I’ve been trying to remember the very first time I went online to the Internet.
I started thinking about this when I read about the recent passing of Olive Riley, a 108 year old woman who regularly wrote on her Blogger account and was known as the World’s Oldest Blogger.
Olive passed away this week on the NSW Central Coast, just a few months before her 109th birthday, God bless her. In the newspaper article about her passing, her Grandson notes how she was regularly communicating with people from as far away as America and Russia.
I suppose I take for granted just how easily we can communicate with people from far away places. A quick glance at the Live Feed widget on this very blog shows me that in the last few hours I’ve had hits from India, America, Norway, Canada, the UK and of course all over Australia. A quick peruse through my open Skype contact list shows a similar global diversity, with people listed there from virtually every continent except Antarctica. It’s all too easy to take this for granted these days but the fact that we can connect like this, sending our little binary bits flying around the planet in mere milliseconds, is still a pretty amazing thing when you stop and think about it.
So, when was the first time you ever saw the Internet?
For me it must have been early 1995. I remember it well because I had a student whose father worked for the company that was contracted to do the 3.5″ floppy disk duplication for the original Microsoft Windows 95 release. (Yes, remember when operating systems could be installed using floppy disks?) This student was a very smart, very geeky kid (he taught me to code in HTML) and he came to school one day and said “dad wants to know if you’d like to see the Internet”… (apparently I had been trying to teach something about this new thing called the Internet and he thought it was clear I had no idea what I was talking about, so wanted to set me straight). I said yes of course.
So I went in and visited his dad at his work, had a look at the disk duplication facilities for Windows 95, and then he took me to his cubicle and typed a few weird UNIX commands into a terminal. A few seconds later, some more text appeared on the screen in response. Apparently it had come from Singapore, where an FTP server had responded to his request and was allowing him to browse through some files. Although it was all UNIX command-line stuff (real men use Shell script!) I was fascinated by the idea that a computer in Sydney was communicating with a computer in Singapore, right there before my very eyes!
Not long after that, I wanted to give it a go myself so I managed to hook a modem up to an LC575 Mac, work my way through the setup of the required TCP/IP stacks, and somehow got it connected. I was so excited to be able to browse the Internet (not the WWW, mind you!) using a text-based browser called Lynx. I somehow found my way into the University of Minnesota library and browsed the catalog. I thought it was so exciting and I was just fascinated that I could send these little packets of data all the way across the Pacific and back.
But that was not my first foray into going online. It was maybe a year prior to that that I’d discovered eWorld. Ah, eWorld! If you never saw it, eWorld was Apple’s first attempt at creating an online community. It had – as you’d expect from Apple – a pretty, graphical interface that used the metaphor of a town, called eWorld, to let you wander from place to place. You could send emails by clicking on the Mail Centre, read the news by going to the News Stand, visit the Leisure Pavilion to find out about health and lifestyle news and so on. eWorld was very cool (and very expensive… it cost me $US10/hour to use, paid out of my own pocket, and I used it with kids in my classroom) but it was essentially a closed community. This was not the Internet, but rather a private protected community for Apple users.
However, in 1995, Apple updated eWorld to include a few new buildings and a picture of a highway going by the town. This highway was labelled “Internet”, and you could click on it to take the fast lane out of the safe haven of eWorld and out into the big bad unknown world of the Web. It was the wild west, highly unregulated, hard to find stuff, very random, but very interesting and a lot of fun to explore. It had plenty of weird places to visit… I remember the first real website I ever saw was the Virtual Cemetery, a list of obituaries for people who has died. I can’t find it anymore of course, although there seems to be plenty of others to take its place.
It’s hard to believe that this was only 13 years ago. Just 13 short years ago, there was no real Internet to speak of, at least nothing that you’d recognise as the Internet of today. No online banking. No eCommerce. No online dating. No Amazon, no Google, no eBay. No Web 2.0 and not even Web 1.0. We’ve come an awful long way in a very short space of time. Next time one of your high school students makes a joke about your age, remind them that the World Wide Web was not invented when they were born. Puts it in perspective doesn’t it?
And as for Olive, I hope she rests in peace in some Virtual Cemetery somewhere. At 108 she still had a sense of curiosity and wonder at being able to communicate so easily with others around the world.
She sounds like one pretty cool old lady.
Age Shall Not Weary Them by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.