Do you remember when the internet first became popular? I mean the years between 1995 and 2000, when the number of people online skyrocketed from around 10 million to almost 400 million? For those who lived it, it was a magical time of discovery and wonder, right?
Not entirely. We have a saying in Finnish which translates into “time puts a coat of gold on our memories”. Back then we thought we had suddenly made a giant leap into the future. In hindsight, it seems more like a Flintstones version of what we take for granted today. These examples illustrate my point.
- Your internet hijacked the telephone line
Most of us in our thirties remember a time when using the internet meant nobody in your home could use the phone. Imagine if you using the internet on the only computer in the house would leave the rest of the family in a blackout from the outside world. Besides watching previous weeks’ VHS-taped episode of Dawson’s Creek, there was not a whole lot to do to pass the time back then. It’s a miracle the police weren’t called more often.
- Pictures took a month to load
I can’t help but wonder whether posting pictures of your morning croissant would be as popular if you had to sit in front of a low-refresh rate CRT monitor with about 7 colors and wait for 3 minutes for that picture to load. Probably not #breakfast #goodlife #ilovecarbs #justloadalready
- There was a new instant messaging program every week
Before high-contrast filters, animated gifs of dancing eggplants, 24h story feeds, tweeted foreign policy and your grandma sending you a chain letter on Facebook, we had to be content with direct messaging programs. The only problem was that platform usage was fragmented to say the least. Between 97 and 2000 I personally used the following: ICQ, AOL, Yahoo! messenger, IRC, MSN and various chatroom services just to talk to my friends.
- Everyone had a website but nobody knew how to make one
After being introduced to the wonders of the web and learning how to navigate it, a 90s person would naturally think “hey, there’s nothing about me here. I’m going to make my own website!” History has widely regarded this as a bad move. Services like Geocities were ahead of their time in offering anyone the chance to condense their personality into a 10k image, a few bullet points and a low-res animated gif, all tied together with about 7 html tags. Just do an internet search on “90s websites” if you don’t believe me.
Note: Geocities was also ahead of its time in other, more questionable ways. They were sued in the U.S by the Federal Trade Commission for selling identifiable user data (including that of children) to advertisers. Pioneers indeed.
- Viruses moved from floppy disks to the internet
The late nineties must have been a field day for malware makers, as infecting computers became much easier thanks to the internet. The biggest culprit by far was Windows 95 and the incredibly shoddy security of the email program outlook. Macro viruses like Concept and Laroux were Word documents and Excel sheets that forwarded themselves to your Outlook address book when opened.
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