Life before the Internet – How did we ever do it?


I grew up without the internet. Heck, I grew up without computers. We were never even taught about computers in high school and I was just lucky that I took a temp job entering data into a database for a huge new system that a local company was in the process of creating which expanded into reviewing the parent-child design charts and then into being accepted into their programmer trainee program which truly changed/saved my life.

And I was a mainframe programmer for several years before DOS was created, which was a major first step for having a usable PC for business. When I first started programming PCs, we wrote each program to run on the PC, the TRS-80 and the Apple. And each program could only be 32k in size so we did a lot of calling a program that called another program, etc. We actually cared about every bit (literally) of memory we used. We finally had to require any agent who wanted to use our programs to have at least 256k memory. That’s k, not meg. And that was really expecting them to have a high-end system for the time.

So obviously we didn’t have internet access to speak of. We did have modems, big 300 baud cradles that you set the whole handset of the phone (back when they had 2 pieces) into this large rubber cradle. And we actually managed to communicate with each other via very slow text based interaction and ftp. I had online friends and belonged to forums and passed data back and forth even back then, but it was not an integral part of my life. Just getting a driver update or finding and getting a copy of a driver that I needed was quite a chore.

Now, I can’t imagine life without the internet. I spend probably 25% of my time online (maybe even more), doing business or looking something up or writing in my blog or shopping or surfing or playing or skyping or twittering or emailing or any number of other things.

Just this weekend on the internet I have:

  • made airline reservations for a trip to visit my sister and mom and got the e-tickets for it
  • looked up how to remove chapstick from clothes that were accidentally washed and dried with a chapstick in a pocket (which really messes up clothes, let me tell you!)
  • searched for, compared the results and then ordered an oak shaker kitchen table and chairs (we couldn’t find anything in town)
  • worked on my instantspot site to set up a website for our aikido dojo
  • talked to Sean’s brother in London using Skype
  • looked for good deals on Woot!, Steep and Cheap and Whiskey Militia (I pretty much keep these up all the time just to see what they have)
  • played a lot of free Peggle online (darned game is addictive!)
  • instant chatted with the web hosting company Blue Host at about 1am on Saturday just to see how their response time/quality was in case we want to change web hosts (they were very quick, knowledgeable and friendly)
  • posted a request for beds/mattresses on the Fort Wayne Freecycle and Fort Wayne Free and Reasonable yahoo groups since we are having about a dozen family members coming to visit at Thanksgiving and we need some extra beds
  • looked up local greyhound events for our greyhound, Colt
  • checked the local weather report and read the news
  • caught up with the email messages on the aikido-l and web4lib lists
  • looked up several phone numbers/addresses on switchboard
  • looked up the times for the local Bluffton Street Fair and the Parlor City Trot (a fun run held during the fair)
  • looked up what was playing at the movie theaters and their times
  • downloaded and installed some plugins for my blog
  • downloaded and installed updates for my computer
  • wrote in my blog and read other people’s blogs
  • twittered and read other people’s twitters
  • answered email
  • and many other things that I can’t remember since it is just a normal part of my daily life to be on the internet

I shop online at Woot! and Steep and Cheap and Whiskey Militia. I shop at Overstock and Ebay and Amazon.

I use search engines constantly to find information, how-to questions, self-help, medical, research and more.

I use it for communications, using email, chat, IM, twitter, yahoo groups, email lists, Skype (online phone) and more.

We’ve visited online friends all over the world including Pauline in Amsterdam, Andy in Germany, Meng and Cindy in Singapore and Peter in Japan, where I got to do my very first Iaido training at a little dojo in a little town outside Osaka with a 7th dan and and an 8th dan.

Once upon a time, we shopped at our local stores and if they didn’t have what we wanted, we got what they had. And unless it was very common, you didn’t check for the best prices, you just looked for something like what you wanted. We used reference books, the Physician’s Desk Reference, encyclopedias and reference librarians to get information. We communicated via phone and letters. When was the last time you wrote a letter? I can say that for myself, I really can’t remember.

I didn’t miss it when I didn’t have it, but now, I can’t imagine living in such a small space again. The world is a bigger place now and there is no going back.

~Susan Mellott

Becky Carleton, a librarian at the Johnson County Library in Kansas challenged me to name ten pieces

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