The Internet 20 Years Ago

It is hard to believe, but I was around for the start of the Internet. I actually took computer science class in college in 1983! By the time the internet was part of the mainstream I was in my 30s. The artifact I chose was the dial up tone. It is what I remember most about the internet at the beginning. There was an exciting anticipation that came with it. Anticipation of the connection as well as anticipation of all that the internet would bring to you. My husband says that he first heard this same sound burst in Desert Storm as part of the Marine Corps’ new computerized fire support system that was used to target artillery. I first heard it in 1996 when we first had dial up internet in our home. Ironically we thought $24.99 to join AOL was exorbitant and we signed up for a local dial up in a tiny town in Oklahoma. I would mail a check for $9.99 to some guy in town who somehow supplied us dial up and an email address. We went on to larger dial up companies and later hotmail, yahoo and then gmail addresses. I don’t really remember when we switched to a cable modem. It was not too many years later. Everything moved quickly. In the beginning of the internet we would type in addresses of websites and we would wait for the page to load what now seems like a flyer with information typed on a boldly colored background with a few pictures added. It seemed like a miracle. We were all soon “Web Surfing” and emailing each other stupid jokes. But by 2000 most of our computer content was still accessed by software on discs. More like a static encyclopedia pages. But then by 2003 we were buying much of our merchandise online. Ironically the first big players in the market were Sears and JC Penneys which have now mostly been made obsolete by internet giants.

In Small Pieces Loosely Joined David Weinberger warns us of the many pitfalls of the Internet. He outlines problems with the lack of oversight and management. He describes it in ways that sound like the wild west. There are pitfalls. There are certainly things to fear about the worst parts of it. And I think some of those parts are continuing to be dealt with by governments and businesses who are at risk. We tend to look for the apocalyptic event that will take our civilization back to the stone ages. But what if we are optimistic and fix things as we go. And focus on the amazing changes in civilization in the last 40 years. I raised my kids around many mothers who were militant about doling out screen time. One time I was on a FaceBook group suggesting that opening up opportunities for youngsters to be interested in gaming and computer science could open up a world of possible careers. The response was “Just because a kid likes cookies doesn’t mean that they will be a baker”. That might be true, but I would say that all bakers like cookies. And all my kids now work with computers. In Chapter 2 Weinberger discusses spatiality and describes the feeling of traveling on the Web. While substitute teaching at a school with mostly economically disadvantaged kids I showed the students how to use Google Earth. We went to the Harry Potter Street at Universal Studios. We looked at castles in Europe. We searched around the Amazon to see the wide areas that are uninhabited. The next day a young girl thanked me and told me she spent the evening looking at all the places she had been wanting to go. I think we do travel on the Web and everyone can go on the trips.

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