Posted by: Rob | February 6, 2008

The Internet, Message Boards and Pattern Breaking

I had heard about the “internet” from Jim, a long time friend of mine. We were staying over with Jim and Nancy in Calgary one time when we were up from Kansas visiting friends and family. Jim, whom I view as a bit of a technology buff, was eager to show me this wonderful new thing called the “internet”. We sat for an hour or two in his basement looking at a screen full of nonsensical text (at least it was to me). Remember this was back in the mid-90’s before the advent of the “world wide web” and “internet browsers”.

I remember Jim, after typing string after string of more nonsensical text, excitedly announcing that we were “on” another computer – a “server” – somewhere else in the world. I sighed. I didn’t really get the point of this. Or understand the attraction. I do remember the first thing I ever viewed from the “internet” were actual crime scene photos from the “Black Dahlia” murder. Gruesome stuff, really. Sort of like the black and white crime scene photos I found one time in my dad’s desk when I was a kid, from his time in the RCMP. I also remember Jim remarking that about 75% of the “traffic” on the “internet” was pornography. My eyebrows must have arched at that; I must have thought that this “internet” thing would never last. Little did I know.

Although I purchased our first home PC in 1988, at the start of my fourth and final year in the Chemical Engineering program at the University of Calgary, we didn’t get our first “internet” ready computer until 1997. It was our third home PC, a lower level product of AST, purchased at “The Brick” and was internet ready by virtue of being equipped with a 33.6 Kbps modem. Part of the rationale for the purchase was to do research on a medical issue I experienced in 1997, but part of the rationale was to be able to do “e-mail” and keep in better touch with family and friends. Ha ha, you say, yeah right. Well, it’s a better reason than earlier justifications for PC’s, like digitizing all of one’s cookbooks and recipes and having a wealth of cooking instructions available at the press of a keyboard key. But, I digress.

Even at the stunningly slow speed of a 33.6 dial-up connection we discovered the “world wide web”. And became a bit addicted. It didn’t take long, though, to become a bit disenchanted with slow dial-up and interest and use gradually waned. In setting up various e-mail clients, I was reminded of the existence of “newsgroups”. This was a topic that Jim would go on about from time to time. And I recalled from my University days the existence of “forums” on the University mainframe where one could go and post and have “discussions’ with others about a wide range of topics. So, I made use of my ISP’s newsgroup host gateway and subscribed to a few. I can’t recall how many newsgroups were available back then. Seems like it was around 3,000 or 30,000. More likely the former – it’s almost inconceivable to even want to scroll through 30,000 newsgroup titles. With cryptic names like alt.something.this or alt.something.binary that one had to use a little savvy to find something of interest. I subscribed to a few groups about cars and a few other general interest or curiosity categories. As a sidebar, there were things one could find on the internet – usually photographic – that were really better left unseen and unknown. It quickly became apparent that keeping up with these newsgroups could run into a serious amount of time. And ultimately, after a few comments and complaints from my wife, I rationalized that the time invested/benefit ratio was really too low to continue this sort of activity. There were many, many other things in Real Life that could be, and needed to be, done to allow time to be sucked up by newsgroup reading – and a little posting – on-line. Internet usage dropped off to a once a month session to pay bills on-line and occasional sign-ons to check e-mail. The world wide web held little to no attraction for me. (The same was not true for my kids, however, but that’s another story.)

To be continued…

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