Thursday, June 21, 2007

When there in’t a ‘net

Occasionally the Internet goes off in Csíkszereda. Today is one of those days. I suspect there are places in town that have it, because these days there is more than one provider - when I first arrived here we just had Astral and that was it, so if their server went down, we lost the Internet across the whole town – this was fairly common during thunderstorms and blizzards. Today there are no thunderstorms (yet anyway, there might be one later), and certainly no blizzards (since we are in the middle of a roasting hot June), but the server seems to be down and has cut off large swathes of the town. [Obviously by the time you read this, the Internet has come back, since until that happens I can’t actually post it anyway.]

Now I am old enough to remember a time when there was no such thing as the Internet, and doing stuff didn’t involve being online. Now obviously there are things I could be doing which don’t entail being connected to the world wide web, but I can’t remember what they are. I have gone through my list of things to do and done all of the things that I can feasibly do offline, and am now waiting to go back online in order to finish them off. Some things I can’t even get started on since they necessitate me working in a place which is (I believe) actually located on a server in London. It is quite astonishing the pace at which the world has changed.

I remember when I first encountered the Internet...

[Screen goes wibbly wobbly, music effects suggest going back in time, screen clears to reveal people in unfashionable haircuts, living in a time before the invasion of Iraq, before the 11th of September 2001, to a day when Sheffield Wednesday were in the top division, when the most up to date platform was Windows 3.1, and to before the election of Tony Blair, when he was seen as someone who would be good.]

I was living on the island of Pohnpei, in the Federated States of Micronesia. I often think it’s quite odd that I was living somewhere so remote when the Internet appeared to me, but then again it is a tool which is at its best when you live somewhere remote. Like a small island in the Pacific or a small town 700m up in the Carpathians. My new boss, had (just before my arrival) signed up for something called “Compuserve” (remember them?) and through a dial up modem we could call the US and get emails. The connection was slow (I think it was 14.4kbps) and the cost of the call was such that only emails were worth bothering with. If somebody sent you one with pictures in, it took ages to get. Someone sent him that early dancing baby video thing and it must have taken over an hour to get it. Mind you, at the time, it did seem worth it - I mean it was a sort of computer generated baby, which danced. Stuff didn’t get much better than that.

One of the guys who worked for FSM Telecom was really enthused by the possibilities of this Internet stuff and how it could radically change life on an island which got three planes a week landing and every now and then a ship full of food. So he started working on it big time and soon set up the country’s own Internet server and connected it to the rest of the world by means of a massive great satellite dish set up outside the Telecom HQ. I was one of the first people in the country to get connected as he asked for 10 or so volunteers to test the whole thing out. I had the classic email address andy (at) mail.fm – those were the days. (By the way that last.fm domain? Now you now where it comes from)

So all of a sudden we were connected to the world. I could do things like finding out football scores in England, or chat to people I’d never met about nothing in particular. You know the really useful stuff that has made the Internet what it is today. I even, towards the end of my stay, kept a blog before the term blog had even been invented, complaining about the fact that I was laid up with a broken leg, unable to watch the World Cup in France because it wasn’t on TV there. (The real value of the net back then in that place came when Amazon started and suddenly you could browse and order books)

Those were the days. Now everybody and her uncle is on the Internet with their myspace pages and their youtube clips, and I am now bringing up the rear, trying desperately to understand what the point of “web 2.0” is (and indeed why it is called Web 2.0 at all). I used to be hip you know. On the cutting edge of the web. Now I’m just struggling to keep up. I don’t even download music, let alone entire films or episodes of the Sopranos. Anyway, I think I’ll go out for a coffee. I believe one can do that in the real world, and you don’t even need a Second Life avatar to do it for you.

1 comment:

ursus arctos said...

Even though I was working in a skyscraper across the street from the World Trade Center at the time, your description of what the net meant somehow seem incredibly familiar.

The first thing I did was check football scores.