it is raining this morning in san francisco so here is something to read from the couch. if you dont live where i live you can just pretend.
as someone who writes about the internet for a living, i think a lot about where we came from, and what being online used to mean to me compared to what it means now.
i was born in ‘84, which meant that i straddled the line between gen-x and millennial. (though my musical sensibility is aligned with cobain and mudhoney, i am still considered a child of the era of fred fucking durst.) that also meant i grew up in a time when a car phone was considered tech-forward and i still used quarters to make calls. to go from 2400 kbps to ubiquitous connectivity — well that’s a big readjustment.
my first computer was a gateway 2000, a ugly beige thing that came in a fun black-and-white-splotched box that looked like a big square cow. (i grew up on a pc, not a mac) it had a floppy disk drive and a cd-rom drive — the latter being a coveted new item at the time — and i used to load programs in ms-dos. c-colon-backslash-install. c-colon-backslash-run. d-colon-backslash to switch to the cd-rom drive. i had two programs: a jurassic park game, and encarta, a digital encyclopedia. i think i spent more time digging through encarta entries than i did killing raptors.
kids born five years before me used to get in trouble for tying up the home’s only telephone line, spending hours talking to their middle-school crushes. i got in trouble for spending hours on a dial-up connection to america online. i think before that we had prodigy, or maybe something that started with the letter “z.”
maybe my memory of the internet of the past is too idyllic, or perhaps more selective than id like to admit. but the biggest threat the internet posed to me back then was the possibility of a prince in nairobi emptying my bank account, or maybe a 16 year old me ends up doing cybersex with a 40 year old perv who was pretending to be a 20 year old perv.
twenty years ago now, if you can believe it, it was 1999 and there was a looming threat that the turn of the millennium would cause a catastrophic failure in every computer system. if i remember it right, it had something to do with the idea that some companies stored annual dates as two digit entries (like 99) instead of four (like 1999). so when the clock struck midnight and we entered the year 2000, a whole bunch of computer systems with two digit year entries would suddenly think it was the year 1900, and everything would somehow go to hell. (i may have just described the plot of office space and not the exact problems we were worried about back then, but you get the gist.)they called it the Y2K bug, and it threatened to destroy the connected world’s systems — financial, federal, state, whatever — as we know them.
there was all sorts of preparation for it, even though we didnt really know what we were preparing for. my version of preparing was going on aol and buying a “Y2K preparation kit” from a supposed expert hacker in a chat room for 20 bucks. i cant remember what it said but i do remember that i stopped buying things from strange men in chatrooms after that.
the new year came and nothing happened. months of well-publicized panic over a theoretical problem amounted to nothing, and everyone forgot about it.
our problems look pretty different now.
twete of the day: