I read an article a few days ago that claimed the internet is now forty years old. Which means it was invented in what, 1969? That doesn’t feel quite right to me, but whatever.
In the early days, of course, it was just two or three university (military?) computers hooked together, passing information back and forth. That’s what they’re now considering the internet. No doubt the receiving and sending machines were the size of a backyard tool shed, or maybe larger.
Obviously, I didn’t read the article too closely… But I did pick up one interesting bit of trivia. Do you know what was the very first bit of information passed between those two enormous computers in 1969? I didn’t either, but here it is. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own personal history with the internet. …Internet nostalgia, if you can believe it.
We bought our first computer in Atlanta, in late 1995 or early 1996. It was a Hewlett Packard with a tower like a trash compactor. It had a 1.2 gigabyte hard drive, which made me feel cocky and proud. Few of my co-workers had so much storage in their machines. The gigabyte threshold had just recently been broken.
The thing cost us something like $2500, and it was a monster. I might be mistaken about this, but I seem to remember the lights dimming whenever I hit the power button. As if someone were carrying out an electric chair execution in the guest bedroom.
Our first internet service provider was Mindspring, a small Atlanta company. It was dial-up, of course, and it was slooooow. If I mistakenly went to a page with (gasp!) a picture on it, I could just go downstairs and make myself a sandwich. It was ridiculous. But also magical and exciting.
I remember in the early days I didn’t know you could type addresses directly into the box at the top of the screen. I wasn’t aware it could be altered, I thought it was just a current status or something. So, I’d turn on our computer, sign onto the internet (brrrrzzzz, waaaaaa, bong bong bong), and the Mindspring welcome page would appear.
They always had three or four search engine boxes imbedded there, and that’s how I moved around the internet. I was partial to Lycos, but also used AltaVista, and later HotBot. If I wanted to go to a site, I’d type the name of it into a search engine, and go there using the results.
For the first year or so, I never typed a URL directly into the navigation box. ‘Cause I didn’t know it was possible.
I started hanging out at a Usenet newsgroup for zine publishers, called alt.zines. And that was fun. I also checked a news site every day called Nando. It was updated, like, two or possibly three times per day. It was amazing!
When we moved to California in late 1996 we couldn’t use Mindspring anymore, because they didn’t have any local telephone numbers (heh), so we switched to Earthlink. And I loved that company for a long time.
Someone at work told me the founder was a Scientologist, but what did I care? Their service was hip and fun and cutting edge. They had a great customizable start page, and a little animated mail truck that would appear whenever an email arrived.
Shit, they could’ve been founded by John Wayne Gacy, as long as they kept sending that cool little mail truck!
We lived in an apartment for six months in California. It had three huge bedrooms (you could’ve played Wiffle ball in the master), but the living room and kitchen were tiny. Logical, huh? Our 200 lb. water-driven computer was in the front bedroom, but there wasn’t a phone jack in there. So, I went to Home Depot and bought a hilarious, long-ass phone cord.
I ran the thing across the bedroom floor, out the door, down the hallway, and into the master bedroom. Toney complained about this, so I started rolling it up when it wasn’t in use. So there was often a lasso of tan phone cord in the floor beside the computer. I thought about installing a garden hose holder, but never got around to it.
One day I went to Best Buy in Valencia and spent something like fifty dollars for Real Audio, a new software package which would allow you to stream radio broadcasts from cities around the planet, straight to your machine. I thought this was the absolute ultimate.
When I first got it, I actually set the alarm one morning so I could listen to a morning show we used to like in Atlanta. Because of the time difference, I had to get up at 4:30, or something. And I could only hear little snatches of the program, because it was constantly “buffering.” But I didn’t care, it felt like magic to me.
I eventually got rid of that first computer, and made the mistake of signing a two-year contract with Compuserve, in exchange for a $300 discount on a new machine. This meant I had to say goodbye to my beloved Earthlink, and it was mighty painful.
Since then, I’ve bought two additional computers, and the one I have now is completely kick-ass. It’s got a ton of RAM, a quad-core processor, etc. It cost about one-third of what we paid for that first machine in Atlanta. And we gave up the bong bong bong! dial-up crap the moment our two-year Compuserve contract ended.
And I’m still blown away by the internet. Our kids are growing up with it, and take it for granted. But I remember rotary dial phones, and four TV channels, for godsakes. It sometimes feels like I’ve lived on two different planets, things have changed so much. And I get a charge out of it, I really do.
So, in honor of the internet turning forty (or whatever), please use the comments section to wallow in recent nostalgia, like I’ve done above. How long have you been online? What can you remember about your first computer? What sites did you visit in the early days? You know, stuff along those lines.
Tell us all about it. And I’ll get back to writing about snack food, Target, and diarrhea tomorrow.
See ya then.
Have a great day, my friends.