Life Before the Web: Better or Worse?


I would like to share my experience with what life was like before and after the Internet happened. I consider myself fortunate because I was able to live during the time where I could experience both. I would have to say that the transition going from one time period to another was very transformative and monumental. It was one of those events that occurs in life you can never forget. When you look back at it, you become grateful that you were part of something great. Let me start with what life was like before the Internet.

What Was It Like Before the Internet?

Life before the Internet was really slow. Slow as a peaceful and happy, not much hustle and bustle. A time where people literally were taking the time to stop and smell the roses. People were not walking around with their cell phones on them all of the time. It was really nice back then because people seemed to enjoy life more and they were never really in a rush to be somewhere or have everything done so quickly. People were just a lot more patient back then. I believe that is because before the Internet, it took awhile to actually find information. I mean it was really weird back then because we had libraries and we actually had to read books. We had computers but they did not really have as much information as they do today.

Researching Information Back Then

So researching took more time but it was kind of nice. I felt like maybe there was the expectation that this is all of the information that we have right now. So we had to make do with whatever was available. We were not pressured to go and find information all over the place, like we do today. Whatever the library had, the library had. Back then we did not have information overload. So maybe research was actually faster back then just because we had less information to filter.  Another good thing about researching back then is that we had fewer sources. So those sources tend to be more reputable because they were actual books that reputable authors wrote. These sources were credible because you could cite them. Unlike when the web first came out and there were tons of websites that you had to check to make sure that their information was credible. This was one of the inherent problems with information overload. As I mentioned before, we need to filter out the flood of incoming information. Otherwise we end up using sources that are not suitable for research.

The Web Was a Place to Share Yourself with the World

When the web first hit, there were a ton of websites that people created. The idea that you could share your thoughts and ideas with everyone was intriguing. We never had anything like this before. Whenever we wanted to share something, we had to write it down or take pictures. I mean take pictures with a real camera, like a Polaroid that needs its film developed. This is why it was slower back then. Everything that we did took steps and required a process to complete. Not like today where we always carry our cell phones around. You can just pull them out, take a picture and share it online instantly on social media. All of the steps to take pictures went from taking days to just minutes. This is an example of how much faster information is produced in today’s society.

Before Facebook There Was Friendster

Remember the days of Friendster, the first Facebook? This was pretty much the first popular social network. Blogging also became popular so there was Xanga. There were also some of the first instant messaging platforms, AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ (I Seek You). These were some of the first things to come when the Internet started to take off in 2000. This was definitely a fun time then. You could communicate with anyone from anywhere. Yes, we still needed to be at a desktop computer. The time that it took to relay information between people diminished. Once we had reached this point, the gap to bridge people and their thoughts would only become smaller and smaller. That idea was basically proven when cell phones came out shortly after. Now, we feel as though people are right next to us physically all of the time due to the arrival of the cell phone.

Cell Phone + Web = Instant Information

The Internet was not as fast back then as it is today. During that time, we mainly just had text and some images, no videos. We did not have the infrastructure in place to handle the amount of bandwidth that videos consume. So video where rare back then. There were some challenges back then to make the Internet as fast as it is today. One challenge was when the Internet arrived, we barely started getting into cell phones. Again, this was the year 2000. We were still just using laptops and desktops. In fact, I think desktops were still more common than laptops were. I think that laptops were still too expensive. So there were not as many laptops as desktops. Cell phones were not common yet. Early cell phones were just called cell phones or cells. The term “smart phone” was not used yet. So there was a lot of information out there not easily accessible through your fingertips just yet. Early cell phones had no web browsers on them. So we were reaching the point that we are at today. 

Public Terminal Computers: Were They Safe?

What we had to do back then is find a computer to access information. These computers were called terminals because people were allowed to use them in a public setting. Terminals were meant as a way for people to access information on the go. Now we have personal phones for that. The problem with terminals is that they were bad for people who needed to access their private accounts. This was very dangerous and should never be done. Some people still used public computers to access their personal e-mail, forgetting to log out. So someone else could go into your e-mail and read all of your private messages. This is why terminals were not secure and people treated them like their own personal computer. Good terminals would prevent people from logging into their personal accounts. With the Internet spreading around the world, not every single terminal could securely prevent users from using their own accounts.

Again, this is why everything new that comes out has challenges to overcome. We are pressured to create solutions with high user demand. Everyone wants to go online and look up information. The problem is that not everyone has a computer at home and not everyone has the Internet. So we gave people terminals. In the haste of doing so, we failed to secure them down with a safe way for people to login into their e-mail accounts. I am sure you have used terminals and saw some random person’s e-mails. The best thing to do is log that person out. 

The Move from Physical to Digital Print: Everything is Going Online

At this time, we started to move a bit away from just using books. This was about the time when we started transitioning from physical print to digital. This started to affect a lot of industries that relied on printing physical material. Publishers started to decline around this time. This is why newspapers started to fail and with that followed magazines. I mean “fail” as in they need to move online because physical media started to disappear. Think about what was happening with print. Their products were devalued a lot. They were selling newspapers and magazines individually. You had to keep buying them to get new ones each time. When they moved online, it became subscription based. The thing about subscriptions is that they are usually a monthly fee that grants you access to their whole line of articles. So you pay once a month and you can read any article that they publish. Today, no one really has the need to subscribe to any publication because we can just find a free version somewhere else. The only time that you would even subscribe to one is if you really needed access to some information that only that place had. Basically, I am saying that the accessibility of free information makes it harder to sell what little can be sold today.

Combining Several Physical Products Into One: The Push Towards a Digital Future

The push to eliminate physical media was not just due to the Internet alone. There was always a move to make everything smaller and more efficient. Just like how today we have our phones. I will probably make a post just on the subject of how today’s phone can do anything and everything. I just want to briefly touch upon how many products the phone replaced. There is the camera, the flash light, the music player, the video player, the messenger, games, the actual phone itself and many more applications. How many different products got combined into one? I count seven right there. Remember how we had those seven products individually? Imagine having to carry them around with you all of the time? Not sure why you would need all of those products at once before, but you never know. Life is unpredictable and you might have a need to carry all of that with you somewhere.

The Internet Changed the World Forever: For Better or Worse?

Now this is just the consequence of introducing something new. This is not exactly something that people wanted. It was just due to the changing times. Either you keep up and evolve, or get left behind. So the Internet sounded scary when it first arrived. Mainly because it was changing a lot of businesses and those who reacted the fastest seemed to stay afloat. However, those who chose to just wait it out struggled because they decided to stay on a sinking boat. Basically, sink or swim. This is just human nature. Competition is what makes us stronger and this is all a part of how life works. In order to last so many years and endure storms you have to do what you have to do to survive. 

That 2k Dot Com Bubble Burst

Now I know a year later in 2001 they had that .com bubble burst.That was mostly due to businesses who tried to capitalize on the Internet way too early during its infancy. The problem with this is that no one really knew how to monetize something that just came out. Not only did the Internet start maturing this time but no one had a true grasp on where it would go and whether or not this is something that could actually produce money. So business spent too much time and money on something that could possibly fail.  However, that is the reason why the most successful people are risk-takers. High risk high rewards, low risk low rewards.  So I’m not saying whether this was right or wrong to capitalize on the Internet so early. Those who choose to do so, had to deal with the results and the consequences of their actions. 

Y2K: It Happened But Not Really

Then there was Y2K, the new millennium just created a lot of trouble did it not? The Y2K “disaster” was when a lot of systems were created to only handle a year up to 1999. When 2000 rolled around, a lot of those systems instead of going up a year to 2000, they would roll back to 1900. This occurrence would cause systems not to run properly because they could not use the date 2000 for the new millennium. Compared to the dot com bubble burst, the Y2K issue was nothing at all. I remember Y2K happened and nothing really happened. There was no apocalypse or anything that people predicted. There were a lot of doomsayers who said that the sky would fall and impending calamity would be unleashed onto the world. The last line right there sounds like a line from Shakespeare.

So We Are Really Better Off with the Web?

When you think about it life is not really better or worse with the Internet, just different. I have realized that with every major change that happens in life requires our ability to adapt and be flexible to an ever-changing environment. So the Internet introduced some good things and some bad also. That just comes with the territory like everything else. The same thing when cars were invented, cell phones, televisions, everything else. So if you ever have to ask yourself if life is better or worse after something happens, pause for a bit. That is a really hard question to answer just yes or no. Why? You act like, “Life was fine” before it but then after it happens you are like, “I can’t live without it now”. So really you cannot win either way. Those who adapt will succeed.

Reminiscing About Our Past is Fun

I hope that you enjoyed this trip down memory lane with me. I really enjoyed going back in time and reliving my experience of life before and after the Internet with you. These are some of the posts that I want to make on this website. Not every post is going to sound straight from academia. I want to write about different things about my profession as a programmer. This opens up a wide array of topics to cover. Some posts will be technical, some will not. 

Rise Up Fellow Coders!

As a programmer, people assume we only know the little details and cannot see the big picture. Fellow programmers, do you ever think about why you are building whatever it is your building? Who is it for? Where is it going? Programmers, we must see the forest for the trees, the big picture. Yes, we started as programmers. Our technical skills are valuable, everyone knows that. Let us take our skills to capture something greater out there.