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Just Thinking about the Internet

Once upon a time there was this thing called dial-up. You might remember sitting at a desk somewhere and staring at some bulky monitor’s nauseating, pixelated display, waiting to get online. You might remember multiple attempts at connecting, and the deep sense of relief felt once you were finally granted access to browse the nascent World Wide Web. Most of us would spend a few precious minutes each day waiting anxiously for AOL, a phone company, or some other local internet service provider to send the familiar sequence beeps and crackles through a modem. Whether or not you realized it, those hours racked up. If your family was super cool, you had a built-in modem. And if you were one of those internet-savvy kids (read: you had more than 30 friends on AIM), you could probably still sing back the entire song that comprised of a modem “dialing up”. But the symphony of ear-splitting computer jargon was always worth it, especially if it ended with a “Welcome! You’ve got mail!” Once connected, you were free to spend the next few hours chatting with friends, updating your AIM profile and maybe even reading the news… as long as nobody decided to pick up the phone and make a call.

Despite its drawbacks, dial-up internet was still pretty cool. It was good enough to allow companies to develop online news, Napster, online banking and eBay. And while things were much slower in the dial-up days, the internet was always a convenient, albeit expensive, resource for all who had access. Then came the age of DSL and cable. For a slightly higher price, television cable and telephone companies offered these “high speed” options and homes everywhere were soon upgraded. But you still needed a router and a whole slew of cables that you could plug in to the back of your computer if you wanted “high speed” access. In the early 2000’s, even YU and Stern dorms had “fire wire” cables in each room, providing students with some of the fastest internet service that was reasonable and affordable.

Then there came Wi-Fi. Surprisingly, the first wireless network was implemented in 1993 at Carnegie Mellon University. Known as Wireless Andrew, the network provided network and internet access campus-wide to the limited number of devices that were capable of utilizing it. Technology and convenience of that caliber was exceptional for the early nineties, and would not become available privately for at least another ten years. Even after being made available to all, private access to wireless internet was fairly expensive for a while. Over the course of the past few years, wireless access to the internet has become an essential part of business, education and socializing. And everything at the highest speeds. Connection speeds that were once only available to the government or high-profile medical facilities are now common in homes, and are only exceeded by what we get on our phones. There’s an app available for any need, a website for everything imaginable. We rely on the internet for just about everything. We need access and we need it fast. Most of us think the world is a much better place for it. We can Skype cousins in Australia, hear any song we’d like on Grooveshark and buy any product imaginable on Amazon. And we can do it all in just a few short seconds. The information transfer is incredible; life’s pretty cool like that.

We have come a long way since the days of dial-up internet, and I think everyone can agree we are spoiled. Perhaps it takes a walk down memory lane to remind ourselves how fortunate we are. We no longer need to wait for the beeps of a modem or wait twelve minutes for a webpage to load. Let’s just hope we haven’t lost our collective patience permanently. After all, they say things are only getting faster.