whatever foreign computer. And you'd click through pages, using a mouse that had a ROLLER BALL in it (that sometimes you'd need to dust, by twisting the circle on the bottom and taking the ball out and picking the lint off the rollers inside the mouse) but the mouse wasn't clicking over smooth fancy graphics -- no, you were clicking on pixelated menus that also had alt+F-based commands as alternate keys for mouseless people, with nary a curve to be seen, and the menus were done in blues and yellows and reds, greys and black and white...


Now go back to .25 seconds on that video.  Can you remember the "Oh. My. Fucking. God." moment you had when you loaded a PICTURE on your computer screen for the first time?!  As it ticked in, pixellated line by pixellated line, for five minutes (the computer on that Newscast had some sort of futuristic Ethernet capabilities... at home, with a 14.4 kb modem, those pictures would have loaded slooooooowly) and finally
completed, and you were there, just slack-jawed that you had just made a PICTURE appear on your color monitor... (That's what they were called). It felt like you had just witnessed the fucking MOON LANDING all over again!

This was before the Internet was mostly used for porn, and was, instead, mostly used by people who had transcribed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or who were keeping tabs on how much soda was in the 7th floor common area in a dorm at MIT. 

We had "Internet" for about a year and a half without the "World Wide Web" as it used to be called... and I only saw my first picture on the Internet about four months into having it... and that picture... was the cover of Time Magazine. 

Getting into the "World Wide Web" with the first browser we had, "Mosaic," is a topic for another day but...
these are just somethings I should probably remind myself of every time I get annoyed that a movie on my projector that I'm getting from the internet is taking a long time to watch... it wasn't that long ago that we were satisfied to watch, RAPT, as a badly-scanned still image slowly appeared on a computer screen, awed by the fact that this picture CAME THROUGH THE TELEPHONE!

OMFG! (That word hadn't been invented yet.)