There was a computer class that I took in high school that was absolutely terrible. The school year was 1993-1994, and I was a sophomore. We learned how to use a simple word processing program (that was already outdated), and that was basically it for the entire semester. The students (myself included) in that class were the same students that would soon be chatting online. The Internet had already been born, but it hadn’t hit puberty yet. This was a time just before websites were being advertised on television and magazines. None of these students even had an email address yet, but they all would very soon.
So anyway, what did we learn in that class? Nothing. No one learned to type, or to use other programs, or how to even operate a computer (except, maybe, that word processor). The pace of the class was painfully slow, and we realized it was a waste of time. We had all seen the cool video games and other entertainment a computer could provide. We were primed and ready for the Internet; we just didn’t know it existed yet.
When I was only 17(?) my dad got an America Online account. At that time it was a long distance phone call to connect to Lubbock, and that was the only way to get online. When you did get online, the chat rooms would be full of a diverse group of people. The Internet was just a novelty, and few people had the time (and money) to deal with it. You could “sit” in a chat room and talk to someone from Minnesota, New York, Texas, Montana, California, and Florida. When I first made that discovery, it blew me away. I often asked the room where everyone was from just so I could be amazed. It was a silly luxury at the time, and using it was expensive.
For the first time in my life, I was able to keep in constant touch with many of my family members. Not all of them, though, because it was still somewhat of a novelty. When people I knew signed on, it was expected to send them an IM. With only about a dozen people on your buddy list (half of who will never sign on), anyone getting online was an event. Many people rang up ridiculously large bills due to the per-hour rate. If you signed people up to AOL you could earn extra minutes online. One time I was vacationing with my cousin Steve when an irresistible offer came to me. My uncle somehow had a ton of extra minutes available and said that I could use some while I was down. I jumped on the chance and spent my first night up all night on the Internet.
One day I heard a rumor that AOL was going to change from an hourly rate to unlimited rate. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was very excited to see that soon I would be able to sign on and not worry about going over my minutes. What fun that would be! Well, once AOL switched, everyone and their mother was trying to get online and stay online. This is when the Internet busy signal became so famous. They gave everyone the chance to use AOL but didn’t prepare for the flood. “Hacker” programs became available to knock people offline so that other people could get on. If you were caught idle on AOL, some “hacker” would knock you off.
I remember when AOL announced it had 1 million members. It wasn’t long after they switched to unlimited time that AOL reached 2 million. Then about twice a year they would announce they had another million members or so. Before long they had over 10 million members (more than any other service), and before long there were even more than 1 million America Online members that weren’t even from America! I find it odd that there are so many people on America Online that aren’t even from America.
I can remember the first time I saw a web page address on the television. I was so excited to see that my newest hobby was catching on. And on some random entertainment show I heard them mention Search.com. It was, to me, an epiphany. That was the first time that common sense names started appearing. If you wanted to search, you went to search.com. Finally the names were making sense.
The Internet grew slowly-but-steadily for the next few years. AOL finally fixed its busy signal problem and literally hundreds of alternative ISPs popped up all across the nation. This was the time when the Dot.com generation made its billions. The explosive growth of the Internet generated more billionaires than ever. Computers were slowly becoming less and less of a novelty item and more of an entertainment device. When it was at this point, I felt that only the younger generations would ever find any use for the developing technology. The complexities and novel nature of the pre-millennium computer was more trouble than it seemed worth. With the advent of the Internet, however, millions (perhaps billions) of people began noticing the benefits of being connected.
It was about 1997 or 1998 that I learned about HTML and how to build a web page. I taught myself how to “program” HTML by looking at the code of various pages. I learned how to copy and paste and edit my way to a web page. By the turn of the millennium (and I mean 2001), computers and the Internet are everywhere and still growing. One in four houses in the US now have Internet access and, of course, the number is expected to grow. Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors that can be etched on a single chip doubles every 18 months. As of now that law no longer holds true. The scientists working in this field have far surpassed that progression and a newly developed technology is going to change what we think of as fast. Of course, this statement can be repeated over and over at certain times in computing history. Every time I think back to my last computer, I really feel silly thinking that I was crazy enough to spend money on such a slow, worthless machine. I think I’m going to get a computer soon, and I’m sure it will impress me plenty when I first get it. But I’m sure (absolutely positive) that in three years time it will seem like a dinosaur.