The Internet

The internet was a beautiful place, a frontier of intelligence and knowledge where pioneering and curious souls braved dial-up connections and long haul serial pipes to post to usenet, to use telnet driven buletin boards and 'talk' to converse about subjects as broad in scope as they were deep in content. Where a unix shell account was the most valued commodity and SLIP connections were cutting edge. Even porn existed but it came in two varieties, ASCII art and literature (Yes, in those days you actually had to be able to read to whack off to Sarah Michelle Gellar... erm, no scrub that). This was the internet. A collection of Unix environments that spanned globe.

The skill set required to get 'online' vastly exceeded most of Joe Public's abilities. You were either in an educational facility or a military facility with direct terminal access or you were one of the few with a dial-up connection to a point of presence. You needed to understand networking, you needed an operating system with a TCP stack and you needed to understand connection strings, serial communication, generic hayes commands and of course you needed healthy dose of humour. Luckily this acted as a sort of natural idiot filter, unless you knew what you were doing chances were you simply didn't get connected. But like many things possessing a fully functional brain wasn't enough... You also needed an account, this wasn't something you could just buy this was something you were given. This was your presence in the virtual comunity. You had an email address, you were an entity in your own right.

What was it like? When you correctly assembled your SLIP connection script and entered the dial commands for the first time it was exciting... you were connecting to a virtual world before that meant something crappy. This wasn't virtual reality, this was reality. You were really going to be connecting to machines on the other side of the planet and talking to people you would probably never meet in person. The flashing of the terminal ready LED, the dial tone and the dulcet tones of the modem handshake. They were like a chorus, a signal to prepare yourself for the upcoming revolution and then just like that silence, and you were connected...

And what was out there? Everything... You could talk to people in other coutries, you could partake in massive debates, even share files. Suddenly information was free and on the whole unmoderated. People from all over the world could interact and co-operate with each other like never before. Before 'Open Source' and 'GPL' had reared its ugly head people were sharing code, fixing bugs and helping each other. There were textfiles of untold creative splendor on any topic you could imagine. People were transcribing the classics whilst others were writing the next generation of comtemporary classic. There were news threads on topics that would spark your imagination, educate or entertain. This was the internet and was it good.

Like all things over time the internet evolved. Talk was replaced by IRC and suddenly you could talk in real time to people who weren't homed on your server. You could talk to many people simultaneously and have concurrent conversations. The Graphic Interchange Format meant that images could be easily transfered between systems and even viewed if you had a graphics capable machine. Gopher and Archie were ways of offering and finding files without human intervention and by simple menus. Then something happened. A protocol called http started appearing... slowly at first, as you needed a special application to use it and it merged text and graphics with hyperlinks. A way of navigating though pages and sites and files the like of which never existed before. Suddenly information could be shared almost seamlessly.

Look out world here comes...


Every successful technology has a killer app... well in the internet's case this couldn't be a more apropriate. Web browsers became synonymous with 'The Internet' and over time everyone had a website of their own. People on the outside started seeing this 'web stuff' and hearing about the speed of e-mail and wanted to be a part of it. This lead to the birth of the comercial ISP... but everything was still ok, you still needed a brain and now you had to pay as well. This even improved the idiot filters for a while but like all things that money touches it changed, quickly and for the worst. Suddenly there were pricing wars, free ISPs, even free connections that were ad sponsored. It was the begining of the end. Now anyone could walk into a high street shop, drop 400 quid on a PC and get a free dial up account. Newer operating systems took all the skill set out of setting up a connection. Now all you had to do was double click... and just like that, as quickly as it had started it was over.

Welcome now to a world of broadband connections, peer to peer filesharing networks and spyware. A world where you can't attach an off the shelf Windows PC to the internet for more than 17.2 seconds before it becomes host to a range of zombies, data miners, viruses and popup ads. A world where you can download at speeds unheard of for local networks not so long ago, and you can share (read as leach) gig's of illicit movies, music and images 24 hours a day. This is not my world, I'm from a different generation. There are overlaps between my 'internet experience' and this new breed of 'interweb' but they are getting fewer and less important. The skills, knowledge and the myriad of varying intellectual beauty is being lost, replaced by a new broadcast and advertisment medium. Dinosaurs must die and the digital evolution favours the newer, simpler model and it's a shame. We don't need another TV...

See you in 75 million years.


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