Innocence Lost

By | October 10, 2019
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Innocence Lost

Most of us think back on the past as a simpler, less complicated time. When we let our thoughts drift back to our childhoods – no matter how old we are – most of us imagine a more beautiful world, a more peaceful time in our lives. I do not know if this is really so, but it seems to me that most of us look upon the past that way. Maybe the song “The Way We Were” sums it up best:

“But it’s the laughter
We will remember,
Whenever we remember,
The way were were…”

Maybe some sort of filter in our heads that brandishes the painful moments, the less desirable moments, the bad and sad moments, the embarrassing moments and when filtered we are left believing the past is preferable to the present. And, I think that’s a good thing. We have enough problems with today without having the ones from our pasts intermixing with the ones from now and making things worse. No thanks. Today’s troubles are sufficient for today. So it’s the laughter, we remember when we remember the way we were… and that’s a good thing.

It seems to me that the Internet, which is a product of human endeavor, is a reflection of all that is good and all that is bad in all of us. I am not sure when I look back on the Internet twenty or so years ago if I’m seeing the Internet as filtered through that wonderful nostalgic filter in my brain or if my memories of those days are accurate.

I think it’s a bit of both.

When I first set eyes on the first Web site I ever saw (Yahoo) I didn’t know what I was seeing. There was something called a “search engine” but I didn’t know what a search engine was. A friend of mine, who had been around the Internet a year before me, tried to explain it. He told me it was a search engine — but like a lot of things, you have to need something and use it to understand it.

And so it was with search engines. At first, it made no sense —  why call it an engine? When my friend tried to explain it to me, I didn’t understand why I would need one; this is kind of the same reason why I don’t understand calculus – why do I need it?

As it turns out, I eventually needed to find something and that’s when the light bulb went off in my mind. After that, my goal was to find the best search engine. I can remember writing to EB about every new search engine I found and I’m sure she laughed when each was supposedly better than the one I had discovered the day before.

As it turned out,  Yahoo was a terrible search engine  – trying to find something yielded page after page of useless and irrelevant search results. I remember using Mamma and Dogpile and then finding Alta Vista. I crowned Alta Vista as the king of all search engines… that is until Google came along. I wonder if those search engines still exist?

For those of you who look at Google with a jaded eye – I can tell you — as a guy who came from the pre-Google era — Google was so much better than any other search engine in those days it’s no wonder they were so successful. Google, in its infancy, provided a search engine where you could find what you were looking for on the first try. Google was almost everyone’s search engine after the news about Google spread across the World Wide Web.

PUPs and malware were unknown. It was the age of sharing. Freeware sites offered freeware – free software with no gimmicks. There was a time when every day brought wonderful new freeware – and you can ask EB about this – I think I installed most of it…or at least as much as a 540 MB hard drive would hold.

That’s right, back in 1995 and 1996 computers came with 540 megabyte — not gigabyte – hard drives; RAM was measured in kilobytes, not megabytes or gigabytes. Internet connections were all dial-up then. The screeching connection tone is something none of us who used dial-up will ever forget. And it wasn’t likely you’d ever connect on the first attempt. I used to get a lot of “busy” signals.

Whether it’s because the equipment was so primitive or the world was a better place, things were or seemed to be, more innocent, less hurried, and less ominous and less threatening then. If you were using the Internet in 1995, you were a “geek”. If you told someone about something you saw on the Internet, you’d have to also stop and explain the Internet. Now imagine how hard it would be to explain the Internet when only a handful of people knew what it was. Think about trying to explain ice to a primitive society in the Amazon.

Now, I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone taking a selfie and sending it to someone or posting it somewhere on the Internet. The Internet is everywhere. Children and young adults now take it for granted. It’s nothing special to them. I often see families sitting together at the same table in a restaurant with their eyes focused on their smartphones texting someone else – ignoring the other family members sitting at the table.  Now we take the Internet for granted. People access the Internet with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.

Once an arcane peculiarity, the Internet now is an essential thread in the fabric of life. If the Internet disappeared tomorrow, the world economy would collapse. Banks transfer checks and money over the Internet, credit cards are processed over the Internet – and we are all connected in some way by the Internet. Ane whether you believe it or not, it also affects those who have never used it. Today the Internet is a necessity; it is no longer a curiosity. Its novelty is gone. And its innocence is gone.

Today it is estimated that 30% to 40% of the Internet is pornography related. Is this because the Internet itself is a bad place? If no one wanted to see those kinds of things then there would be none at all. The Internet reflects humanity – both its good sides and its bad sides.

Today, almost all freeware should come with asterisks:

*Beware this installer contains malware and/or pups

*Beware this site plays games with download links and buttons – be sure you guess the right link or button or you’ll be installing malware and/or PUPs on your computer.

*Beware some of the most trusted sites from the past, like CNet, are now the biggest distributors of malware and PUPs

The Internet grew up quickly and it is now a vast and deep ocean of money – whether gotten by honest means, or by picking your pocket by turning your computer into a billboard of ads and misdirected searches; or by collecting your personal data and selling it like a commodity. Money is everywhere on the Internet and it’s the motivation for almost everything on the Internet. Even sites that freely give information or software are supported by ads or donations. There has never been such a thing as a free lunch and in this world, there never will be. The same is true for the Internet. There was a brief shining moment in the Internet’s infancy when free lunches were available to everyone. But that was two decades ago. The world and the Internet have changed.

Maybe the old days were so good as I remember them, I’m sure some could argue that they were not. But I think they were – it makes me nostalgic to think about those days on the Internet just like it does when I think about the days of my childhood. I’m sure neither were as good or as innocent as they seem.

One thing I’m sure of though- it makes me feel good to remember things the way they were.

How about you?

5 thoughts on “Innocence Lost

  1. Barb

    What a beautiful concise account of the internet, past and present. When I first got a computer, I didn’t want the internet. I bought a second hand one from some kid who was advancing and he had left a very fascinating game on it, and I was happy with that. When I bought a Commodore 64 one of my work mates thought I meant a car. Computers grew and we found ourselves faced with new learning curves. We never had anything even slightly comparable in our history. We had just got used to every home having a phone and a TV. People of my generation are so fortunate that we have access to help from truthful, vigilant and reliable people, EB and TC, without whom many of us would be discarding our P.C.’s. The old days hold an abundance of memories of a time when we never locked our doors, a different world. Those who have experienced both, are blessed indeed. Thank you for this essay, TC.

    1. Arnie Brown

      I’m also from the same vintage here in Nova Scotia Barb, As I read your reply it sounded like it was me. Thanks to you and EB & TC.

  2. D.

    Yes, I can remember the day I had found Google search and was telling people, and they would say, who. I had also had been using Dog Pile, Alta Vista, etc.

    I’m just glad I was there when things seemed a little more fun and the people more relaxed. People asking questions and the curiosity was high, no Facebook ;=). You had all of these mom-and-pop sites.

    Good times…

  3. Jackie Keesee

    I got my first computer at Radio Shack and used it for printing. Then a friend told us about the internet and we were both hooked. I remember the day my sister and I had discussed flowers and all of a sudden we kept seeing ads for places that sold them. We were so naive we thought that was a coincidence.
    Today I love Google and online shopping. We are in our 80’s and can get anything we need. We give our donation at church on the computer. If I had to remember that every week….I’d hate to see what we would give. I write a check for real estate taxes only and I wish we did not have to do even that. I use My Chart to message Dr.I can usually see the results of tests before I see the Dr.
    My first teacher taught the computer sciences in New Zealand and I met him because he would publish great sites and used a few I gave him. One time I sent one to The Plain Dealer when they were publishing one a week. Sent me a cap. I still keep in touch with Kiwi Barb from NOTH. That was a great post TC brought back a lot of memories.


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