For many of us, our computer age began in 1975 with a game called Pong. Sure, we had heard about computers but few of us owned one. It required a knowledge and language that were foreign to us. Maybe …
For many of us, our computer age began in 1975 with a game called Pong. Sure, we had heard about computers but few of us owned one. It required a knowledge and language that were foreign to us. Maybe a neighbor had one and we would go over to see him type white letters on a black screen. Basically, those early machines were used to write. We had no idea something called the internet would change the world.
Atari’s home version of Pong made myself and my friends eager to get a computer. We wanted to play that slow version of ping pong as we watched the ball slowly move from one side of the screen to the other. When you got adept at the game, you could swipe the cursor on contact with the ball, making it curve.
At that time, we did not realize that Atari would be turning us into home gaming addicts. We no longer had to drop quarters into a video machine at a pizza parlor. They went on to feed our frenzy with games like Space Invaders, Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man.
We mistakenly thought the Atari games were the pinnacle of high tech. Then along came the internet. Originally called the World Wide Web, the internet changed everything. Incidentally, most website addresses still begin with WWW as in World Wide Web.
The first company that cornered the internet market is America Online. In fact, most people thought that AOL, as the service is called, was the internet. To install their program on your Commodore 64, an early home computer which my readers know I frequently refer to for humor, you had to get a disc. In 1993, you could have them mailed to you. But if you did not want to wait, many stores in your local mall had bins of them. Once installed, it operated on a pay per hour rate. But they started losing customers because download speed was so slow. If you wanted to download something it often took costly hours, even overnight.
Approaching over a million users, in 1996 AOL introduced a flat monthly rate of $19.95. Why they did not make it $19.96 as a marketing ploy, is unclear. At that price they were flooded with users frustrated as they tried to connect.
Speaking of connection, let us talk about dial up. Those of us old enough to remember can vividly recall the screeching sound your computer made as it used your landline to try to connect to the internet. Go ahead, close your eyes and think about that nerve-shattering screech sound. It is stored in your brain next to television theme songs for Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies.
There was no such thing as social media on the fledgling internet. If you wanted to be social, you picked up your landline phone and called a friend. But since they were probably using their dial up service to get online, all you heard was a busy signal.
Many of my younger readers have never heard a busy signal. Cell phones, the current device of choice, doesn’t provide a busy signal. Instead, your cell phone let’s you know that you have another call, giving you the option of accepting it or not. For most of us, busy signals have gone the way of phone booths, dial tones and pagers, subjects we will visit at some point in another column.
For many conspiracy theorists, there was a brief time when some thought AOL was the government’s way of keeping tabs on what Americans were doing online. Instead of hiring thousands of agents to track down the nefarious, why not give out free discs and then monitor their activities on the internet through AOL?
I do not believe that theory. In fact, I still use AOL on one of my accounts. When asked for my email address and I mention AOL, I see their astonished look and I jokingly add, “there are 15 of us that still use AOL.” Of course, there are not 15 of us, recently Diana in Iowa switched to Gmail.
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