The history of the Internet stretches back as far as 1969, but it didn’t become popular until the 1990s when the whole thing became commercialized, ISPs started offering access, and the World Wide Web emerged to give normal people something to actually do online.
In the developed world, only around 10 percent of people had access to the Internet in 1997, but in 2013 the figure had risen to around 77 percent. Globally it was just 2 percent in 1997, but was 39 percent in 2013. With that in mind, what did the Internet look like to people in the early 1990s when the vast majority had likely never even heard of it, let alone used it.
For the purposes of both education and entertainment we can travel back in time to 1995 (or thereabouts). And it’s all thanks to the power of YouTube, home to dozens of videos showing how early-adopters explained or demonstrated the Internet to newbies in the good old days. What follows are 10 of the best videos showing how people were learning all about the Internet in the early-1990s.
What Is The Internet, anyway?
We start with the most obvious question, “What is the Internet, anyway?” This was asked by Bryant Gumbel, co-host of The Today Show on NBC at the time the Internet was emerging as a powerful force. This segment wasn’t aired on TV, but thanks to the Internet (rather ironically) we now get to enjoy Gumbel’s rather aggressive ignorance about email and the @ symbol.
Student Internet PSA
This Public Service Announcement made by kids for kids tries to explain why we should all be getting the Internet and seeing its future potential. The prophecies foretold by these youngsters have all came to pass, and we even see an early glimpse of the Internet generation’s love affair with cats. Thankfully hairstyles and fashions have also improved since this was filmed.
Early AOL Commercial
There have been some great adverts made over the years, but this isn’t one of the classics. Some terrible acting, poor dialog, and a cheap and nasty set render this almost unwatchable. And yet it offers a glimpse into a past many of us have tried to forget. A past when AOL discs were everywhere, and 10 free hours online was considered a boon. Still, kayaking buddies need a way to chat to each other.
Internet Users’ Guide
This video has been slightly edited, with some bleeping added to make it look like the newbie being taught how to surf the Interwebs is searching for something slightly naughty. He wasn’t, of course, although the polar bear he ends up staring at for a little too long looks quite fruity. This whole clip is embarrassing; for us, for them, for the developers responsible for the state of the Web in 1995.
Apple’s View Of The Future
I’m not a particular fan of Apple for various reasons, but I cannot deny that the company has innovated massively over the years, driving computers and mobile devices forward. Many of the ideas put forward in this vision of the future prove to be spookily accurate, though the highfalutin ideal of using these technologies to change the world for the better haven’t yet come to pass.
This video is likely a little older than the others on this list. While they all feature kids talking about accessing the Web for fun, this clip shows a classic nerd heading online via Telnet. If using the Internet had remained this dull an experience then it would clearly never have taken off in the way it consequently did.
Internet & Street Smarts
Teaching kids how to be safe online was important in the nineties and remains important to this day, perhaps even more so thanks to the dual threats of smartphones and social networking sites. But to get the message across to children you really need to do a better job than these guys did.
The Kids’ Guide To The Internet
This video is so bad it’s almost good. With a family of Internet users trying to persuade their friends to join them in cyberspace, we get to see just what the Internet was capable of in the 1990s. The song that accompanies the opening titles is an absolute joy, and I guarantee you will be singing along to it for days to come.
Computer Chronicles – The Internet
The Computer Chronicles was a PBS show aired for more than 20 years. This video, which includes a wealth of information about the Internet circa 1995, was worth including just for the epic opening line of, “Who says online users are a bunch of anti-social geeks?” Which shows that however much things change, some notions will never die.
The Internet Explained!
This video is real, believe it or not, and features a compilation of clips from old VHS videos, all of which try to explain the Internet to us thickos watching at home. Unfortunately the people doing the explaining don’t exactly come across well. The guy who thinks he’s funny isn’t, and you can tell that the presenters know as little about the Internet as the rest of the cast. Remember, the Internet really is for everyone.
I personally first gained access to the Internet in 1999 thanks to the Dreamcast and its 33.3 kbps modem and oh-so-sophisticated Web browser. Which is one of the reasons I love the last Sega games console. Unfortunately I racked up huge phone bills by staying online for hours at a time in the days when you had to pay by the minute. Ah, it takes me back. Mainly to when I was always broke.
What are your first memories of the Internet? Can you remember the year and the machine you used to take your initial steps into the online world? Is there anything you miss about those fledgling days of the Internet or has the experience improved in every conceivable way? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Sego Canyon Petroglyphs via Flickr