Early days on the ‘net

Front side of US Robotics 56K Modem

Front side of US Robotics 56K Modem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I open the VT100 emulation program, type, “ATDT,” followed by a string of seven digits and hit, “return.” I hear the sound of a dial tone, followed by DTMF tones, followed by a shrieking and hissing noises – then silence. I’m connected at a screaming 2400 bits per second.

The screen prompts for my username and password. I enter them, and I’m in.

Sitting in front of me in glorious 7 bit ASCII is a couple of paragraphs of Panix‘s MotD (Message of the Day) welcoming me and reminding me of the commands to launch email, telnet, FTP, Gopher, WAIS and a few other things, including something new called, “the World Wide Web.”

This was my window onto the Internet. And it was, in fact, a window and not a direct connection. In days before SLIP, PPP, and Ethernet to the home, access came via a window emulating a Unix terminal. It was a little bit like those isolation booths in labs where you stick your arms into long gloves built into the side of a big glass box.

This was nothing like Case jacking into the Matrix with his Ono-Sendai cyberdeck, although one could pretend.

I’m in, connected to the Internet, connected to the world.

Now what?

The Unix “>” prompt sits there, waiting for some sort of command. This is even more pressure than a blank sheet of paper. I open an anonymous telnet session to indiana.edu, my alma mater, because I’ve heard they have a large library of csound related material. I do a little poking around, find information about other resources open a telnet session on the indiana.edu server, connect to other servers and end up browsing a directory somewhere in Australia. I call my roommate into the room and draw his attention to the list of files on the screen.

“These files are sitting on a computer in Australia,” I tell him.

“So?” he responds, and then heads back to the TV programme he was watching before I interrupted him.

“So?” indeed. I don’t know exactly why yet, but I have a hunch that I’ve just connected to something important.

Next: What do I do with this?