THE BIG IDEA: My First Internet Experience

InternetYou never forget your first. It’s awkward, yet incredible. Clumsy, yet exciting. It’s nothing like the way you dreamed it would be, but with the right provider it is everything you hoped it would be. It is life changing, life altering, and you are never the same afterward.

I’m talking about the first time I ever went online. What did you think I was talking about?  

Why don’t we go back through Memory Lane, shall we? Now you might be wondering why I started thinking about the good old days, back when the Internet was so young it wasn’t even considered a fad. Back when Microsoft didn’t notice that the Internet was coming along. They sort of forgot about it, thinking it was something reserved only for a small niche of academics. Why all the nostalgia?

I have been looking back on the collection of Big Ideas, and we’ve had a lot of them when you look at how long I’ve been doing this column (and thank you all for coming along with me on this), and it struck me how we take the Internet for granted. There are children who will never know the world without and always expect it to be within reach. I just got to thinking about how astounding,how when it came to Big Ideas, the Internet is the biggest of them all.  Especially when I looked back on that first outing online.

I had a Windows machine and as this was long before the days of America Online or CompuServe, there was no starter disc, no command, and certainly no browser native with Windows.

Yes, this is so far back, there was no Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Windows had no way to get on the Internet. If you knew about this strange new world called the Internet, you needed what is called a protocol stack to do that. The good news—there was a program called Winsock that could create this connection. The bad news? You had to get this program from Australia.

Again, if you knew where to look—and I did—some computer stores offered for $40 an “Internet in a Box” kit. Sold by Spry, Inc., they were introducing a commercial internet service called InterServ. This was considered revolutionary if not a little odd. Who, in their right mind, would pay a company a fee to connect to this ethereal place that only computer geniuses knew existed, right? Now IBox (yes, that is with an uppercase “I”) included Winsock, a TCP/IP protocol stack, and a licensed copies of the AIR Mosaic browser, AIR Mail email client, AIR News client, AIR Telnet, the AIR Gopher search engine, and an FTP client so you could upload files. Remember, this is pre-Internet Explorer and pre-Google. You had to buy all these things that, now, we expect for free. This Internet in a Box package included a copy of The Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog by Ed Krol and Interserve’s dialup access.

No modem though. That was sold separately.

So after my modem connected…and if you don’t know what that sounded like…

…and then all the protocols kicked in, I was on the internet. Now, if I could go back in time and experience this, I would be appalled at how slow the connection was, but it didn’t seem that slow at the time. The other thing about the Internet at this time was its exclusivity. Not many of my neighbors at the time purchased Internet in a Box. You had to be interested in technology and I was interested in technology. I had always been on the DARPA Network, the precursor to the Internet. I’d been using email clients at work but, of course, that was all classified. This whole idea of having a public network, an open version of what we used at DARPA was incredible.

EmailThis was how I logged on for two years, and slowly the Internet as we knew it came along. Then Microsoft developed Internet Explorer and Netscape created Navigator, so you no longer needed Mosaic. Finally, a TCP/IP protocol stack was incorporated into the operating system’s upgrades and eventually came standard for all platforms, so Winsock became a thing of the past. By this time, services considered footnotes in the development of the Internet—Prodigy, Compuserve, and America Online—were popping up everywhere, so I ended up just getting another dialup service provider. This was in 1994. When you think of how “advanced” that was in 1994, and how the Internet has gradually evolved over the years, it’s stunning. The Internet changed not only my perception of what a computer could be but also how connect our would could become. Absolutely stunning.

The downside? In those early days through Internet in a Box, I didn’t get much email back then. Maybe five or six emails a day, and that was pretty cool. Now? I get boatloads of email. Some days are better than others.



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.


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