The Throwback Machine brings to you, fresh from the Aug. 21, 1995, Journal Gazette, this ad from the fine folks at “Advantage Information Technologies” in Charleston promoting the imminent arrival of this thing called “The Internet” to Coles County, an ad which, by my reasoning, marks the first time the word “Internet” was ever mentioned in our newspaper.
Allright, technically there were about three mentions of the “internet” in the Journal before this, and that’s not counting all the times our text-recognition software kept keying off the word “interest” in old ads for Champion Federal Bank in Charleston. In 1993, Mike Royko had the typical “old guy can’t figure out that new-fangled technology” column about his first experience online; and in 1992 there it was again in, of all places, the Bridge column, a feature which has been a mainstay of our paper since the creation of dirt and yet is actually read by about .1 percent of all people anywhere. My email address is below; I’d love to be proven wrong on that.
The real earliest mention was a Jan. 23, 1990, news brief about a Cornell graduate student who, supposedly on accident, unleashed what we now call a “computer worm” onto a network for computers then refereed to collectively as the “internet”, which I’m sure really put a hitch in the getalong of the six nerds actually using such a thing at that time.
So yeah, all these previous mentions of the internet don’t quite “count” the way I see it because they’re referring to it the way it was before it was set up for most folks to have public access to with their home computers. Prior to the advent of local providers setting up such services, like in the accompanying ad, it was mostly used for folks in the military and at universities. And even if you could get on it, it wasn’t like today, or even “back then” with helpful folks like American Online to actually help you get to where you possibly needed or wanted to go, which is why Mike Royko was having such a problem in his column, where apparently his grandkids got him online and then just left the poor old guy to bump into a bunch of error messages, all of which he used to fill out the entire second half of his column that week. I can’t lie and say I’m not a little jealous.
I remember the exact moment I was confronted with the internet as a “thing.” Does anyone out there remember when the FX network debuted? It would have been the summer of 1994 and other than my initial 12 CD introductory box from Columbia House Record Club arriving, it was turning out pretty boring. Then suddenly here was this weird new network showing nothing but really moldy reruns of "Wonder Woman," "Hart to Hart" and "Family Affair" interspersed by in-house programming shot entirely in a loft apartment in Manhattan, all shows hosted by folks who would later go on to more famous gigs like "Dancing with the Stars," "Survivor," UFC post fight analysis, and the stern University Band director in "Drumline."
It was real slap-dash, seat-of-your-pants programming, and for some reason I couldn’t get enough. And at the end of their shows they always mentioned how you could get in touch with them directly with this thing called “email” and that you could actually “visit” them at an even stranger collection of alphabetical nonsense they called a “web address”.
The first time I had a hands-on interactive experience with the internet would have been, and I’m guessing here, the summer of 1996, at the upstairs computer lab in the central hub of the Lake Land College Library. No lie, this is how it went down: The bassist and lead vocalist of the garage band I was in called me one night and said “hey, let’s head on over to Lake Land and try this internet out.” That’s what you did for fun in 1996.
For what it was worth, it was pretty mind-blowing. And sitting there in the library, using Netscape to access, for the first time, all the information in the known universe, what was the first thing I looked up? Asia. No, not the continent. The band. And just in case you don’t know your music, there wasn’t a more square thing to look up than the music of Asia, trust me. It wasn’t even like I had a huge interest in the band (which I did), it was just that was the most random and obscure thing I could think of at the time to test to see if anyone cared as much as I did. Answer, by the way? Yes. People did.
I also took the opportunity to fill about five 3 1/4 floppy discs with desktop photos of someone I’ll only refer to as “The Noxzema Fresh Face Girl,” an obscure actress/model who I was obsessed with for the back half of the '90s. A misuse of library resources? Perhaps, but this was at a time when, if a comely young lass caught your eye on T.V. while talking about her curly hair on a Revlon commercial, she was out of your life the moment the commercial was over. Again, that’s what the internet was for back then: organizing obscure interests for losers, obsessives, and obsessive losers.
If you’re reading this column and you happen to be of age enough to not exactly know what in the world I’m talking about, take heart. For while the internet is here to stay and just as much fun as ever, I must admit the advent of social media and smart phones, both things I don’t use, have turned what was once a glorious way to waste some time into something I don’t quite recognize anymore, or something I don’t feel like I’m using the same way everyone else is.
Not quite an error message, really, but hey, looks like I finished my column after all.