A few posts ago I quoted J.C.R. Licklider, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, who--in 1968--correctly predicted many of the ways that we use computers today. I followed that post a few days later with a 1994 video clip that showed Today show correspondents Katie Couric and Bryant Gumble embarassingly wondering aloud how to say the "@" sign and what exactly this "Internet" thing was.
The two posts seem to be polar opposites of one another, the first showing a prescient prophet, the second showing some out of touch fools. But that contrast got me thinking: How much behind the times WERE Katie Couric and Bryant Gumble? Would I have known what the Internet was in January of 1994? Was the word "Internet" commonly used at that time?
To try to figure this out, I went to the archives of Time Magazine. Time has its entire archive of issues online and capable of being searched by keyword. I searched for every article from the beginning of Time (Ha! A pun!) until 1994 that contained the word "Internet" either as a word in the article or as a tagged "keyword" for the article. And the results? Katie and Bryant WEREN'T behind the times, at least not by much. While there were a lot of people going online prior to 1994, most writers weren't referring to the "Internet" nor to the "World Wide Web," which is how we refer to going online these days. Instead, writers tended to call the online world "cyberspace" or "The Information Superhighway." I think most of us would have blankly stared and wondered "What is Internet, anyway?" in 1994.
But you can read for yourself. Here are some of the more interesting articles I found. Just click the date to read them at Time's website.
Article One: February 25, 1985: Remember library card catalogs? The REAL ones? This article correctly predicts their inevitable death.
Favorite quote from Article One: "Libraries have to act fast," says David Nashelsky, senior librarian at the San Jose, Calif., public library. "In the future, a lot of information is going to be available only via computers."
Article Two: April 7, 1986: This is the earliest article I could find that talked about people going online. But this was LONG before the term "Internet" was used in conjunction with people doing this.
Favorite quote from Article Two: "Subscribers use the computer networks with one eye on the clock. Start-up fees are modest (generally less than $50), but hourly costs can vary from $6 at night to as high as $15 during business hours, plus a surcharge for some features."
Article Three: October 30, 1989: This article isn't really about the Internet, but I found it interesting nonetheless. It's more closely related to the Kindle, I suppose, but I find it interesting that THIS was--in 1989--a piece of technology worth writing about. There are dozens of free websites today that will do what this device did then for $300.
Article Four: February 8, 1993: This essay, which borders on fear mongering, is the first I found that actually uses the word "Internet." Mostly, though, it refers to being online as "cyberspace," and it uses a bunch of made up words like "cyberpunk" that no one uses anymore. I'm sure the guy writing this article thought he was creating an article for the ages, but it's mostly just nonsense now.
My favorite quote from Article Four: Obsessed with technology, especially technology that is just beyond their reach (like BRAIN IMPLANTS), the cyberpunks are future oriented to a fault.
Article Five: April 12, 1993: This article actually foresees a lot of what's coming on the Internet, but it wrongly assumes that most of it will be happening on our televisions rather than on our computers. A lot of what this article says is merely days away is just now, 18 years later, starting to become commonplace.
Favorite quote from Article Five, written with a tone of "Humph! This'll never happen!": "Vice President Gore talks about making it possible for a schoolchild in Arkansas to have access to a book stored on a computer in the Library of Congress or take a course at a distant college. Mitch Kapor, co- founder of a computer watchdog group called the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wants the superhighway to do for video what computer bulletin boards did for print — make it easy for everyone to publish ideas to an audience eager to respond in kind. He envisions a nation of leisure-time video broadcasters, each posting his creations on a huge nationwide video bulletin board."
Article Six: December 6, 1993: Here's the first article in Time to REALLY bring forth the idea of the Internet. It was published in December of 1993, a month before the Today show video. So maybe Katie and Bryant weren't all that far behind.
Favorite quote from Article Six: The Internet, however, will have to go through some radical changes before it can join the world of commerce. Subsidized for so long by the Federal Government, its culture is not geared to normal business activities.