Online Pioneer Days
Remember back in the early '90s, when logging onto the Internet for the first time was like watching Willy Wonka open the door to the magical room of chocolate rivers and lollipop trees? Now, of course, the chocolate rivers are polluted with an endless barrage of "Meet Christian Singles!" and "Weight Loss Miracle!" spam, and we completely take for granted the technological miracles of Siri and Uber. But there once was a much more innocent time. Here's a look back at a dozen unforgettable early-Internet experiences.
1. Listening to the beep-beep-buzzzz of your dial-up connection
It was like a chirpy little monologue from R2-D2, the beep-beep-beep-bop-beep-bop-bing as your big, old boxy computer called into the Internet over your phone line. That was followed by a few minutes of squeaks and static while you anxiously waited for the connection to go through—and then, inevitably, by your Munch-like screams of frustration as the connection failed.
2. The ability to be on only one device at a time
In those lucky moments when your dial-up connection actually worked, that was it—you couldn't multitask by using your telephone to order in Chinese or call back your mom. And if your mom called you, she would get that annoying busy signal, something kids today have never heard in their lives. Just think about that the next time you're typing on your laptop at Starbucks while simultaneously Facetime-ing on your iPhone and watching "Game of Thrones" on your tablet.
3. Getting those AOL CDs in the mail
It wasn't quite the same thing as spotting your Earth Wind & Fire album from the Columbia Record Club in your mail in the '70s, but in the '90s, it seemed like a free AOL floppy or CD arrived every day, stamped "1000 Hours Free!" and "Sign Up Now!" Worn down by the never-ending assault, most of us eventually gave in.
4. Cutesy email addresses and user names
Oh, the hours we all spent coming up with the most clever, witty user name possible, one that reflected a sparkling sense of humor but also expressed our deep personal values: PurpleCowboyBootsBetty, HammerTimeDude, ILoveBoobs. And then, in one horrifying moment, we all realized our boss might actually need to email us.
5. The joy of “You’ve got mail!”
Just like Meg Ryan anticipating Tom Hanks' electronic love notes, we, too, used to eagerly wait for that cheerful voice telling us someone cared enough to write! Today the thousands of emails we get a day are just another pile of crap to deal with in our overextended lives. The upside: There is now no greater thrill than getting an actual handwritten letter in the U.S. post.
6. Flirting in an AOL chat room
If you were female in 1995, and you wanted a little attention, all you had to do was log into a chat room using a vaguely feminine-sounding name, and you would instantly be hit on by every lonely male with a dial-up connection in America.
7. Desperately trying to memorize a long URL address
It seemed like overnight, every TV commercial and every poster plastered on the side of a building advertised a new website that was destined to change our lives. This had us standing on the sidewalk, scribbling onto a piece of paper the entire address: Wait, is it http-colon-slash-slash, or hppt-slash-colon? Why do they make it so long and confusing?
8. The thrill of first contact on Facebook
Remember the astonishment when you found out that the mean girl from your high school class is now a mom of six running a homeless shelter for immigrant orphans, or that the weird, pimply guy who sat in the back of the camp bus is now the head writer for Letterman? It's a moment you'll never experience again, because not only are you connected to everyone you've ever met in your life, but they've posted so many damn videos of their kids' dance recitals that you had to hide them.
9. Rushing home to check your email
Hard to believe there was a time, just a few years ago, when we weren't available by email or phone to everyone at every single moment of the day. Expecting an important message about a new job? You'd better not get stuck in traffic or leave the house to drop your kid off at school, because the only way to read it was sitting at your desk.
10. The adrenaline rush of your first eBay purchase
You spent years poking through second-hand stores and stopping at yard sales to find a replacement for that "Six Million Dollar Man" action figure your mom tossed when she cleaned your room in 1978. And then eBay came along, and in mere seconds you could replace every lost toy, stuffed animal and comic book you ever pined after. And then what? A big, long nostalgic letdown as you realized you'll never actually be 12 again.
11. Being one of the cool kids on MySpace
Seriously. Before Facebook, this was the number one social-networking website. If you want to know where the cool kids are now, ask your 11-year-old daughter.
12. The Hamster Dance
Before there were piano-playing cats, Susan Boyle, "Gangnam Style" and "Leave Britney Alone," there was the Internet's very first viral video: The Hamster Dance. After 15 years, it's still going through our heads. Willsomeone please make it stop!?
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