Life before internet

Next week I will start teaching Cyberlaw at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. This will be a wonderful experience for me. I love teaching and meeting smart and interesting students. I also have a deep passion for technology and the way it interacts with law.

While preparing my notes for the first class, I was thinking about the tone to give to the class and I was wondering if my students will be tech geeks, normal tech users or even tech newbies. The course does not have any specific technical requirement and it welcomes any kind of student.

While thinking about this thing, I realized that most of my students will be in their twenties right now. This means they were born in the 90s, most likely in the very first years of that decade. Given that the internet really started to grow and get in touch with normal people with the advent of the world wide web and given that the introduction of the first web browser, Mosaic, is from 1994, this basically means that when my students never lived without internet. For them, internet is normal.

This made me remind how it was to be a tech geek when internet was not here. It was pretty fun, mostly because it sounded like visiting a foreign planet: everything was new and completely different from what we were used to.

The first thing that I remember was my father bringing home an old 300 baud modem. This was a weird device that connected to the computer. If you wanted to login to a local bulletin board system (the BBS), you had to pick up the phone, dial a number and plug the phone into the modem. Everything was pseudo-digital and mostly analogic. When I say “plug the phone”, I don’t mean connecting a cable to the phone’s logic board. I mean physically plugging the phone in two big earphone-like things that were supposed to listen to the weird noise coming from the phone, and translate it in digital signals. Pure science-fiction!

Connecting to local BBS was fun. I exchanged messages with other users, downloaded software (it took forever to complete a download) and…super cool…downloaded the first online porn. What you could do at that time was downloading photos of naked girls. The problem: it was taking forever to download a single photo. Nothing compared to the HD streaming of today’s porno websites!

When the internet finally came, I remember talking to my father about this. Internet subscriptions were pretty expensive at that time, and I finally convinced my dad to buy one plan as a business thing for his company. We were supposed to share the login of the internet provider and I agreed to use the internet only a few minutes per day (you still had to dial a phone number, and phone calls were pretty expensive).

But here is the problem: at that time there were no search engines. How did you know which websites to visit? Well, you had to buy a magazine on the newsstand. I used to purchase one called “.net”. This magazine listed the links of new interesting websites. Every time one new issue of “.net” was released, I run home to visit the new websites listed on the magazine. It was like going for a treasure hunt when your friend gave you a map!

Good old times.

Nowadays internet is given for granted, people have unlimited data everywhere (at home, on their phones), speed is blazing fast and we live connected 24/7. An incredible improvement in such a short time!

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