Wednesday, 16 November 2016

What Did We Do Before The Internet?

What Did We Do Before The Internet?

We received some horrific news this week... there is a fault on the phone line so we have no internet until Thursday night at the earliest. It's been a nightmare - we had to decamp to my mum's today, or otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get anything done.

I'm in the last generation of people in the UK who will remember life before the internet. We first went online in 1998, when I was ten years old. My parents made the decision because I was about to start secondary school, and they thought I would benefit from all this new fangled technology. What I remember most about it was how slow, clunky, and unreliable it was.

The main provider in the UK at the time was AOL, who used the slogan 'you know where you are with AOL,' which had to be followed up immediately with, 'yeah, not on the bloody internet!'

You'd sit there, listening to the screech of the dial-up tone, and hope nobody wanted to use the phone for the next couple of hours. The web itself was ugly. Like, seriously ugly. Nobody thought about digital inclusion in those days; if you wanted a website with lime green text on an orange background, you just went ahead and did it. Even the big official websites left a lot to be desired:

AOL in 1997
For more example of vintage web design, check out the 404 Page Found archive.

There was no YouTube, no Wikipedia. Even Google was in its infancy. Instead the web was littered with personal home pages and badly designed fansites. Still, I found plenty to sink my time into. I think I would probably have always been a rather eccentic type, but the internet made it all so much easier.

I discovered my sense of style online, and my love of writing thanks to the many hours I spent immersed in fandom. I also used the internet to find scores of penpals: one of my chief hobbies was swapping coins, stamps, postcards and random phrases with other teenage girls around the world - we didn't worry so much about giving out our postal addresses over the net back then. The emergence of Gaia Online and MySpace encouraged me to learn BBCode and HTML, and the access to German language publications like Bravo meant it quickly became my best school subject.

This came up in a Google search for old MySpace profiles - I wish I had thought to screenshot mine!

These days the internet is an integral part of my life. I need it for work - for the blog, and for my day job - and I need it for entertainment; we rely on livestream for radio and have an Amazon Firestick for TV access. I keep in touch with my friends, and I get to know people who I'd never have met otherwise. I read and write, learn and consume, and if I need to know something, I just whip out my smartphone and Google it.

Being offline for a bit has its advantages, don't get me wrong. It's like a detox. You have more time, suddenly, without a million and one distractions at your fingertips, and you get a chance to remember the simpler times. Times when you didn't feel the need to Tweet about or Instagram everything.

But, mostly, being offline isn't enjoyable. It feels like something important is missing. High Hopes' Fagin was talking about TV when he explained to Dwayne and Charlie what they used to do for entertainment of an evening, but it still sums up my feelings this week:

"Nothing. We was as bored as hell. Endless nights just sitting around waiting to go to bed."

Ah, roll on Friday!

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