A conversation on Twitter the other day reminded me of my earliest experiences with online life. It was in 1992 that I learned that I could have my college computer connected to something called the “Internet” — though I don’t know how I learned it, or what I thought the Internet was.

I had a Mac SE/30 at the time — the first computer my employer ever bought for me — and someone from Computing Services came by, plugged me in, and installed some basic software. I know I didn’t get any training, so what puzzles me now is how I learned how to use the programs. I must have checked out some books . . . but I don’t remember checking them out.

Here’s something else I don’t remember: very few people I knew had email, so how did I find out my friends’ email addresses? I must have asked when I saw then and wrote the addresses down on paper. But in any case I soon developed a small group of people that I corresponded with, using the venerable Pine — and again, how I, a Mac user from the start of my computing career and therefore utterly mouse-dependent, adjusted to a mouseless console environment. . . . But I did, not only when using Pine, but when accessing Wheaton’s library catalogue via Telnet, and when finding some rudimentary news sources via Gopher, followed a couple of years later by my first exposure to the World Wide Web, via Lynx. Pine, Telnet, and Lynx were the internet for me for several years — and they were great programs, primarily because they gave the fastest possible response on slow connections.

It was only when I got a Performa — with a CD drive! — that I began to turn away from the text-only goodness of those days. I was seduced by all the pretty pictures, by Netscape and, above all, by what must remain even today the greatest time-waster of my life.

How odd for all this to be nostalgia material. After all, the whole point at the time was to be cutting-edge. But even when Wheaton eliminated Telnet access to the library catalogue and moved it to the Web, I knew that I was losing something. To this day I’d search catalogues on Telnet if I could.


  1. My wife and I cracked Myst in one night. That's the power of love for you!

    Thanks for saying "That's the power of love for you!" instead of "We're way smarter than you!"

  2. I started with computers the same year, also enabled through university infrastructure, though as a grad student rather than faculty. So I also remember Lynx, Pine, Telnet, BBSs, WebCrawler, and other early incarnations of the Internet. Most of that has gone to the Web now, at least from an end user's perspective. I also remember slavering over the first color Mac Performa. There are times I wish I could go back to System 9, which was in many respects more to my liking than OSX. Myst was too slow for me; I gave up.

    I dunno about the library catalogue via Telnet. I can see the attraction of the card catalogue, though, especially to an old-school researcher.

    How all this stuff evolved and how we adjusted our lives to it is very much within the scope of your blog. No doubt someone has already written a book about it. I wonder if we have enough remove yet to see it clearly, but even at this relatively early stage, it's clear that a fundamental paradigm shift occurred. The idea that we could go back to a style of scholarship based primarily on the book and classroom or a commercial style based on paper purchase orders and shipments mailed back and forth is intriguing to me, as the electronic infrastructure on which we now so wholly rely is surprisingly vulnerable to collapse along with much of the rest of our social arrangements.

  3. If I had any doubts as to whether I was old enough for technology-centered nostalgia, this post has proven that I am.

    A MacIntosh Performa was the first computer I owned, a present from my parents when I left for college. I was so excited to use it I hardly slept the night before it arrived.

    I also remember being introduced to the campus email system by an aquiantance. At first, I thought it was useless because the only people who seemed to use it were my various roomates who only used it to email each other – people they saw everyday. Now, of course, I am grateful for the far-reaching contacts email makes possible.

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