looking back

1994

Russell posted a recording of Hyperland a few days ago. It’s an amazing documentary from the early 1990s that foretells the advent of the Web.

Faris has a fantastic review of the film and lots of background over on TIGS – I highly recommend taking a look. You can watch the film there too.

As I was re-watching this wonderful piece of web history, I was reminded of a significant upcoming ‘birthday’: the anniversary of the first internet banner ad:

AT&T banner

The banner, for telco AT&T, appeared on the HotWired site on October 24th, 1994.

15 years ago.

From some perspectives, that feels like yesterday.

But considering how much things have changed, it also feels like a lifetime ago.

Back in 1994, my prized possession was a Walkman cassette player. I had to decide which cassette I’d take with me when I left the house. My music collection was vast, and one whole wall of my bedroom was covered in shelves full of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.

We had a VHS player connected to an enormous box of a CRT TV that dominated one whole corner of the living room. We only had 4 free-to-air TV channels.

Most people didn’t own computers, and many of those who did had black-and-white monitors (although our home computer was an awesome Apple Mac Classic).

If you got lost, you had to ask someone for directions. They had whole sections on how to do that in foreign language classes at school.

And because a telephone was something that was wired into the wall in your house, you had no way of letting people know you were lost and were going to be late. Friends stood around, with nothing to do, waiting for hours for their mates to arrive.

Social groups stayed in touch by letter. We had penpals.

Photography was cumbersome. Most people sent their camera films off to be developed (and Kodak adverts were everywhere). You had to stick all your developed photos into an album and cart it round to your granny’s house.

If you needed to research something, you had to go to the library to look in the encyclopaedia. Those nice people at Britannica used to come knocking at the door, trying to sell 30-volume editions that would fill a room in your house.

But today, my iPhone brings all of that – and much more – to my pocket.

As Iain pointed out recently, the world today is amazing

I honestly can’t imagine what things will look like 15 years from now.

But looking back at how far we’ve come in the past decade-and-a-half, I’m excited.

And I’ll be raising a glass in honour of that first HotWired banner next Saturday.

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4 Responses to “looking back”


  1. 1 faris October 21, 2009 at 02:18

    Here goes…

    It’s 1994.

    Kurt Cobain shoots himself in the head, ending the era of long jumpers and fashionable misery, for a time, and triggering a psychic cry not seen again until Diana dies. A bunch of young people also kill themselves [suicide is famously contagious in specific communities].

    We all spend a bunch of time looking at the skies as Shoemaker Levi 9 threatens to maybe wipe us out, before hitting Jupiter

    The criminal justice act is passed and the spiral tribe leave the UK in disgust.

    Pulp Fiction tell us what is cool.

    I am 14 years old.

    I’m at home and have just received my first laptop – a compaq satellite pro with a 75 mega hertz intel processor -downloading porn, very slowly over a 28.8Kbaud dial up modem.

    I have a compuserve account that not only charges a monthly subscription to my dad’s credit card, but also charges an additional fee every hour I’m online. To my dad’s credit card.

    I’m surfing the internet. But there is no Google. There is no alta vista. Magazines published books of URLs, but most of the content was still not accessible via web browers.

    We’re talking bulletin boards, file directories, code prompts, gopher.

    The internet population is less than 20 Million worldwide, almost exclusively geeks [like me].

    There is no hotmail and no one has ever used email outside university.

    Very few people have even heard of the wwww.

    I download the Anarchist’s Cookbook and save it on a 3.5inch floppy and hide it under my bed, in case I ever need to make a pipe bomb.

    I think we went to Disneyland that year, and I was all like I’m too old for this crap.

    Shame because I love the place now.

    • 2 eskimon October 21, 2009 at 07:51

      Aaah yes, the Anarchist’s Cookbook. I can remember sitting in a Computing class at school – we were learning programming language Pascal – when my friend Dave produced some excerpts from that. it was the first time I’d ever heard of the Internet. Odd really; they never mentioned the Net in computing class.

      Thanks for all these Faris – I’d forgotten about a few (especially the comet – surely we’re due another similar prophesy of doom sometime soon?)

  2. 3 adbone75 October 23, 2009 at 16:31

    15 yrs ago..
    I was fresh man of university..
    ^.^

  3. 4 Leonore October 23, 2009 at 21:48

    .. and I was celebrating my 16th birthday that day 😉 Can you imagine, what a computer class in Estonia looked like that time? Amusing thought for the weekend… 😛


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