Nov 2011

The wonders of the Internet

Yesterday two things happened that reminded me just how much the Internet has changed the way we communicate. The first was about physical distance and the march of technology. The second, how the Internet has removed some structures and replaced others.

Which makes it all sound so much grander than it really was.

Event 1 : Wooo, tech!

First, let me tell you about 1996. I was at University in Leicester, spending way too much time with nerds, watching too much SciFi and “dating” a girl in Alberta.

A normal day during the holidays would start with dialing in to the University SLIP (this was just before we got Dial-up) and using Telnet to check my email in Pine. We only had one phone line, and after 8am cost money, so it was very much a quick peek. I spent the day pretty much out of the loop, unless someone sent a message to my pager – and then the conversation was pretty much one way, since I hated payphones. At about 4pm, Sky One showed their daily shot of Star Trek : TNG and I spent 45 minutes watching Tasha Ya caress her computer and Deanna Troi accuse everyone of hiding something (and wondering why, if the computer was so clever, it needed to be told that Earl Grey should be served hot). At 6pm, my grandmother would finally wrestle the remote control from my hands and I’d go and tie up the phone lines again, dialing back in to the University system to chat with friends – either as a group via a MUD or one to one in the fantastically confusing “Talk”, where both parties had equal rights to type things in the same box. Finally, at about midnight (when phone costs dropped again) I dialed about 20 numbers (plus an international phone number) into the phone so that I could spend £5 on ten minutes chatting to this girl in Canada…

Fast forward 15 years to the day…

Yesterday, just before work, I went to the coffee shop to get, well, coffee. While I was waiting, my phone chirpped three times – once to tell me I had a new email, a second to tell me my brother wanted me, and a third time to tell me Earl Grey should be hot.

The day before, I’d called a UK service provider (tax/utilities/insurance type thing) to tell them to cancel my brother’s service. Only – they wouldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t my brother (we’ll ignore the fact they only knew this because I said I wasn’t). He would, they said, have to ring them to say he wanted it cancelled – but they only had an 0870 number, which can’t be accessed from abroad.

Using my leet ninja nerd skills (ahem) I got the unlisted number, sent it to my brother and told him to sort his own shit out. That second chirp was my brother, on a computer smaller than my 1996 external hard drive, IMing me, on a device twice the size of my 1996 pager, yet more powerful than the 1996 PC, to tell me that he’d just used Skype to call the provider (for free) to tell them he wasn’t a UK resident any more.

It struck me that, barring the whole space travel bit (which, lets face it, wasn’t a major part of TNG), tech was now more like Star Strek than it was like 1996. Hell, if you believe the Apple adverts, Siri has a better grasp of English than Enterprise’s computer.

Event 2 : Twitter

On a completely different subject, when did sending celebrities weird messages stop being the actions of a stalker?

Last night, while watching the BBC’s frankly fantastic Only Connect, I posted a message to twitter…

SodiumLights : Why are this week’s #onlyconnect teams dressed to match their backgrounds? Is round 5 hide and seek? Even @VictoriaCoren is at it… [LINK]

This morning, I woke up to find my phone desperately trying to catch my attention – someone had mentioned me on twitter…

VictoriaCoren : @sodiumlights I’D LOVE THAT TO BE ROUND 5. Unfortunately, I refuse to wear my glasses and we’ve only got half an hour.[LINK]

When did this happen? When did it become normal for people making random observations about TellyLand have TellyLand respond to them?

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