Sep
2009

Baby Steps

I was reminded today of my baby steps into the world of the internet. My family had an old PC. I can’t remember for the life of me what kind it was, but the current Apple lover in me knows it was a Windows 95 barley functioning, PC.

Our family used America Online. The invitation to use AOL came in the oldest form of communication, the mail. My dad used to get so irritated by how many AOL discs we would get in the mail. Back then it could come in either a flopy disc or  cd-rom. I think ours was a cd-rom.

So finally one Saturday afternoon my dad decided we could indeed afford it, and looked over the requirements for the computer, and sure enough our computer could handle it. After watching the commercials for months I had visions of being able to do the most amazing things. None of which I can remember now, but I know none of them came true.

I can hear the crack – fizz – buzz of the modem dialing up the AOL world. You had to dial the number correctly. You also had to turn off call waiting or else when people called, one of two things would happen, they would kick you off line or hear a constant ringing.

There was a voice that always said “Welcome” and “You’ve Got Mail.” Then a page would load that was your gateway to the world. Thinking back now it was like the layout to Trivial Pursuit, there was sports, leisure, entertainment, lifestyle, news, shopping, and so many others.

Of course there was the email section and Instant Message. One social problem, that has not changed even now, is how certain phrases or tones could be misunderstood. SPEAKING IN CAPS IS LIKE SHOUTING. Which is odd because in the TV news world we type every script in caps.

You could not be cynical or properly cross with someone. Words need inflection and sound behind them. Sometimes they can be rather useless when just typed. Over the years I have misinterpreted, or have been misunderstood, so many times via email or “IM.” A problem I still face (as do many others) today.

My boss does everything in emails. So many times I find myself saying “This is really something we need to pick up the phone and talk with someone about.”

When I younger, even before the internet, I used to get so jealous of my older brother getting mail. I was always told, “You’ll get more than enough mail when you’re older.” There is something special, more so today, to get a well thought out, hand crafted, letter or thank you note. So the appeal of getting tons of emails was thrilling to me.

My brothers and I soon found our ways to chat rooms.  We didn’t know then what we know now about chat rooms. Back in those days we had to learn the hard way. There was someone who used the AOL handle as Jennifer Love Hewitt. Oh I just loved her. So what normal teenage boy, who loved a cute young actress, wouldn’t want to talk with her? Took a while to discover this was just some jerk who wanted to just mess with people.

Soon I found my way to a girl named Niki from New Mexico. Perhaps she found me? I can’t really recall. Anyway I could barley talk to girls so chatting with one online was brilliant. Looking back now this was quite dangerous. After talking through emails and “IM” for months we started to talk on the phone, writing actual letters to one another. Eventually we even sent one another high school yearbook pictures of ourselves. After a while the “Love-Affair” ended. My brothers and I fought for more equal time with the computer, but then Dad stepped back in and decided that more oversight was needed. Three teenage boys with cart blanche freedom online wasn’t such a good idea.

It was much longer after this I met a real life girl and started dating like a normal person.

Today I still enjoy getting emails and even real mail. I also love the world of Sykpe, Twitter, Facebook, and the wonders of where we are going still fascinate me. When I think about it though we were all pioneers of sort back in the mid-1990’s. I am trying to avoid the “Kids today” cliche, but they have no idea what it was like then to go from a word with nothing like this ever technology to an immediate on-demand society. It still takes a lot of mental balancing. It’s till too easy to be sucked in and loose sight of what the real world has to offer.Baby Steps