The Early Internet

An example of a Terminal Machine

I think the first time I logged onto the world wide web I was 10. It was a library in a small town that was able to get set up with computers and the internet. Whoever set it up really knew what they were doing too. They had about 8 computers, and it was an IBM-compatible pre-windows era system. There was a basic set of instructions that showed me how to gain access to the internet, but I was on my own for the most part. The computers were basically a terminal that accessed the library’s main system. Everything was text based; even the internet. I used a lot of trial and error, but I eventually figured out how to traverse the system. My biggest obstacle was time and hoping that other people were not waiting to use the computers. I would spend every hour I could there.

Linx; an example of the text based internet.

I don’t know if you can conceive of an all text internet, but I will do my best to describe it just in case. First, you had to know a site to go to;Google wasn’t around. Even the first browsers like Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer didn’t have a default site; you had to know of an address to goto. Luckily, at the age of 11, I managed to get my hands on a PC Magazine. My first few attempts at surfing the web were just viewing boring sites until I would find links to other sites. The biggest problem was that not only was this time consuming, but internet speeds were also super slow. A small,low-resolution image would take minutes to load, and some sites would offer two versions; one text-based, and the other with images.

To understand why I was so motivated to use computers and the internet as a child I will never really know. I was very restricted in what I was able to do as a child, and computers were more to me than a window into the outside world.It was the thing that allowed me to see something other than what I had known at home. It showed me that there are all kinds of people; both good and bad. It provided answers to my many questions, resources to help me learn, friends,enemies, and so much more. As time passes, I am fascinated by how technology has evolved. A lot of the activities I use to enjoy only exist as an echo of what I use to know.

What I thought was really cool were services like Firefly and Talk City. Firefly was a real-time chat room where you could see each other typing in. You could watch as someone started to type something and hastily backspaced to correct themselves. Talk City was a heavily used chat site thatused IRC. This was neat because it connected both casual and advanced users.You could use the Talk City website to chat or download a chat program like pIRCh; which allowed you to change colors of your text and give it more personality.

An Early FPS Multiplayer Game

The internet back then was largely word of mouth. Some people would help,some people would criticize, and some people would play mean jokes. One time when playing an online game, I asked a question over the game chat. A person came back with a response “Press Alt+K” which made my game character commit suicide; not what I wanted. I had learned how to use caution over the internet.Most people were good, but you had to build trust first. Someone telling you to do stuff without your understanding was a huge red flag. One thing I learned to place my trust into were search engines.

I used two main search engines; Yahoo and Lycos. I really liked Lycos for some reason. Maybe it was just because their logo was a dog; you must consider I was around the age of 13.  It is still around, and even references old parts of the internet. Yahoo ultimately won out with me though; they had all kinds of services from playing games, questions; which was a lot like Quora, news, email, and a lot more. Yahoo eventually was bought out; and I suspect Lycos was too. 

One cool thing I discovered back then was that you could download Nintendo games and run them. MIDI and then later MOD music werepre-MP3. It sounds like garbage in today’s world, but back then it was the cat’s meow. You couldn’t get real audio as you can today. Internet connection speeds were insanely slow compared to the standard speeds today. The only place that I have seen this technology still today is in amateur radio. To put it another way, it was not uncommon for me to leave my computer on overnight when downloading something. 

MIDI was basically sheet music for a computer. Eventually, the crude instrument sounds would be upgraded to nice sounding synthesized instruments that is our musical keyboards today. MOD music basically formed into its own genre and is used primarily as a way to arrange a lot of music today. Back then it was a way to hear better quality music over the internet. This worked by taking sound samples and using them reconstruct some popular songs, along with new songs. Instead of recording the audio of the whole song, they would record one small part of the song and repeat the part as necessary. Both allowed for a small footprint that made it possible to download and spread across the internet. All the sudden people that were isolated could hear songs by Metallica,which might have been like an urban myth to some people.

This ultimately led the drive for MP3 music, which was the ability to transfer actual recorded songs and audio. Until then your only hope was downloading a .wav file which was pretty much raw audio. Download speed wasn’t the only problem; internet companies would limit your downloads, connection errors were very common, most hosting options didn’t allow for a lot of transfer and storage either.  The MP3 pretty much punched a hole through all this and was exceptionally revolutionary. It was having your cake and eating it too; excellent quality and a tiny footprint.

Top Gun Motion Picture Soundtrack. One of the most popular cassettes in the Mid-West

The technology that exists today was just a fantasy when I was a child. We thought color TV was the height of entertainment, cassette tapes were how I listened to my favorite songs, and the internet was all text. The internet was like a members only club where your application approval came from having the means and skill to access it. Now, our children are handed a handheld device that shows them pretty much anything they want to see and hear. The bar for membership removed, and access for all. As with most things, however, there are both positive and negative attributes to the Internet’s evolution.

The internet I grew up with was and still is an explosion of ideas; somebad, most good. The thing that I would like people today to realize is why the history of the internet is very important; today more than ever. If the primary goal of the internet was to make money it would have never succeeded. It was the efforts of people that donate their time, energy and money to make it happen. They were not concerned with fame or wealth, but with the spreading of information, ideas, and ensuring the freedom to do so. This spirit has taken a different form and has grown into a beautiful system that doesn’t just allow for creativity, it is also developed many sold communities for supporting creativity too.

Leave a Reply