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Internet nostalgia

May 25, 2018
by Mark Ollig

It was 1990. While sitting in front of my computer, I clicked the Prodigy icon.

I hear a dial-tone, and then the dual-tone multi-frequency digits of the phone number being sent over my computer modem’s telephone line.

A smile came across my face upon hearing the reassuring buzzing and screeching audio coming from the modem speakers.

That modem sound lets me know I was connecting to my online service provider, which also provided a gateway to where I could access the internet.

Some of you undoubtedly accessed the internet through a dial-up online service provider such as CompuServ, America Online, or Prodigy.

Back in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, I used Prodigy, which was more or less a nationwide dial-up computer bulletin board service or BBS.

In addition to having a colorful user interface with point and click, there was a portal or gateway icon for accessing the internet.

Having an internet portal from an online dial-up service was a feature which caused many online services, such as Prodigy, to have a large number of paying subscribers.

Prodigy also offered games, weather reports, shopping, news, Dow Jones stock ticker, and a variety of specialty-themed, interactive messaging forums, such as politics and sports.

In fact, I still have my Prodigy coffee cup from 1987.

Going back to 1981, only 2,000 people were using the internet; however, when TCP/IP became the official communications protocol, many more computer networks became accessible over the ever-growing internet.

There were no World Wide Web or web browsers in 1981. We wouldn’t see these publically used on the internet until 1991.

Being curious, I searched Minnesota newspaper archives for the first mention of the word “Internet” and found a July 17, 1982 “Save Your Crops” ad headline by a company called INTERNET, Inc. out of New Hope.

It turns out this internet company made “durable plastic netting” used to cover berries and other crops from “hungry birds.”

A Feb. 3, 1986 “help wanted” ad for a programmer/SR analyst for a Sperry (UNIVAC) 1100 system was placed by a company called Internet Systems Corp. out of Sunrise, FL.

The first mention of the “Internet” we know today, was a front-page article of the Nov. 4, 1988 Star Tribune newspaper under the lead, “Computer mayhem.”

A nationwide computer virus disrupted a US government defense research data network.

The article said the virus had “reproduced itself through a research network called Internet.”

I noted how the word “Internet” was capitalized and used as a proper noun throughout the article.

“The big issue is that a relatively benign software program can virtually bring our computing community to its knees,” said Chuck Cole, deputy computer manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Computers affected by the 1988 virus included MIT, Harvard, Cornell, Purdue, Maryland, the University of California Berkeley, Wisconsin, and others.

The computers used at the University of Minnesota, as well as at Honey Corporation, were not exposed to the virus.

“Millions logging on to the Internet” was the headline of an article in the June 1993 Minneapolis Star Tribune.

This 25-year-old article foresaw the limited numbers of internet addresses – IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) available by mentioning the fact, so many computers were connecting to the Internet, that it would run out of individual computer addresses by 2003.

IPv6 came along to save the day, and now we have plenty of computer and smartdevice internet address capacity.

“Having an Internet address on one’s business card has become a badge of honor,” The 25-year-old article stated.

I noted the forewarning in this 1993 article, as it mentioned concern about company data not being secure “while whizzing around the net from computer to computer.”

Twenty-five years ago, 15 million people throughout the world were accessing an internet (mostly via telephone dial-up) which consisted of about 11,000 computers connected to a shared network.

In 1993, approximately 60 Minnesota organizations connected to the internet, including 3M, Pillsbury, Burlington Northern Railroad, and Honeywell.

The 2017 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) “Measuring the Information Society Report 2017” said 53.6 percent of the world’s households have internet access from their homes.

The number of young people between 15 and 24 using the internet throughout the world is 70.6 percent, per the ITU report, and this percentage will keep increasing.

In 2017, there were 3.5 billion internet users on the planet, which is 48 percent of the world’s population, according to the ITU.

It is not too much of a surprise to learn China is the largest internet population user, with 750 million. India is second, with 390 million.

The US has 250 million internet users; which is about 76 percent of our country’s population.

US households having internet access stands at 84 percent, according to a January 2018 study by the Leichtman Research Group.

In 30 years, what will newspaper columnists write about today’s internet? Stay tuned.

Stop by my online “badge of honor” internet address at https://www.bitscolumn.blogspot.com.


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