The Internet Archive’s extensive library is a veritable treasure trove of digital content, including media from now-defunct formats like VHS, with the goal of preserving our cultural heritage. Case in point: a 1996 video, Everything You Need To Know About… Introduction to the Internet (listed as 95021 in what one assumes is a series), was recently uploaded to the archive.
Even the minimal technical requirements to log on convey a sense of just how far we’ve come since then in terms of sheer computing power. Viewers needed a Macintosh or IBM (or IBM compatible) personal computer loaded with either Windows 3.11 or Windows 95; a modem capable of 14.4 transmission or higher; “at least” 8MB of RAM; and a minimum 500MB hard drive. (For comparison, the 2020 MacBook Pros come with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of onboard memory, and 1TB of hard drive storage, configurable to 2TB, 4TB, or 8TB.)
It’s probably a good thing that we don’t get any period sound effects, because the classic sound of a dial-up modem connecting—ever so slowly—would no doubt evoke painful memories for those times one’s connection kept dropping and one had to reconnect over and over again, just to send a few measly emails. Dial-up access is still used in particularly rural or remote areas where broadband hasn’t yet been installed, but it’s approaching extinction: a 2013 Pew Survey found that just 3 percent of US adults still relied on dialup at that point.
Promising to walk the viewer through this mysterious world of the Internet without resorting to technobabble, the video focuses on the big three service providers at the time: CompuServe, Prodigy, and the much-reviled America Online (AOL). Viewers are introduced to the various welcome screens within each service, followed by a walk-through of the log-in process and a tour of the primary tools available: most notably, electronic mail, newsgroups/Usenet, Web browsing, bookmarking features, chat features, and transmitting files via FTP.
Granted, it’s not the most scintillating discussion, but despite the stilted narration and crude, grainy visuals, Everything You Need to Know About… Introduction to the Internet captures some key cultural elements of the early days of broad public use of the Internet. (I admit to feeling a twinge of nostalgia during the Usenet demos: I made several good friends for life in the 1990s via rec.martial-arts.) You can watch the full 30-minute video here, should you be so inclined.
Listing image by Diamond Entertainment Corp