krpalmer: Imagination sold and serviced here: Infocom (infocom)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Seeing it's been a specific number of years since a specific day in history and putting a few thoughts together about it has been one way for me to make up some content for this journal. This summer, though, when I wound up thinking it's now been twenty years since I "got on the Internet" I realised I don't have the exact day that happened recorded. The memories came back anyway. While it might have happened a decade after the period of "home computer history" I've dwelt on of late (when modems retrieved mere text little faster than someone could read it and you either dialled into a local BBS or a pricier and larger, yet still circumscribed, commercial service), it is something I hadn't missed big parts of at the time.

It wasn't through a personal lack of knowledge that it hadn't been earlier, anyway. A while before, I'd come across a text file named "Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet" and found the thought of a massive, decentralized network of discussion on every possible topic and more files to boot kind of interesting. By the second half of 1994, computer magazines were starting to run articles on Mosaic and the World-Wide Web beginning to combine pictures right in with the text as the whole thing became more than command-line work in terminal programs. However, just as with the commercial services, we lived a long-distance call away from any city Internet service providers were starting to set up in. On a few visits to one of them my father was toting his somewhat aged Macintosh SE/30 work computer to, though, I was able to dial into a "Freenet" and save some Usenet discussions on The Simpsons (which gave the impression the newsgroup was already condemning each new episode as fallen from a lost golden age) and Star Wars (which seems the first time I was certain there were new movies coming). I was also given a book that Christmas about how to use Mosaic; now, I just needed the chance to do that.

In the new year my family got a copy of Adam Engst's "Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, Second Edition"; I pored through it familiarizing myself with the system extensions and programs I still just needed the chance to run. Then, in the summer, news popped up of some Internet service providers setting up in the area. I managed to get in touch with some of them to offer my services at showing Macintosh computers could connect to their systems too. The first time I tried that, with an independent service that had beat to market the local phone company's plans, I transported in the Color Classic my father had bought used to be able to keep his SE/30 at work (although it wouldn't be much longer before they took it back and assigned him a Compaq like everyone else) and dialed in right from their housefront office. Instead of Mosaic, the Internet Starter Kit's software diskette had included a browser named MacWeb; the book-related page it was set to linked to Yahoo, then just a curated directory. Following up on the previous fall, one of the first sites I looked for was "The Simpsons Archive," only to find it had been ordered to remove all its pictures except for some computer icons (which it was then ordered to remove a while after that; they do seem to have turned up on another archive years later, though). Then, I got to wondering if anyone else still remembered Robotech and turned up a page with a "Robotech FAQ" pointing to a mailing list. It took a while yet for the ISPs to get their email services running, however, even if when I did subscribe to it I dropped into an argument over how the secondary sources (basically all I had myself) were being condemned for including too many "magical solutions" in the eyes of some long-time fans ready to offer a harder science fiction perspective. It's possible, though, that after reshaping my opinions to coincide with theirs (which might have distracted me from anime fandom at large until it seemed a bit less overwhelming, anyway), I wound up better able to hold other opinions of my own.

If "serious arguments over things that don't really matter" haven't changed since them even if the services they're on have, I am conscious of just how much data we can sling around these days as text files and then pictures were followed by music files and then videos. Thinking of all the specialized sites and services I haven't bestirred myself to sign up for, though, does add one uncertain note to thoughts of "the days of early adoption."
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