What do you do now when you want to go on the internet? Click the browser on your phone? Open your laptop and click on any number of icons to launch your search? Click on your mail program (probably without even entering a password) to see your most recent unread messages appear in seconds?
And what did you have to do to get on the internet 20 years ago? Hmmm? How quickly we forget how complicated life used to be. There actually was a time when we didn’t rely on the internet to live our lives. It was a nice perk, a great way to waste time, and a source of (limited) entertainment. But it was simply too clunky to really play a significant part in our day-to-day lives.
Here are some very important — or at least fun — things about the internet that you might have put out of your head, the way you put that dot matrix printer in the dumpster years ago.
7. “You’ve got mail!”
For those of us who got the AOL CD and uploaded the software (and then paid the monthly fee for it), there were few things better than hearing those three beautiful words: “You’ve got mail!” Conversely, it was incredibly depressing to go through the whole log-in process only to find that there was no new mail waiting to be read. There were times when that the little man in the sign-on screen seemed to run and run forever, without reaching the “connected” window. It was torture, because all you really wanted was to get to that beloved mailbox to see all of those emails in bold (most of them spam) and to hear the upbeat voice of the email man announce your good fortune.
Before MySpace, before Facebook, before Twitter there was Friendster. How embarrassing, when you think about it, that everyone whose profile you clicked on could see that you were stalking them. That didn’t seem to stop us from checking out the pages of friends, and friends of friends, whose carefully curated profiles featured only a couple of pictures and some witty quotes. This was long before the days of a “news feed” or any type of interaction beyond a private message. Bonus points if Friendster led to a romantic connection with someone you might have otherwise never met.
5. Chat rooms
It seems incredibly creepy nowadays, but there actually was a time when chat rooms were totally the norm. Have an hour and want to discuss food or dogs or politics or your favorite color? Find the chat room that’s right for you, create some fun handle, and go to town. No one ever knew if the people in the chat room were the age or sex that they claimed — or if they were serial killers searching for their next victim. It was just good old risky internet fun!
No one seemed to care that downloading music from Napster was stealing. It wasn’t regulated (this was long before iTunes) and it presented the easiest way to get individual songs quickly. Sure, you weren’t always guaranteed to get the full song or a high-quality version of it, but just a few hours after clicking on the song you wanted it ended up on your computer. (Yes, it sometimes took hours to download music, thanks to slow dial-up internet.)
3. The “Hamster Dance”
What is more memorable about this website: the ridiculous lines of hamsters bouncing up and down or the music to which they danced? And what is more ridiculous than the fact that you are intimately familiar with the site because you watched it over and over again in 1998?
There was a time when we all signed into AOL just so we could chat with some friends. But then AOL got smart and created a messaging application that would sit independently on your desktop, whether you were an AOL member or not. And it was free! AIM was an incredible invention for people of all ages — and it revolutionized college for those in my generation. It might have also been the beginning of text speak. Suddenly everyone was shortening and abbreviating phrases like never before: idk, <3, brb, c u, etc.
1. Dial-up internet
At the time, just the fact that we were accessing the “World Wide Web” was such an exciting prospect that we didn’t even care that it took 15 minutes just to sign on. If you think long and hard, chances are that you can still remember the different screeching and beeping noises, and the order in which they chimed as you connected to the internet. What a brilliant day it was when we got high-speed internet and our pictures didn’t take a full minute to load on the screen.