This Was A Thing: Dial-Up Internet

maxresdefaultThere was a time when getting on the internet wasn’t a guarantee.

It may seem impossible to conceive of in today’s climate, what with WiFi access basically everywhere and devices that can stream live content with insane picture quality available to the masses.

But not more than 20 years ago, not only did the internet, generally speaking, suck, but it was as unreliable as that uncle of yours that keeps telling you he knows some famous person.

Get him on the phone, Uncle Andrew. Go ahead, I want to literally speak with any member of the 1984 Knicks. 

You ever want to spook a younger person? Go and play this clip for them. No way on Earth they’ll ever believe this came from a computer and was the sound of success. Hell, my niece was stunned to hear a dial tone once. The dial-up connection noise would be like some shit out of The Ring. If Pennywise opened his mouth in the new IT movie and that sound came out, how terrifying would that be?

Furthermore, the idea that just because you wanted to get on the internet didn’t mean you were actually able to. That part, along with whatever the fuck that dial-up/fax machine remix sound was, will definitely be the most challenging to explain.

I know that in polite society we don’t really talk about how funny Louis C.K. was, but this clip of him describing people’s relationship to technology is pretty spot on:

So yeah, screw you young folks. Be happy for how insanely fast and incredible everything is now, how easily everything loads and how quickly it all streams—because it wasn’t always that way.

I remember playing video games (specifically, 989 Studio’s NFL GameDay 1999 with Terrell Davis on the cover) on the computer as a kid and hating the lag experience so much that I vowed to only play against the CPU so long as I lived.

I remember getting home, rushing to get on AIM to talk to my friends only to find out that my mom or dad or brother or sister (OR LITERALLY ANYONE THAT LIVED IN MY HOME) was using the phone and I couldn’t go on the internet. I’m only just now beginning to deal with the harsh memories of getting kicked off the internet just as I was about to start up a conversation with a girl (screen name: dme1285, I believe.)

I remember staring, empty-eyed, at the first of the three AOL boxes as my account desperately tried to connect to the internet with ultimately no success.

This was a real struggle.

This was a thing.

This Was A Thing: Floppy Disks

160308193141-gbs-floppy-disk-super-teaseHow many younger folks, let’s say below the age of 20 but possibly older, know what the save button on Microsoft Word is actually an image of?

If you hover over it, all it says is “Save.” There’s no link that appears leading you to the history of the seemingly pre-historic floppy disk. There’s no trail of tears from all the students who brought work to school on a floppy only to have something inevitably go wrong. There’s nothing. Just “Save.”

The notion that everything isn’t completely inter-connected is a foreign one to a younger demographic. The concept that, as recently as 20 years ago, absolutely nothing seemed to be inter-connected is downright Twilight Zone-type shit.

Every so often, I’ll substitute teach at the high school I attended and get an unexpected lesson on the state of education—essentially, how much of what they learn, interact with and submit for school is done seamlessly online.

When WebAssign first got introduced to us in high school—a platform where teachers could put up assignments, post grades, etc.—our collective heads almost exploded. Just a week ago it was a fucking coup to find out what your teacher’s first name was… now we were doing homework through the goddamn internet? Good lord in heaven.

What we were used to, what that under-20 crowd is completely unaware of outside of apocryphal tales from dusty-looking parents, was the notion of having to save things to a magnetic storage drive that was covered in plastic TO SHIELD IT FROM DUST. Yes, literally dust.

Further adding to the wait, what? factor… there was a limited amount of space on each of them. And by limited, I really, really mean that. You could fit, what, 4 pages of a research paper on each? So, as a user of the floppy disk, you had to carefully manage storage and not blindly take it for granted like some millennial with unlimited cloud space.

You’d bring it in to wherever you needed to be, physically ram it into a computer’s drive and pray to whatever God you prayed to that it would recognize your files.

This was the life you lead if you had a floppy disk. This, sadly, was a thing.

This Was A Thing: Tamagotchi

collectables-tamagotchi-pink-chibi_c78b7c87-4971-498a-aec6-a71e5aa5cad8_650x1050Admittedly, I may not be the best source on this topic as I never had one. But, I was alive and fully in my youth in 1997 when they came out stateside and I decidedly remember the craze they produced.

Such a craze nowadays, I’d imagine, might be hard to fathom given how transitory everything seems to be. Outside of twitter movements and Game of Thrones, there doesn’t seem to be much we actually experience together any longer, let alone things we tangentially experience together (You know, like not on the internet where you’re reading this right now.)

Anyway, my lasting memory of the Tamagotchi craze was the reaction a neighborhood friend had when his dad came home with one for him.

We’d been playing basketball—he, and his sisters, were all really good players so they had that stenciled in three-point/free throw line set up on their driveway—and his dad pulled in. Immediately, the game stopped as my friend could sense what was afoot. His father hopped out of the family minivan and produced the Tamagotchi like a golden egg, high atop his head (some of this may be exaggerated) for all to see. His son let out an ear-piercing yelp (this part, actually true) and sprinted to his dad to thank him as if he’d just negotiated an armistice in a world war.

I continued to shoot around because both then and now, I never quite got these things. Best as I could tell, you essentially watched an egg turn into a pet of some kind that you tried to keep alive as long as you could. In my memory, it was essentially a revolving door of feeding them and cleaning up their shit which I suppose was a good preview for what lie ahead.

I’m not sure anyone’s pet lasted more than 3-5 days before you just tried it again. And again.

And you know what, no one cared. Like most things that sweep up a nation, it defied explanation.

Much like Pogs and Beanie Babies (more on these later), older generations looked on with confused bewilderment at what the youth were losing their collective fucking minds over.

This was a thing.

This Was A Thing: Not Knowing The Score Of West Coast Games Until Days Later

For whatever reason, I was obsessed with Mike Gallego, even going so far as to give him the nickname “Mighty Mouse.” I learned later in life that I was the only one who called him that.

Growing up in the suburbs of New York City (or New Jersey, if you prefer), I was and remain a fan of the New York Yankees.

As a child, it felt like the Yankees would almost always start their season on the west coast playing the A’s or Mariners or Angels. A brief search on Baseball-Reference, which could and very well may get its own version of this post, helps me discover that, aside from a stretch in the late 1990s, this was untrue.

However, the fact is, when the Yankees did inevitably head west, their games would start at around 10 PM and finish some time after midnight (inconceivable as it may seem to young baseball fans, games weren’t always a lock to go more than 3 hours.)

As a child, if I wanted to know the score of these games I had two options: stay up until it was over or wait for the newspaper two days later.

First off, let’s start with the obvious question: what in the hell is a newspaper? Well, kids, a newspaper was (and still is, in remote sections of the world) a collection of stories (some newsworthy, many not) and cartoons printed on larger-and-flimsier-than-normal paper with actual ink. You know, the kind that would actually stain your fingertips after flipping through it, much like you get from scrolling pages on an iPhone.

Back to the point here… the first option of staying up late was out of the question. Bed times still very much a thing, as a youngster I wasn’t really allowed to stay up for normal west coast games (maybe, maybe if it was a playoff game things could be extended… but a regular season game against Chuck Finley and the California Angels? My parents had to draw the line somewhere.)

The other option, which was the normal option anyway, was to check the boxscore the next morning in the newspaper as kids and adults alike had done for generations before. What they’d also done before me was read in that very same paper some version of the “Night” denotation next to the game, indicating that the paper you were reading was printed out before the game in question had finished.

That’s right.

Sure, you could go to SportsCenter or, if you were super early to it, the internet. But, your specific highlight was easy to miss on SportsCenter and we simply didn’t have a computer that early (and, frankly, when we did it wasn’t nearly as convenient to use as we’ve come to expect.)

So, you waited.

And even when you’d find out from your dad or brother that Ariel Prieto had, in fact, blanked the Yankees and the A’s had won the game… you still had no idea what the actual stats were.

You had to wait.

And because there was no better option for a while, you did, because this was a thing.

This Was A Thing: Printed Out Directions

6lfia73mdpkzThe people from Mapquest must be absolutely kicking themselves.

Honestly, same goes for Blockbuster and Scrabble, but still.

This is going to sound crazy, young folks, but there was a time, before the equally-archaic notion of your parents saying, “Bring the GPS with you,” that you literally had to print out directions to places you wanted to go on actual paper.

Before we get there, let’s discuss that GPS period of our lives. You remember that time, right? When we all owned some version of a Garmin because the GPS was, literally, a separate device. You know, like how cameras and music playing devices used to be separate devices and you had to make choices for your day/evening based on pocket availability. What a time to be alive.

Anyway, for someone under the age of 20, it’s probably incomprehensible to even consider the notion that printers were ever of serious use… let alone the idea that almost every home had one (and that they almost always seemed to run out of ink when you needed it.)

As I’m currently writing, it dawned on me that these posts are really just designed to inform people like my niece—who is nearly 13—what life was like when I was growing up. A sentence like that sounds like I voted for Hoover, that I’m trying to explain to her that you should save your carrot and potato shavings because you never know when you’re gonna be hungry.

So, in that vein, let me explain the steps:

If you wanted to go somewhere, you had to decide where that was going to be in advance of leaving your home.

Then, you had to look it up on the stationary Gateway computer that lived in a room of its own like a demanding houseguest on a site like Mapquest (think: Google Maps.)

From there, you’d print out the directions on your home printer. Try as you may, something was always off about the calibration of the printing. Directions 5 and 6 got cut off between pages, the ink would run out, one full page might be missing or blank for no reason. It was rarely ever smooth.

Finally, you’d bring the multiple sheets of paper into your car and then verbally speak them aloud to the driver. God help you if you were the one driving, as you’d have to either have memorized the directions or read and drive (the 1990s version of texting and driving, surely.)

Now, at what point does an 18-year old of today, if forced to go through these steps, simply give up and stay home?

My best guess pegs it somewhere around the “think before you leave your house” point.

It was a waste of paper, a waste of time and a waste of effort. Garmin and Mapquest had us printing shit out like plastic straws weren’t ever going to be a problem.

Believe it or not, this was a thing.