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Change We Can Believe In

ibm-pcFrom the blog of former coworker, exceptional writer, and all-around helluva guy Jeff Green: this truly awesome news item from 1981 about newspapers making their content available “via home computer.” I won’t spoil it by attempting to recount it here; head over to his site and check it out for yourself. It’s well worth it.

Here’s the funny thing. 1981 was a long time ago, sure. Pushing 30 years ago now. But in the realm of PC technology, how different was it, really, from 1991?

Think back, now. By 1991, sure, Prodigy and CompuServe and GEnie and AOL were all running (or at least had been), but what was the average person’s exposure to things like reading news articles on a PC? Look, I was pretty much as big a computer geek as there was back then, and even I was only on the Cleveland Freenet — it had the precursors to IRC and Usenet and messageboards, sure, but it was a far cry from what we have today.

In fact, I can remember where I was the first time I ever saw NSCA Mosaic, essentially the first graphical browser: I was in my first apartment, which means it was sometime between April of 1994 and May of 1995. And it was shortly after that — I was still in college, so before June of 1996 — that I saw the first commercial with a URL in it.

So, OK, we’ve time-dated the Internet’s move to widespread popularity, at least in its current form: somewhere smack-dab in the middle of the ’90s.

Let’s digress for a moment. I was watching TV sometime around the Obama inauguration, and someone aired an interview with George W. Bush, from when he was running for president. It was the one where someone was grilling him about the names of foreign dignitaries. Remember that one? If so, do you by any chance remember what year it was?

It was 1999.

Maybe I’m weird, but that just rocked me. The guy who just left office was campaigning literally a couple of years after the term “Internet” became widely known. In an offhand way, it illustrates the fact that the Internet in its present form — which is to say essentially the world as we now know it — is barely a decade old.

That’s kind of awesome, isn’t it? In terms of technology, this quaint 1981 world of rotary phones, acoustic couplers, and monochrome screens isn’t much different than 1991. But the difference between 1991 and 2001? You might as well be living on another planet.

Maybe this happens to every generation. My parents, after all, saw similar things happening with television, my siblings with music technology. (And no matter what you iPod-slinging whippersnappers may say, the leap from LP to cassette was almost incomprehensibly more significant than cassette or CD to MP3.)

But if you ask me, it’s both inspiring and terrifying. Technology has changed so dramatically in such a short time, who knows what things might look like in another 10 years?

All I know is, I’m dying to find out.



1: Kim on January 31, 2009 at 12:39 pm

What weirds me out is that I feel like I have all the technology I could ever use. I can’t imagine what might be created to make my life even more convenient. I sure hope it is teleporters…I would love to never have to scrape ice off my windshield again!


2: Joe Rybicki on January 31, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I suspect the next big invention will be something most of us couldn’t even imagine.

That said, I heartily endorse the development of teleportation.


3: BroIL44 on February 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Next “big” invention is getting all these interfaces out of the way so you can connect your cerebral cortex directly to the internet.

That said, you can have my VHS and 8-track types when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.


4: Pugsley on February 18, 2009 at 1:47 pm

The next big thing will be a small, plastic encased disc used for the recording and re-recording of music and audio. This “miniature disc” will be easily portable, virtually scratch-proof, and will be ultimately superior to the Compact Disc. It will initially be manufactured by Sony, but soon all electronics producers will jump on the bandwag…. wait a minute. Did my time machine go back in time or forward…? This IS 1989 right?