Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Internet: Do You Remember The First Time?

Adam writes… Does anyone remember this question:

"Have you been on the internet yet?"

The building in our picture (above) is a swish, faintly Orwellian-looking restaurant in deepest Fitzrovia. Once upon a time it was the home of an internet cafe.

Internet cafe. How quaint.

Back in the late 90s a friend of mine, studying at Birkbeck, had some research to do for a project. Her tutor had suggested that she do her research on the internet. She asked me and two other friends to accompany her. Going online was a four-person job in the olden days.

"I need to go online," she said, with a confidence that was not entirely convincing. "Will you come with me?"

She may have said "on THE line" – and I may not have corrected her. Such were the dark days of the late 1990's. This was my first time using the internet.

We ordered our coffee, took our seats around a computer, and my pal shuffled the "mouse" on her "mouse mat".

Mouse mat. Remember them?

The pointer thingy zoomed around the screen like some annoying fly and we were off, off into the 21st century.

Her research only took half the time she had paid for. "Shall we look at something else?"

Why not? We had, after all, to queue for the computer (!), may as well make the most of the time.

The thing is, nobody knew what to look for.

This, gentle reader, is how we lived before cat videos on YouTube and social media.

One of our party suggested a virtual tour (how fancy!) of the Louvre… but being unable to find the Louvre online – it's possible that they may not have had a website at this point – we plumped for the National Gallery instead. 

After looking at postage stamp size pics of one or two paintings in the National Gallery (it would have been quicker to walk down the road to the gallery itself, such was the pre-broadband loading speed) we were informed that our time was up and gave up our place to the next cyber pioneer in the queue.

Older folks (EVEN older than I) in this country often recall the thrill of the first time they saw TV. In the UK, many people first watched moving pictures on a small screen in 1953, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. In comparison with the tales of that legendary broadcasting experience, I felt rather short-changed.

My summation of the whole internet experience? I didn't think it would catch on.

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