The internet is getting old

I don’t mean old as in tired and passe–though others might make that argument, with some justification–but rather, it’s actually been around a good long while now.

I recall articles in computer magazines (almost as quaint now as the pre-internet days) in 1994 were touting two major developments in the tech world: the forthcoming release of Windows 95 (originally known only as “Windows 4”) and the rise of this new form of online communication known as the Internet.

I was already a regular participant on some BBSes (my roommate in the late 80s had a BBS running off four Commodore 64s) and participated in early forums that were part of FidoNet. Looking back it seems hilariously primitive. You connected to the host, downloaded all of the new messages on the forum, made your replies, then uploaded them and…waited. The conversations were not only not real-time, they weren’t even same-day. It would typically take two to three days for the turnaround. It didn’t prevent people from hurling insults and contributing little, of course, but it helped.

By comparison, my first cable modem and the actual internet–first introduced to me as a separate “premium” service by my ISP–was like stepping into the future. Your connection was always on (!) and you could visit multiple sites at the same time. There were multiple sites!

A big part of the early days for me revolved around gaming and one of the first games I got into online was Tribes, released in December 1998 (I bought it a month later). It got me into a gaming group and I still regularly converse with members of that group twenty years later. Back then I had the reflexes of a thirty-something, so I was already behind the curve, but I held my own. I read a bunch of gaming sites, many of which are either gone now after living on in a zombie state for awhile, like Voodoo Extreme, or have been abandoned after the parent company vanished, like PlanetQuake, which is still up, but hasn’t been updated since 2012 (its parent company, GameSpy, was shuttered the next year).

And then you have something like Blue’s News. Not only is the site still being updated regularly (by the same person, no less), but visually it is unchanged. Yes, the site looks pretty much exactly like it did 20 years ago. It was my home page for a long time, but I haven’t regularly visited any dedicated gaming site since consoles entrenched themselves as the primary way to game. There’s something both admirable and awful about not changing your website design for 20 years (for the record, I find the look today to be pretty ugly. Dense, small text on a dark background is not my idea of readability. On the plus side, the layout is about as straightforward as you can get).

The internet is an inescapable part of our lives now, and much of it is a terrible place. Facebook and Twitter serve as staging platforms for hate, enabling the spread of misery, violence and death. The wealth of information is vast and impossible for any single person to even begin to sift through. You choose your interests, put your faith in Google (or Bing, or DuckDuckGo if you really want to go full rebel) and hope for the best. Sure, you can find stuff through the recommendations of friends, but most of those will come via Facebook, anyway. And there’s always the echo chamber effect, too.

In the olden days the array of content was exponentially smaller. Sites themselves were smaller and updated less frequently. Messages downloaded as pure text at a rate slow enough to read as it downloaded. It wasn’t better, per se, but it was simpler. And in a way, that made it better. Or it created the illusion.

Fun Fact: this site turns 14 years old (!) on February 4th. In my first post I ranted about sites using white backgrounds. How things change. :P

Tube-widening

Or how I got faster internet on Christmas Eve.

It started a few days ago when I went online to check how my monthly internet/TV bill was divided between the internet and TV parts, as I am looking into the possibility of cutting the proverbial cord. As it turns out, the TV part is about $60 per month. I then drifted over to looking at the various internet plans to compare to what I have now, and discovered my current plan no longer existed, but a new plan that was both faster and cheaper, was available.

My ISP had not notified me of this. IMAGINE THAT.

I called and a tech came out today for her last appointment before heading off to spend Christmas with the family or whatnot.

Here are the results of the initial internet connection in 2011 and the results of the speed test today, post-upgrade.

2011:

2018:

Sadly, Telus’s star rating has not similarly improved over the last seven years. But now I can reap the benefits of getting exposed to horrible social media even faster than before. Onward to the future, what little we have. Hooray!

The internet of despair

In case you had trouble finding depressing things on the internet, Bijan Stephen has an article on The Verge that handily links to several sites that trade specifically in the despair and hopelessness online: The feeling of online is ennui

It highlights how you can feel so alone and cold when in the midst of a billion babbling virtual voices. In the era of an American president seemingly spending more time making typos and complaints on Twitter than actually doing his job (perhaps a good thing), it’s not surprising that stories (and sites) like these would pop up.

Screenshots of despair is my favorite, partly because it’s a blog and not a Twitter account, but also because the humor mostly derives from being out of context, which makes it seem a little less hopeless and awful (though the blog author asserts “I am trying to break your heart.”)

One example:

It only gets better from there.

It was 20 years ago today…

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to–no, no, that’s not it.

(That’s a whole other chapter of “Makes you feel old,” realizing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released 51 years ago. I remember when its release on CD [remember those?] was a big deal and even that was 31 years ago now.)

No, 20 years ago I got broadband. It was 1998 and Rogers was my ISP because back then there wasn’t really a choice. I got Rogers@home, their broadband service, allowing me to experience the world of high speed internet.

And disconnects. And outages (sometimes for more than a day at a time). And speeds that would go from very fast to slower than dial-up.

It was both amazing (“I don’t need to tie up a phone line to get on the internet!” “The internet is always on!”) and amazingly frustrating (see the aforementioned issues above).

It opened me to a world of online gaming, from which I think I’ve just finally cured myself, having let my WoW sub finally lapse after more than ten years with little interruption. But back in the early days, Tribes, a multiplayer-only first person shooter, simply wouldn’t have been the fantastic experience it was without broadband.

Broadband let me start exploring news online instead of having to sit down in front of the TV for the news hour and watch what the broadcaster wanted me to watch. I still get my news online. It’s so much better.

It was also an age before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. In some ways this was better. Most ways. Nearly all ways, if you really think about it. There were forums for different games and hobbies, but with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of users rather than millions. You got to know people. There were a lot fewer funny cat pictures and even with broadband most of them were still small and horribly compressed.

The internet itself was still young and awkward. Websites had animated gifs and midi music. Sites were spartan or ugly or both. Spugly. But it was fresh and new and exciting.

Today, Blue’s News has literally the same design as it did back then. If you want a retro taste of what once was, that’s your active go-to right there. It used to be my home page back around then, too. It predates my high speed internet by two years. Zounds.

A few years after I got broadband I jumped ship to Telus and their ADSL. It was a bit slower but much more stable (well, not so much in that first year but it’s been solid since). The speeds today are a lot faster than they were in 1998, but web pages now serve so much fancypants content even before you include the singing/dancing/popping-up/sliding-in/good-chance-of-carrying-malware ads that it doesn’t necessarily feel a lot faster. And then you download a 50 mb file and wonder why it won’t start downloading only to realize it finished in a fraction of a second.

Fiber (or fibre, if you prefer, this post is being written in Canada, after all) is becoming more widespread, though not yet in my neighborhood. I wonder what that would feel like, speed-wise? Would I even notice? I actually don’t download a lot of stuff anymore. Mostly I just need the connection to be there and be reliable. Still, if it becomes an option I’ll probably go for it. Maybe ridiculous speed will open up new possibilities, the same way broadband did for me back in 1998. Or maybe it’ll just make it easier to exceed my bandwidth cap.

Either way, I’m ready.

Upgraded tubes

I recently had my Internet service upgraded and speedtest.net provides a shiny-looking graphic for the test results. Here it is for my connection:

Not bad. Now I can download game demos I’ll never play faster than ever!