When the "World Wide Web" became a real thing that resembled what we have today, I was in my senior year of college. It was that year the WorldWideWeb, which was the first publicly available internet browser, was invented by English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN in Switzerland).
By the time I graduated later that year, computer classes were filling up quickly because everyone wanted to be a part of this exciting new experience. Sure, we had and used desktop computers before then, but this web stuff was glorious, shiny, and NEW!
World Wide Web: The Early Years
In all fairness, the early web was nothing like what we have now. Imagine…no pictures, videos, memes, or GIFs. It was just text in 1991. But things took off quickly after that. Millennials and Gen Z might know the following as “trivia,” but we Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) were experiencing the infancy of the web as it happened. Kind of the equivalent of our Boomer parents (or grandparents for some) as they watched the first lunar landing on TV.
- 1993: CERN released all WWW software into the public domain.
- 1994: The Yahoo! Domain is registered.
- 1994: The very first full-text search engine, WebCrawler is launched.
- 1994: Jeff Bezos starts Amazon from his garage, which was initially incorporated as Cadabra Inc., marking the birth of e-commerce.
- 1994: The very first ad banner appeared online, promoting AT&T.
- 1995: The first version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer launched.
- 1996: One of the earliest internet GIFs, the Dancing Baby debuted and became a viral trend. I was working at IBM at the time and remember the first time I saw it. The GIF still makes me laugh when I see it.
- 1998: Google is introduced, and my life, like almost everyone else's, is forever changed.
Source: Visual Capitalist
A Future Social Media Manager and Blogger in the Making?
I was intrigued by the web from the beginning! Social media, internet research, and blogging would be years away for me. Instead, I was really interested in AOL chat rooms, MUDs, and MOOs in the early 1990s, where I could "meet" and communicate with individuals from all over the world. (Yeah, I was a geek.) My passion for social media probably started at this point.
In case you’re not familiar, M.U.D. stands for “Multi-User Dimension” and M.O.O. stands for “Mud, Object Oriented.”
“MUDs are virtual environments that can be very large and detailed. In a MUD you are a character that moves about (either by typing directions or using the mouse to point in the direction desired), interacting with other characters (other users). There are many possibilities for interaction such as exploration, friendship, conversation, debate, and sometimes romance. MOOs (Mud, Object Oriented) allow users to build their own additions to the world. (Outka, 1996)” – Source: siue.edu/~dsawyer/CMC/MM.html
I literally spent hours online. With dial-up internet, this resulted in a lot of missed phone calls, unfortunately. I was hooked, though. My friends soon realized they would have to either knock on my door or send me emails to reach me.
Embracing the Digital Life
Let's jump ahead to today. Having experienced the evolution of the internet firsthand, I can honestly say that I have mostly embraced it. However, I must admit I am sometimes intimidated by how quickly things change online. There’s the good stuff, such as shopping online (groceries, clothes, gifts, and more — totally awesome!), retrieving information within seconds rather than days (no more digging through the card catalog), and keeping up with friends and family from all over the world (thanks to Facebook).
On the other hand, we also have data breaches, identity theft, and online bullying. And having to use one space after punctuation instead of two when writing online. Sigh.
Regardless, I cannot imagine life without the internet at this point, even though my Gen X friends and I fondly remember our digital-free childhoods. Our Gen Z kids and coworkers have no clue, but that’s okay. I'd say that collectively, we're all pretty laid back and enjoy learning new things.
Over to You!
Are you a Gen Xer who also experienced the early days of the internet? What’s been your favorite web discovery so far?