The day was October 29, 1969, and the place was actually two-two computer labs. One was at UCLA, and the other was at Stanford. Charley Kline and Bill Duvall connected two computers to one another over telephone lines, and worked together as Kline attempts to login to the computer on Duvall’s end of the connection. As the story goes, the two men were also on a voice call with one another, and Kline got as far as typing the G before Duvall reported that the computer on his end had crashed. Which kind of means that computers have been crashing since the dawn of the Internet, so you really should not feel too badly about it when things like that happen, even today!
Fast forward 46 years, and try to imagine your life without the Internet. Boggling, isn’t it? So many of the things we take for granted today are firmly entrenched in both the power and the ubiquity of the Internet so in honor of it being Internet Day, we’d take a look at the top 31 things that existed before the Internet, but today depend upon Internet technologies, even if it’s not really obvious that they do. Some of these may be a surprise. Let’s take a look.
1. Letter writing
In olden days, people used tools called “pens” to make marks on dead trees turned into “paper.” These marks were called “writing” and they were an asynchronous and extremely high-latency way to pass data back and forth. Many different data concepts were typically incorporated into one transmission, and…you get the idea. Seriously, when was the last time any of us actually wrote a letter to someone, put it in an envelope, and mailed it?
Speaking of…we hosted a pretty fun party a couple of weeks ago. We invited neighbors, friends, and family, and we sent everyone an electronic invitation through a site that provided nice templates, delivery notifications, RSVP, guest book tracking, and more. It was pretty cool, and mimicked so many of the old style ways of doing things, while being completely online.
3. Thank You notes
And since it was a house-warming party, we got many gifts, each of which we need to send a thank you card for. The thing is, we had a very hard time finding thank you cards, and now we are faced with the choice of trying to get physical addresses for everyone, or just sending e-card thanks. I bet we all know which one will win out, mainly because of the awkwardness around asking someone for their physical address.
4. Gift registries
On the topic of parties and thank you cards, have you been invited to someone’s wedding or baby shower lately? Gift registries are all online now, which makes it easy to find that perfect something for someone, and to ensure there are no duplicates.
Of course, as long as you’re online looking at that gift registry, you may as well “add it to your cart” and save yourself a trip to the mall. These days, it’s not even about avoiding crowds and traffic, or trying to save a buck. We live five miles from an Amazon distribution center, and some things arrive the same day! Online shopping is taking place more than the “write it down on the list to buy later” because if you don’t need it right now, and it’s not going to be at the store you will visit this weekend anyway, you may as well order it online to save that 30~45 minutes of going somewhere out of the way. At least, that’s how we roll.
Given the sudden jump in advertising on YouTube, Tumblr, and practically every other commercial website on the planet, advertising online must be paying off for someone. It seems like about half of it is based on tracking cookies and the other half on location services, because it’s almost scary to see ads for things on news sites that I was looking at on Amazon, or to get relevant local ads every time, even though I travel almost every week!
Who runs bartertown? The one with the most bandwidth. From the literal bartertown.com to online versions of swap meets, trading goods and services for other goods or services dates back to the dawn of history, but now, it’s done online as much or more than in-person.
8. Diary writing
Yes, there are still people on MySpace, or who have WordPress.org or Tumblr or even Pinterest pages and who share their thoughts and dreams and personal experiences with the entire world. I remember growing up when only girls kept diaries, and they usually had a lock on them…not today! Everything is out there for the entire world to see, and both genders share equally. I am glad that males can express themselves without being shamed, but I am kind of shocked at some of the things people put out there.
Charity drives, Kickstarter campaigns, cookie and popcorn sales…fundraising has been revolutionized by the Internet. Anybody can raise funds for anything just by asking for money. It’s heartwarming when someone sets up a fund for an injured animal that is a member of a family who cannot afford the vet bills and then you see the goal met within a few hours. It’s encouraging to see how many people come forward to donate online to a relief agency in response to some disaster somewhere out in the world. Maybe humanity is going to make it after all.
On a related note, patronage used to be something only the uber-rich did, like the Medici, funding artists for the sake of art. But today, content creators can offer their wares for free, and entice patrons with sites like patreon.com enabling crowdfunding efforts in exchange for special perks, unique creations, or just boasting rights that you help to support someone whose creations you enjoy.
11. Passing notes
Remember when you were a kid, and would write a note, fold it up, and then ask the kid behind you to “pass it down” the row to the person you had a crush on, or were friends with? Maybe you wrote a love note and managed to slip it into their backpack when no one was looking. Today, you probably just post something on their Facebook wall, Tweet them or Snapchat them. Same idea; radically different implementation.
In the US at least, practically every single town or city has a singleintownname.com website that enables singles to register and “meet” other singles in the area. eHarmony and Match.com offer similar services on a national scale, though with perhaps a more long-term goal in mind. While people can certainly still hit the bar scene to meet others, online dating is the new normal for many.
13. Game playing
Sure, you could meet up at a friend’s house or head down to the library or the park to try to scrounge up a competitor for a good game of chess, but these days, most of the game-playing action is online. And I don’t mean just the things that don’t exist in the real world, like MMORPGs. Chess, checkers, Backgammon, Monopoly, and more are all online and you can play against your friends by arranging a meet, or against a stranger from the far side of the world.
It’s hard to remember a time when you had to wait until 18:00 to get the local news, or 18:30 to get the national news, and then you had to really wait until the next day to get the newspaper and find out the details. Even if you grew up with CNN running 24×7, that’s nothing compared to how quickly and easily you can get an email or app notification and you’re in touch and up to date around the clock, no matter where you are.
Okay, show of hands. How many of you remember that Rand-McNally Road Atlas and having to pull over to the side of the road to figure out which exit you missed? Okay, keep your hands up. Now, those of you who don’t have a GPS app on your smartphone, keep your hands up…oh, that leaves no one. Okay. The possibility of you reading this blogpost, and NOT having a smartphone is approximately 3,720 to 1.
16. Food ordering
In 2004, I went online to order a pizza, planning to pick it up on my way home. I placed my order, got in my car, drove over to the restaurant, and got there in time to hear someone at HQ call in my order to the local store for me. In the 11 years since then, food ordering has gotten a little better, with online ordering actually not having to involve a person on the phone, and now we have apps that can help you get food delivery, book reservations, or even put together an ingredients list so your run to the local store is more productive.
17. Home security systems
In the both ‘this is really cool’ and ‘this is somewhat scary’ realms, many alarm systems these days are monitored and controlled over the Internet. My home alarm has cameras I can view online from anywhere, and I can arm or disarm the alarm from an app on my phone instead of from the panel on the wall. Fortunately, my alarm system’s Internet access requires 2FA, otherwise I would probably be asking for trouble since no password is really that good of a password!
18. Remote controls
With the Internet of Things, so many of those ‘things’ are now controlled through apps and a central server that is accessed over the Internet. Too cold? No problem, let me just bump my thermostat up, not by walking over to the unit on the wall, but rather by using the app on my phone that connects to a web service which my thermostat polls every 30 seconds. That takes laziness to a new comfort level, and comfort to a new laziness level!
19. Home entertainment
Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, and on-demand streaming from practically every network producing content today ensures that you can never really claim that “there’s nothing on TV.” Note, I did not say you couldn’t claim that there’s nothing good on TV. That is a topic for another post. Until then, consider many of us were born before cable, and now we really do have an unlimited source of entertainment options if we have an Internet connection. We had to buy a new TV last week, and literally, there was not a single model at the store that did NOT have Netflix built-in. I love Netflix, so that is great as far as I am concerned, but I remember being a poor college student who could only afford basic cable and thinking that was still more than enough choices for the amount of time I would have in front of a TV.
I read for enjoyment. I try to read every single night. If I cannot do some leisure reading before I go to sleep, I will likely have bad dreams about work throughout the night, so for my own sanity, I read. The thing is, I read on my phone, and I use Kindle and Nook apps to read ebooks. There have been plenty of nights I get to the end of a book and am not yet sleepy, so the next best seller is just a couple of taps away with One-click buying turned on. I remember as a kid the horror when I finished a book at night, and not only did I not have another, but it would be the weekend before I could get my parents to take me to the bookstore. I mean, the weekend? That could be, like, four days away!!!! I do still love paper, but the day the FAA approved tablets and phones could be used even during takeoff and landing was the day I bought my last paperback.
21. Banking and Investments
For many people, walking into an actual brick and mortar bank just seems weird. Online banking is available everywhere, and there are even banks that simply don’t have branches anymore. The Internet has revolutionized banking in ways no one would have ever believed possible, and seems to survive if not thrive even with all the security scares going on out there. Whether you play the market, day trade, or just rebalance your 401K investments once a year, you do all of that online unless you actually work on Wall Street.
22. Invoicing and Bill Paying
We don’t even get paper copies of bills anymore from anyone except the newspaper. Yes, we still get the Sunday paper. Don’t ask…I think it’s a waste but I am not the only one in the house! And even that paper bill gets paid online. What started as an experiment with online banking quickly became the number one reason to have online banking to begin with, and these days, the Internet is the preferred way for both consumers and providers to settle accounts.
When I was a kid, the public library was the coolest place in the world for me. Lucky for me, my mom worked across the street, so anytime she had to run into the office at night or on the weekends, I was going to tag along so I could go hang out in the library. The encyclopedias; the county records; the law books…the best thing about my 12th birthday was that I was finally old enough to be allowed into the research section without my parents with me. And yet, today, between Bing and Wikipedia, I am ashamed to admit I don’t even know where the local library is in my current city. How about you? Been to a library recently to do some research for personal or business reasons? I didn’t think so.
I imagine there must be some travel agents somewhere out there, in their little offices with the cool posters on the walls, ready to help you book that magical getaway. I have to imagine that, because I haven’t seen them in years. The last trip I booked with a travel agent was in 2000. Today, online is the only way to go, whether personal or for business, and the myriad of sites make it easy to book flights, trains, or cruises, and to get hotel and rental cars all lined up in a single portal.
This may be the year I finally cancel SiriusXM, and I haven’t even bothered to tune in the local radio stations on my car, because Pandora, IHeartRadio, and YouTube make it easy to listen to anything I want, anytime I want to. And for those rare times when I want to listen to something while offline, it’s iTunes that I use to get those songs, not the local music store. When was the last time you bought a physical CD from a brick and mortar store?
I mentioned Patreon, but what are all those generous folks giving money to? Creators of course. Whether you’re an online cartoonist, or an unsigned musician, or an unpublished author, the Internet has plenty of places for you to post your wares and be discovered. Some of the best cartoonists online today make respectable livings just off the ad revenue and product tie-ins on their websites, and I think we all have heard of one or two “musicians” who got their start on YouTube. Usher, the world may never forgive you for that!
27. Freedom of Speech
Back in the day, when your soapbox was something you could actually stand on, and your ideas could spread about as far as the sound of your voice, expressing yourself was your right, but your reach was pretty limited. Now, with YouTube videos and blogs, you can espouse practically anything you want to
I am not 100% sure that’s a word, but it is an idea. Back in the day, if you were a fan, you could join fan clubs and write to the subject of your adoration. Maybe you would get an invite to exclusive events, or perhaps a signed 8×10, but other than that you would have to hold out for perhaps a calendar or a feature article in People Magazine to feed your addiction. But now there’s the Internet, and while there are a tons of fan sites online for every celebrity, many celebrities will feed your addiction directly by tweeting their every little thought, and instagramming images from their daily lives.
This feeds into our last entries, coming from the darker side of the web. Just like dynamite, the internet can be used for good and bad things:
With so much information online, it’s frighteningly easy for people with unhealthy infatuations or evil intentions to stalk people online. Celebrities and politicians expect a certain amount of their lives to be online, and can afford protective details (at personal or taxpayer expense) when need be, but regular people who accidentally put too much on Facebook may find themselves face to face with someone that has bad intentions and a lack of self-control. People really need to be careful about what they put online, since once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.
Bullying is an unfortunate but omnipresent part of society, but at least in the good old days, it ended when the afternoon bell rang, and didn’t start until the next day. With the Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, and more, cyberbullying not only can take place 24×7, perpetrators can reach victims around the world.
And worse, there’s theft. Whether it is the theft of intellectual property and copyrighted material, the theft of NPI that can lead to credit fraud and identity theft, or the theft of classified information that can put an entire country’s national security at risk, any system that is connected to the Internet can be targeted, and any information that system can access can be stolen, and the perpetrators can be in other countries and completely beyond the reach of the law or the possibility of any recompense for the victims. As good as the Internet is, this is the other side of the coin.
Think of it. All of the above used to be done without the Internet at all, but today, to do it sans web makes you seem at best strange, and at worst, some kind of technophobic Luddite. Could you do it all the old fashioned way? Hopefully so (for at least most of the above!) but why would you?
Now, this list is by no means complete. To do that, we need your help. Think of something you hold near and dear and that depends upon or is enabled by the Internet, and leave a comment to let us know what we missed. Thanks!