Graphical representation of the Internet, circa 1994. No traffic, barely any sites, and the promise of big things off in the distance.

While we were back in Australia on furlough, most of my free time was spent either talking on the phone to my girlfriend for hours, or talking to random strangers online for hours. It’s possible neither activity was actually helping my non-existent social life. This was before all this new fang-dangled stuff you kids have, like Facebook. And mice. My parents even got me what they described as my ‘own phone line’, which turned out to be just a long phone cable to could take the phone down the hallway to my bedroom. Though, the silver lining on yet more abysmal parenting was Dad was able to hook us to the internet for free through his work.  This was a good thing. Since we were just about the only family in Bathurst to have the net at the time, it allowed me suddenly become cool and popular and to coin terms at school like ‘surfing the net’, ‘website’ and ‘oh my goodness why is it taking so long’.  In those days… well, the internet kinda sucked. Even our second, supercharged, ultrafast modem with winged monkeys from the future was only 14.4K (you kids wouldn’t understand) and still tied up the telephone line every time you wanted to use it. Downloading an HD movie back then would have taken about 5 years, which was fine I guess, since you’d need about 5000 Floppy Disks to keep swapping in & out to store it on so at that rate it’d take you 5 years just to watch the thing. Here’s a picture of one for you young whipper-snappers who never lived through the floppy era. On second thought, that sounds like some kind of medical condition. Let’s go with ‘Age of the Floppy Disk.’ Nana would always ring up and complain the phone had been busy for ages and I’d have to make up some story about talking to customer service in India or some equally implausible lie.  In the end, I guess the speed thing wasn’t really such a big deal, due to all the pages being mostly gray and boring and having nothing but blue links on them. Who thought blue on grey would be easy to read? Probably give you some kind of epileptic seizure. Looking back, it’s good that real people took the internet away from the nerds and actually made something useful out of it besides being able to tell if a coke machine in Milwaukee needed servicing.

There weren’t even search engines back then, since the guys that made Google were probably in kindergarten, their tiny bodies struggling under the weight of those huge heads. So rather than wait, we relied on magazines to lead us to internet gold. Of course, the net has now killed off most magazines, but back then I read Internet Underground which was obviously for hard-core hackers only. I couldn’t hack my way out of a bubble bath. The first site I ever went to was TV theme songs, which just about broke my internet fascination then and there, since clicking on things didn’t actually DO anything, until I realised you had to wait about 20 minutes just to get 30 seconds of poorly recorded audio from some fat guy’s TV in his mum’s basement. So the internet in general had a lot of growing to do. The greatest site of all was the X-Files episode guide which meant I always knew what was coming up and pretended to have psychic abilities at school. For my fellow X-filers, it wasn’t a big stretch.

The internet situation in Bolivia was even worse. By situation I of course mean, none. There was no internet there at all, so when I returned I had all kinds of important knowledge and insights I couldn’t share with the locals. The first year we were back they had an internet stand at the International Fair held in the city, but unfortunately (or was it?! cue ominous music) none of the staff knew how to use it. Chris & I hunted all over the place for a floppy disk for $47 so we could download the holy grail of internet downloads: The Anarchist’s CookBook.* There were no recipes as such ladies, but a wealth of knowledge useful in a country bountiful in things you probably couldn’t buy back home for fear of being stuck in a jail cell with someone named francis. Francis didn’t like you and believed your face looked better jammed in the toilet. Once we had the Anarchist’s CookBook in our hot little hands we set about making all kinds of bombs and destroying things, but those are stories for a more peaceful time. (Perhaps in a few weeks).

I actually miss the internet from the good ol’ days. Everything seemed so much quieter. No videos, no animations, just nerds finding ways to talk to girls without actual human contact. And there was that certain underground vibe to it that you can’t really ever get back, unless you literally are underground, in some Internet Café in soviet russia, which of course no longer exists. So, no. I’m sure the Americans will somehow take credit. Any nothing online has really gotten any faster. Pages take the same time to load, just now, they’re actually useful. To people not wearing ties and shorts at the same time. If the videos, animations and advertisements don’t give you a seizure.

*Don’t try it at home, unless your home happens to be in the 3rd world. Who knows what the government is watching these days. Also, MK Tales doesn’t advocate any activity that results in your mum screaming “What did you do to your hand?! Give it here, we’ll sew it back on after dinner.”

2 thoughts on “Early Days of the Internet

  1. I remember when we first got the internet. Dad gave us a choice: Internet or Pay TV. We chose Internet!! Back when it still played the little techno song to sign us in! That was in Kelso which is kind of the same as Bolivia!

  2. Ah, but what about your earliest experience with the net…or was it just mine?…with a 0.3K modem?? Now THAT was fast!

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