Wednesday, December 07, 2005

And you tell that to the kids today....

It's quite awesome how we have come to expect instant, right-damn-now-and-not-a-second-later communications. Despite appearances, I'm not actually that old. Don't ask how old "that" is. I might have to throw me slipper at you.

Somehow, someway, we can now pretty well expect to contact somebody within minutes, if not seconds. Through some pretty cool combination of fixed-line, mobile, WiFi, Hotspot, Bluetooth, WiMax, cellular, radio, switched-packet, phone, watch, TV, set-top box, SMS, MMS, Playstation/Xbox, earphone, wearable technology, messenger, Skype, chat or whatever, we expect to get hold of somebody and carry on a conversation.

In my lifetime, there was a time without mobile phones. Heck, I remember life without telephone answering machines. Oh that was a hoot, it truly was. I have a vaigue recollection of a time when you did not expect to do anything NOW and were not expected to do anything NOW. Whole weeks could pass by before your failure to reply might be considered remiss. Especially in summer. Now you're expected to fire fresh content daily to your video blog from the deepest trek into the forbidding jungle that time forgot in PNG. What's headhunterese for "say cheese"?

Let's go way, way, way back to the 1970s. Say you want to arrange drinks with, oh I dunno.... John? You rummage around in your head or in a book made from PAPER. Don't get too hung up on the technicalities but there was a time when somebody killed a tree, ground it down into small pieces of ex-tree (called WOOD) and put it in a big building called "PAPER MILL". And out would pop paper. Sorry, I meant to say PAPER - very thin pieces of ex-tree. This PAPER stuff was available in various sizes (all of varying degrees of thick- or thin-ness). Anyway, people would use a PEN to write numbers and letters down. But I digress...

So, you would look up John's number and input the numbers (we once had ROTARY dial phones and before that we didn't even have dials, we had operators called Marge or Mary Anne or Dale or something).

And nobody would answer. Yes, that's right. They would be out actually physically buying something from a real store, not online. Oh, and they would probably pay cash, too. No, not e-Cash, I mean paper and metal money. Kind of like seashells but easier to fit in your wallet. No not your e-Wallet but a leather, nylon or plastic folding thingy with at least one pocket where you could stuff stuff.

So you might try calling John again later that same day. Perhaps from a PAY TELEPHONE. And, still, nobody would answer. So you would call back the next day and hey, his mom would be home or his wife or whatever. And you would leave a message for him, which she would (hopefully) write on PAPER, using a PEN.

Two days later, John would call back. But, as luck would have it, you would be out and you would not get his call. Two days after that, John would leave a message for you, because somebody was in your house.

You can see where I'm going with this. The upshot is that nobody would freak out if it took a week to arrange meeting three weeks' hence.

Anyway, I got all ta thinkin' 'bout the likes of what we calls "progress".

The earliest mobile cellular phones I remember were actually handsets attached to small, lightweight "briefcases", only they were neither small nor lightweight. Nobody mugged you for one of these puppies. They could never run off with it. Then came the early handheld cellphones, now infamous (collectible, coveted and trendy now, too). The Motorola "bricks" were, again, not just something for a mugger to take from you, you could actually beat the daylights out of any attacker.

Now, the phones are so small that if you don't lose them first, somebody will try to rob you for the phone and the best you'll be able to do is swallow the phone and offer the assailant a chance to collect it from the other end. They call this progress?

I used my first computer in 1978, a dumb terminal connected to a city mainframe. Oh that was fun. You ain't played awesome computer games until you play on a TTY that outputs on line-fed paper, d00d.

I remember my earliest days on the internet, pre-web and then my first, fascinating days exploring this shiny, new, rather esoteric technology called the World Wide Web. A friend helped me get my Apple Mac (yeah, I admit it, I have used Macs) online, using an awesome 9600 bps US Robotics Sportster external modem. By 4am, we were all running and gleefully surfing the internet and web. Within minutes, I realised the true magnitude of these new technologies. Turning to my friend, I said "Isn't it amazing that we now have access to the most unbelievably sci-fi amalgamation of computers, computer networks and communications technology around the world, just so we can find porn?"

This was all kicked off by my wondering to myself last night how many websites really DID exist in the nascent days of W3? I'm not sure if you guys have ever noticed but I am a bit of an information junkie. Honestly, I'm a lot better than I used to be. I used to almost EAT National Geographics, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and Popular Electronics back in the days when we all had to go to the library to research anything. No, I mean the print magazines, you dolt, not their websites. Who could eat a website? Besides, they didn't have websites back then, capeche? Anyways, I had a voracious appetite for information and the library was pretty well the only concentrated source of the stuff.

Now I seem to recall being able to remember the locations of, and visiting, most of the website in the early days of the 'web. TodayI doubt I can even conceive of the number of websites. I found a history of the WWW but it doesn't chart the number of websites.

Bragging rights: I still own an original installation floppy for NCSA Mosaic 0.9b on Apple Mac. Oh won't my grandchildren look up me as their hero?

Yes, I did finally find the information I was seeking.

Along the way, I stumbled across a few other gems.

"First computer-to-computer chat takes place at UCLA, and is repeated during ICCC, as psychotic PARRY (at Stanford) discusses its problems with the Doctor (at BBN).", thus establishing the most fundamental requirement of internet chat - psychotic chat buddies.

"There is lingering affection for the challenge of breaking someone's system."
RFC 602 - "The stockings were hung by the chimney with care"

Plus ca change, eh amigos?

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