Olden days internet
There have been a few items in the news recently about this month marking the 25th anniversary of Mosaic, the first web browser. I don’t have any memories of that exact browser (I think Netscape was the first one I used), but my dad was an early adopter of the World Wide Web (as we used to call it back in the day) in our home so I do have some memories of using the internet at a young age.
But first: pre-internet. When I was in 6th or 7th grade (1993 or 1994ish), my dad bought two CD-ROMs. One was Encarta and the other was something like Cinemania (not 100% sure on the name). Encarta was like an encyclopedia but enriched with multimedia (like embedded videos and sound clips) and linked to other entries with hyperlinks (I learned about hyperlinks in 1991, thanks to hypercard classes in fourth grade). I used Encarta to research my 7th grade science (?) fair project about the languages my ancestors spoke. Encarta had sound clips of the different languages and examples of orthology and I loved it so much. I can still recite from memory a few sentences (phonetically) in Polish and German that I learned from Encarta.
Cinemania was like imdb.com, but on CD-ROM. And like Encarta, it was enriched with hyperlinks and multimedia. I remember enjoying reading movie reviews (it included at least Siskel/Ebert and Pauline Kael reviews, and even as a kid I wondered why Pauline Kael never liked any movies) and watching the selected key scenes from certain movies. I also liked learning more about the soundtracks of movies, thanks to the sound clips.
Neither of these CD-ROMs were the internet, exactly, but they very clearly served an internet-like purpose.
Around this same time, in the early 90s, we got something called Prodigy. In my memory, it is kind of like the internet, but closed. I think there were a finite number of sites that could be visited, and they didn’t have addresses but rather were accessed through a directory. My favorites were NOVA (like space and science) and eventually, in 7th grade, an area for Spanish speakers/learners. I made friends with a grown man on a Spanish message board and we would write each other messages in Spanish all the time for language practice. Looking back, that has a super high creep potential, but honestly it was all completely normal and above-board at the time!
Probably in 9th grade, I got an AOL email address: speedracer5k (or maybe spdracer5k). On some platform previously (maybe Prodigy), I had chosen the screen name Zapato (Spanish for shoe), but email@example.com was my first email address. Later my dad got us Juno and I chose beamer81 for my screen name and kept that all the way until I got Gmail in 2004. Prodigy, AOL, and Juno had limited weekly or monthly hours for access.
I remember starting to see www addresses in ads in 1994, and the very first website I ever visited was for the movie Toy Story, with my friend Kristen in November 1995. Chat rooms used to be The Thing, and I visited a few (though I seem to remember it being frowned upon by my parents). I mostly went to rooms for Spanish language practice but even there the “a/s/l?” greeting was the norm.
I will always, always remember the sound of dial-up internet connecting. For me as a teenager, it was always the soundtrack of an exciting wait to see if I had any email. Back then, “checking your email” was an intentional task you had to sit down and do – it wasn’t like the constantly connected, incoming stream of messages we have at our fingertips now. And of course, being on the internet or checking your email tied up the phone line! Hard to believe now. The last time I used dial-up internet was at home in Damascus in 2004. When we left the US in 2004, high-speed, broadband internet was still not universal. When we came back to the US in 2005, it was just about everywhere. That said, I do remember using wireless (WiFi) on campus at BYU in 2000ish. I think my laptop had to be retrofitted with a wireless card – it was not at all a given that a laptop would even “have” wireless back in those days.
In 1999 I went to college and suddenly the internet took on a much larger role in my life. It’s interesting to me how I used it almost not at all in high school, not even for academic purposes, and then all the time once I was in college. And it’s only gotten more ubiquitous every year since then!