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Future Tech: 

10 ways the internet has massively improved since the 90s

You want to get online, huh? Hope you enjoy staring at loading bars.

You want to get online, huh? Hope you enjoy staring at loading bars.

If you’re reading this and under the age of 25, then congratulations: you probably don’t remember the dark old days of the 1990s internet. Some of us grew up along with the websites you know and love (and others that have fallen), and remember the growing pains we all went through to get where we are today.

Take note, young’uns. Things are about to get nostalgic. Now say it with me… “In our day…”

1. It’s super fast

Watching that download bar reach 100% after a few hours was a game in itself. Only our monitors were the size of a rabbit hutch.

Watching that download bar reach 100% after a few hours was a game in itself. Only our monitors were the size of a rabbit hutch.

Do us a quick favor, and count up the number of times you’ve cursed a slow connection in the last week. Why, you ungrateful little…!

Yeah, we have too. But we remember exactly what it was like on a 28.8k dial-up modem. Downloading a five megabyte file? You’d best have a book to read while you wait, because even if it does download fully (see point 2), you won’t be able to do much else while you wait a couple of hours for the file to finish. Even pictures would take an age to open, and video – don’t go there. We didn’t for about 10 years.

Then again…

Uh. We’re hard pressed to think of a positive for this. At a push, you certainly didn’t have to juggle tabs like a multi-tasking pro like nowadays. We kind of miss that sort of intense focus. But it wasn’t worth the rage.

2. Outages are rare

"GUYS. THE STRING'S GONE AGAIN."

“GUYS. THE STRING’S GONE AGAIN.”

So, it was slow. Really slow. But even worse were the outages. Sure, you get Wi-Fi signals dropping nowadays too, but if you were disconnected from a dial-up modem, you’d then have to dial back in, which took ages. Plus sometimes a landline (remember those?) phone call would knock you off too.

Picture the scene: it’s 1999, and a young GoExplore writer is desperately excited to try the demo of Driver. 14 megabytes! Okay, best get a book and read for a few hours while it downloads. Oh. It’s disconnected. Again. Back to the start.

That young GoExplore writer never did buy Driver. Blame AOL for that travesty of justice that he’s only just come to terms with 16 years later.

Then again…

We still get outages now, but with downloads getting smarter it’s really only a momentary inconvenience. The only positive you could say about outages is that sometimes we’d get so frustrated with the whole thing, that we got a bit of much-needed Vitamin D.

3. You don’t pay per minute any more

There wasn't a literal coin slot, but there might as well have been. Phone bills were often a surprise.

There wasn’t a literal coin slot, but there might as well have been. Phone bills were often a surprise.

The other thing about dial-up modems was that because you were using the phone lines, you paid by the minute for internet access. Add that to the whole speed deficiency thing, and you’d have expensive short-lived sessions where you didn’t do what you wanted because the taxi-meter was always slowly ticking up, and you’d prefer to keep money for stuff like rent and food.

Then again…

There’s something to be said about a monetary incentive for retaining focus. Nowadays as an alway-on everywhere free distraction, the internet is one hell of a big time sink. Now what article were we supposed to be writing again?

4. Websites don’t look like this anymore

Man, I can't wait to enter and start living the Pepsi brand. What a time to be alive. (Image: Way Back Machine)

Man, I can’t wait to enter and start living the Pepsi brand. What a time to be alive. (Image: Way Back Machine)

Oh, just look at it.

Then again…

Well… it was certainly colorful. And as basic as that navigation is, you’d never get lost on it. Though some brave websites manage to look worse.

5. Multimedia actually means something now

Look at all these business people doing business things. Thanks Internet!

Look at all these business people doing business things. Thanks Internet!

You don’t hear the word ‘multimedia’ much nowadays, because it’s just become ‘media’ – the stuff we consume every day. It’s lost its novelty. Back in 1998, you had text. Maybe the odd animated banner advert, but these made animated GIFs look like witchcraft.

Nowadays there’s so many videos, music tracks, and podcasts that there’s quite literally not enough hours in a year to keep up.

Then again…

There’s something to be said for too much choice being a problem. We underplayed the whole ‘not enough hours’ thing a moment ago: YouTube alone has 300 hours worth of video uploaded to it every second. True, the majority of it is unlikely to be ‘must-see TV’, but what life-changing footage are we not watching right now?

6. Everyone has a voice

Wonder what that box contains.

Wonder what that box contains.

You don’t need a book deal to write to your heart’s content. You don’t need a video studio to become a YouTube sensation. You don’t need a recording studio to make a podcast. A tweet can be heard all around the world, even if most aren’t.

Disagree with an article? Leave an acerbic comment telling the author in no uncertain terms what you think of them. (Or don’t. Please.)

Then again…

Perhaps not everyone should have a voice? Yes, brilliant creative voices can come from nowhere, but so can trolls and other nasties, getting exposure when once there was simply no way for them to be heard.

7. Things aren’t so black and white

Spot the odd one out.

Spot the odd one out.

Never before have we had so much media at our disposal! That means you don’t have to put up with a single newspaper or news website for your coverage. You can compensate for your biases by reading a bunch of sources and commentaries, or just confirm your own prejudices by sticking to what you know. It’s simply up to you!

Then again…

The web knows so much about us, and about how humans don’t really like to have our views challenged, that some argue the web is mollycoddling us in our own personal filter bubble. That’s probably not good for balance.

8. You can get most things for free

You're gonna be riiiiich with all the free stuff you're getting.

You’re gonna be riiiiich with all the free stuff you’re getting.

Things that would once have cost a lot of money are now free if you want them. Online storage, social networking, the aforementioned ‘multimedia’. A freeloader can go hog-wild on the internet not paying a penny if they take the George Costanza approach to life.

We already touched on the pay-per-minute nature of internet access. Nowadays, we moan about having to pay for hotel Wi-Fi.

Then again…

Without wanting to state the obvious too patronizingly, services cost money – social networks, video, music, journalism. You may be selling your privacy, or just giving way to intrusive ads. There’s an argument to be made that this model is unsustainable, and we’ve only got ourselves to blame if quality takes a nose-dive in this corner-cutting race to the bottom. But hey, at least we saved a few bucks on the way.

9. You can make internet friends without people judging you

"You collect antique barbed wire too? Let's hang out!"

“You collect antique barbed wire too? Let’s hang out!”

Back in the 90s, the internet was treated with a certain amount of mistrust. Like, the only people who could possibly be using the internet were someway creepy or inherently evil. This, despite the fact that you were quite happily using the internet. But you were the exception. You’re great, we won’t hear anyone say otherwise.

Thankfully, this ridiculous double-standard is behind us, and we’re free to make far better friends than we normally would by happenstance, because you can find people who share your unusual interests. Just look at the growth of acceptability online dating has had in the last decade.

Then again…

A healthy level of distrust is a good thing. After all, on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.

10. You can get everything in list-form

De ja vu, man. De ja vu.

De ja vu, man. De ja vu.

Our attention spans are shorter. Sometimes you can’t be bothered to read the end of a sentence, let alone a ful…

Then again…

You might have hated this list. Don’t worry, we do long-form stuff too.

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