The Beginning Of My Life As A Purposeful Procrastinator

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-8-15-02-amTwenty years ago this month Zen-Den and I bought a dial-up modem that we used to connect our home computer to the World Wide Web– and our lives changed forever.

For a few years before this, we’d been using a home computer to keep track of finances and to make a recipe book– well, one of us was making a recipe book.  These uses of a home computer seemed modern enough to us, but with a snazzy new modem we had the luxury of the WWW in our home.  Imagine!

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I knew about email because in college I had an email address.  That was only because I was part of an early academic study on how strangers interact with each other on the World Wide Web.

[Back then, the answer would be formally, as if writing a letter and responding back to each other on a weekly basis.]

I also knew a little bit about getting information from the web, although my experience had been with college librarians who were the only people with direct access to computers that connected to the WWW.

[Back then I’d give my query of keywords, perfectly parsed a la Boolean logic, to a librarian who then input my query into a computer.  Hours later I’d get a printout of where to go in the bricks-and-mortar library to read whatever it was I was researching.]

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But what I didn’t know about the WWW was how much I’d fall in love with it, and its ability to provide information and conversation instantly.

Now, of course, it seems completely normal. Pedestrian.

But I tell ‘ya when we first went online at home in 1997, I never dreamed that the World Wide Web would be the making of me.  And that the screechy sound of our dial-up internet connection was heralding my quirky future as a purposeful procrastinator with a blog.

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Questions of the Day

When did you first get connected to the WWW in your home?

How has your life changed because of it?

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Published by

Ally Bean

Observant. Creative. Humorous. Adaptable. Happy enough. Midwestern by chance. Kindhearted most days.

97 thoughts on “The Beginning Of My Life As A Purposeful Procrastinator”

  1. Is AOL still around? After the screeching, it was seeing the AOL screen that I remember the most. How far we have come, and what’s yet ahead? Amazing.

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    1. Zen-Den, I think that AOL is still around… somewhere… in some form. I’d forgotten about that screen. Now connecting to the web is easy and a given, but when we first went online it was so amazing.

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  2. Ohh, interesting topic 🙂 I remember getting my first email address in ’96. I was only 10. I don’t remember the exact time my parents had internet installed because, well… I was ten. The only reason they allowed me to even get an email address was because we were moving out of state and I wanted an easier way to keep in contact with them. Until the day I typed in hotmale.com rather than hotmail.com. Then I was too scared to get on again for another year. True story. It’s interesting to look back and see how much it’s evolved since the 90s.

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    1. Blair, wow– an email address at age 10! Such a cool kid, I bow to you. What a great story. Of course, seeing what you saw, courtesy of an innocent mistake, might explain a lot about who you are today. 😉

      I did a similar thing early on when I was researching Laura Ingalls Wilder and ended up on a porn site for “wilder” girls. 👀

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  3. I too remember getting that first dial-up modem – give or take 20 years ago – and the 4 of us huddled around the computer screen watching a search result come up slowly … line by painful line. We thought it was THE MOST!!
    Now I get annoyed if I have to wait more than a nanosecond for something to load.

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    1. Joanne, so true. I remember Z-D and I sitting in front of the computer, eating Wendy’s, waiting… waiting… for our email to appear on the screen. We were so thrilled to even have the email, that the wait seemed irrelevant– and a good time to eat lunch!

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    2. So true, Joanne! 20 years ago I thought that dial-up modems were a true miracle. Today, I get quite cranky if the internet sped is delayed even a tad!
      Thanks for a great, nostalgic post Ally!

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  4. I first connected from home with a Mac (bought used) in 1988. I bought the machine because I realized tha my old typewriter was not going to serve me well in grad school (It didn’t do spell-check). I discovered Usenet News Groups and The Well and AOL and Netscape and Tetris. That original Mac was magic. When I look back at its hardware specifications and the connection speeds of modems then, it is amazing what I could do with it. Since then, It has been quite a ride and I ‘ve never looked back.

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  5. bobcabkings, you were ahead of the curve on this one. 1988?!! I knew about what the WWW could do, but we didn’t have the money to get a computer + modem to connect to it. I remember how excited I was when I started using Ask Jeeves or Alta Vista to research a straightforward question. No Boolean logic. Like you said, I’ve never looked back. My life has been improved by using the WWW every day. ‘Tis wonderful.

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  6. It was probably around the same time. It took so long to hook up and then you always had to shut down (and immediately remembered something you had forgotten to look up!). Not sure I could live without Google. It resolves arguments, gives buying information and diagnoses most of my fatal illnesses!

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    1. Kate, laughing here. I’d forgotten about how annoying it was to shut down the system, then remember something you forgot to do– and have to go to the bother of starting it up again. Nothing instantaneous about the www back then. To be sure, times have changed for the better… just look at how I shop for clothes now– at home in my jammies.

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  7. Wow…I don’t really remember when I first got Connected, but I sure remember the Days Of DialUp. When getting a phone call could knock you offline; when you could get those discs from AOL and stack up tons of free Internet hours; when you joined online communities and posted on Bulletin Boards for shared interests.

    I met dozens of friends that way, went to meet-ups all over the country (against the protestations of my mother and her dire warnings of falling victim to murderers and serial killers), and am friends with some of them still today.

    My blog (in its 12th year now) came much later, but is another great facet of my Virtual Life. What an asset the WWW is, when used For Good, and not For Evil.

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    1. nance, I remember those free AOL discs that were everywhere. We used those, and kept track of how long we were online each time we logged on. There was no instant access to the www back then.

      I was part of some online communities, but never meet anyone in person from them. I don’t even think I knew that people were meeting up… or they were and I wasn’t invited to join them! 😉

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  8. We got it around the same time you did. And there was no Google or Yahoo or anything. I remember just typing random web addresses in the browser to see if anything would come up. I learned to love the sound of that dial-up connection and the “You’ve got mail!” Now….now it would all drive me insane. How far we’ve come in such a short time!

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    1. lorrie, I did the same thing! I’d just try a thought or a name and see what appeared. Everything was hit or miss. And so exciting when you found something!

      You’re right about the noise. If all my current machines insisted on telling me “You’ve got mail!” every time I had mail, I’d go insane. Speed + Quiet = Good.

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    1. Akilah, I didn’t know about TV recap sites for about a decade after you! In many ways, back then the features we all found on the www were a function of what our friends found– and then told us about. Not so anymore, though.

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  9. I recently heard that AOL is not only still around but a couple million people still use AOL dial up! Amazing ! What I remember most about AOL is all those trial CDs they sent out. People used them for trendy artwork.

    I first got online in a class at university and while sending email amazed me, I didn’t really see how wonderful it would be. Then I started using a library computer for email once per week and gradually started branching out. Finally, in 2001 a friend gave me her old computer and I got online at home. I joined MSN chatrooms for the first time and started meeting people around the world, some of whom are still friends. I am an introvert and horrible at meeting new people and the internet gave me a safe way to get to know people. There have been ups and downs in that process but particularly during these years of physical limitations, the ability to shop from home, connect to people, pay bills, etc., I can’t imagine not having the internet.

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    1. Zazzy, AOL dial-up is still a thing! That amazes me, too. I’d forgotten about how those discs got turned into art. Some of it was kinda cool.

      I think lots of us got our taste of the www in college, then had to wait for our bank accounts and lifestyle to allow us to get online all the time. I remember those chatrooms and how fun it was to know that other people had similar interests to mine. I also remember being fascinated with GeoCities neighborhoods. They were kind of a precursor to blogging.

      I agree about how easy and useful the internet has become for all of us. I like it. There’s no going back, that’s for sure.

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      1. Oh, I remember geocities! I had an absolutely horrible geocities page. I forgot all about that but I suppose it got me interested in web design. Geocities also introduced me to some of the slightly darker parts of the web. It was not always a very safe place to surf.

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        1. I don’t think I had a GeoCities page, but I did have a brief flirtation with an AOL personal website that I set up somehow and then could update sort of like a blog. I remember that I had to have a name for my website so I called it something like “This Afternoon.” Clever, eh?

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  10. It was the late 90s for me too. I thought it the most amazing thing ever. Looking back at it now, it seems so caveman-ish. Who would’ve thought we’d be doing it all by our phones a short time later?

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    1. Carrie, the transition from no internet to internet in your hand 24/7 has been the most dramatic change I’ve seen in my lifetime. As much as I love the www, I’m reluctant to always be available via smart phone/computer. So does that make me a dinosaur or the vanguard of the next wave? Time will tell.

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      1. I do think there might be a shift away from some of it. For example, both of my teen sons shun social media–they don’t want their stuff out there forever. On the other hand, they’re often on their phones looking at other things so that part isn’t likely to disappear.

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        1. That’s interesting about their preferences. Smart kids. Good to be cautious with how much you say about yourself online. So really it’s the phone, a device, that hooks them in– not the salacious gossip. Fascinating.

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          1. Yes. They play games and look at a lot of memes and news sites, and while they browse on a lot of sites, they don’t really interact. Now, texting friends is another story–especially my 16-year-old!

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            1. I like the games and news sites, too– for the reasons that your sons do. Less interaction. However I rarely text, but can see how that’s taken the place of a much more public FB acct. In the end I believe that all communication channels are what you make of them. None are inherently good or bad, it’s just what works for you.

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  11. Like you, I had email in college, and at work, but I didn’t have internet in my home until… 2001 maybe? 2002? I remember which home we had it in, and that I had it before Sassy was born (10/02) but I can’t say for sure.
    I remember being too busy to use it much until our other home, and even then I recall I only had time in the night…
    I didn’t much use the web until 2007 when Moo went to school for a few hours a day. I remember having much fun with quizzes and blogs and YouTube. I never understood why people were on MySpace all day, but then I became a Facebook addict for a few years (before everyone was on there, ruining it with their thereness.)

    I remember this kid in college who was obsessed with chat rooms and how indignant we were that he needed to log out and do some real life. Heh.

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    1. joey, I understand how you associate your internet access with homes. We got our internet when we did because we’d moved here and were bored out of our gourds. The idea that we could connect elsewhere was the primary reason we did it.

      But once we found out about how you could read newspapers online and play games online and shop online, the www took on a different purpose. And then MySpace came along followed by FB [neither of which I like], so people were everywhere online.

      Thinking back on it, I did some chat rooms but they never appealed to me that much. I don’t know why, considering that blogging drew me in from the git-go.

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      1. Blogging was where it was at for me, too.

        Git-go, hm? I trust you, you always know the things, but I wouldn’t have thought that. Get-go… a place to buy Orange Crush, Git-go…from the start?
        I love learning. 🙂

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  12. My dad was the proud president of the local chapter of the Apple Computer Club back when the Apple II was first released and so as new gadgets and widgets came on the market, I was fortunate to be one of the first to try them. I had my first modem and email account long before my peers. The problem of course was no one else had one so mostly I just sat there listening to the dial-up music.

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    1. Allie P, you were a cool kid. How fun to have early access to any of the new Apple stuff, but I get your problem with having an email address before anyone else. I remember explaining to friends and family what an electronic mailbox was– and why they needed one. Most of them thought I was crazy, at that time.

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  13. I first had WWW access in 1994, with a 2400baud modem, then quickly upgraded to 14.4k and a year or so later to a 56K (ridiculously expensive!). It wasn’t until around 2000-ish that I finally ditched the modem and went the cable route (and never looked back). I’m now rocking a 75Mbps connection and thinking of upgrading to 150Mbps.

    My life, initially, became more reclusive and turned in on itself. For several years I purposely got lost in the Internet and had very little interaction with live people outside of my electrical world. Work, Internet, sleep, Internet, Work, wash, rinse and repeat. I’m much more disciplined now and have used the Internet, ironically, to reverse the damage it caused early on in my life. Go figure.

    I fear that the Internet has become so pervasive in all facets of human life that it’s no longer perceived consciously, rather, it’s “just there.” You’re only reminded, rather jarred into panic, when it’s not available for whatever reason. I mean, I have a damn UPS on my router at home so when the power goes out, the Internet doesn’t go with it (cable connection remains in most cases). How geeky is that?!

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    1. Andrew, while I’ve enjoyed being online, and am a confirmed introvert, I’ve never felt like a recluse attached to my internet come hell or high water. I can walk away from it, whenever. No problem. I’ve got books to escape into, I guess.

      It’s interesting to read about your experiences with the www and how you’ve come to realize its place in your life. I imagine that has been quite a lifestyle change for you.

      I think you’re right that for some people the existence of the www is so natural that they don’t understand what a privilege it is to have it at your fingertips. Like everything else in life, it’s all about what you do with it. So it’s best to be aware of what you’ve got.

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    1. historyoftelephony, thanks for the link to your blog post. For me, the www has been all about creativity and connection, so the historical facts about its development are interesting to read about.

      I’d forgotten about how you couldn’t be online and on the phone at the same time. Things change, eh?

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  14. It amazes me how quickly things that are a “normal” part of our lives becomes obsolete nowadays. The sound of dial-up can be identified easily by just about anyone “of a certain age,” but ask someone just a few years younger, and they will have no idea what it is. I can’t remember when we got email, but certainly not in college. I have a friend who has an AOL email address (although not dial-up) so I guess they are still around. Interesting post!

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    1. Janis, I agree. When we got dial-up we thought we were cutting edge, but within a few years it was obsolete. I don’t enjoy adapting to new technology so I begrudgingly go along with things, trying to keep what I have and understand for as long as possible. Then gritting my teeth as I work with something new.

      I know someone with an AOL email address. It’s kind of quaint.

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  15. We’ve come a long way, Baby! I remember having to stay off the dial-up-modem internet while waiting for important phone calls. If I forgot, they got a BUSY signal! How quaint.

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    1. nancy, now that everyone is mentioning it I remember the either/or aspect of www OR telephone. I’d forgotten about all of that mess. Much better now. Even if I’m not a huge fan of smart phones…

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  16. Wow, talk about Throwback Thursday!

    First of all, I must thank you for the new designation that I shall wear proudly: Purposeful Procrastinator. There might even be a blog post in here, somewhere, for occupying my time PURPOSEFULLY has been on my mind lately.

    Second, to answer your question. I’ve worked on computers since the mid 80’s, but didn’t have a desktop of my ownsome until 1995. After that, I was a changed being.

    I took to the web like a duck to water. Not to say that I am technologically capable – I’m not! – but I am fearless about venturing into all the goodies that the WWW has to offer. Now and again, I open a page and embarrass myself, but I back out and learn to never venture down THAT avenue again.

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    1. Maggie, by all means become a self-proclaimed Purposeful Procrastinator. We are a good bunch, wandering the highways and byways of the World Wide Web intent on avoiding our To Do Lists while improving our minds with whatever we find along the way.

      I, too, was immediately taken with the internet once we got it in our home. I knew some of what was out there on the www, but like you occasionally ended up in the wrong place. Overall, however, it’s been a wonderful addition to my life– and made me who I am today.

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  17. I think it was ’94 when I first got into AOL (it was the year of the baseball strike) and graduated to using the real Internet not long after. Now I can’t remember much about life without it. Sad, ain’t it? And what I do remember was, I was a whole lot happier…

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    1. John, I beginning to think that the mid-90s was when most people who I know went online. I remember the experience distinctly because for me it was the best thing ever. While I’m not online constantly I do enjoy having the www at my fingertips when I want it. Still, it’s amazing to think that it’s been in my life 20 years already.

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  18. It was late 90s for us too – and it’s crazy to think how exciting that screeching connecting noise could be! I love being able to get to know people from all over the world this way, but sometimes I miss the old emailing days too. Back before social media and FB, some of my friends and I would email back and forth like pen pals. It’s funny to think of emailing with nostalgia.

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    1. Sheila, I miss the emailing/pen pal days too. I’d sit at my computer and happily wait for an email to appear, enjoying the depth and humor of what my friends said. Now it’s texts or nothing. Makes me sad, actually.

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  19. We had the Internet early in high school – so that puts it about 1994 (we were early adopters, what can I say?). It was amazing. So amazing that we had to get a second line at home because my siblings and I were spending a lot of time online. There may have been a lot of playing of Duke Nukem and Doom, as well as AOL chatrooms going on.

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    1. Sarah, regardless of what you were doing on the www, you were lucky to get access to the internet when you were in high school. [Does that make you a digital native? I’ve heard that term, but don’t know what it really means.]

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  20. Because we were poor folks, I was not one of those 80’s kids who experienced the joy of having a home computer. I only got to play with them at school….. ah, the old Apple IIe’s…

    When I went to college in 1993, that’s when I first learned of this thing called email. It wouldn’t be until my senior year in early 1997 that I’d finally discover that World Wide Web I’d heard so much about in the college computer lab. It would be another three years before the internet became accessible at home in the form of a cable subscriber service called Worldgate, which was a Web TV knockoff. When that service was done away with in October 2002, an internet hooked family like mine had no choice but to FINALLY go out and purchase a real computer…

    Being the extreme introvert I am in real life, I discovered my hidden social butterfly early on in my online life. I’ve also found numerous ways use the internet as an outlet for my overactive imagination I’ve had since childhood (My blog being just the latest product). It has pretty much become my life… which some may see as sad, but I’d hate to think of where I’d be today without it since it’s the only device that can open up the doors to my soul that stay rusted shut otherwise…

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    1. evil, it’s quite a story you tell here. I remember Apple computers were in some grade schools and high schools, but not where I was. Like you, I remember going to computer labs in college where you could use a machine [no idea what brand] to look up a few things, play a few games, get email if you were one of the select ones [which I was for inexplicable reasons].

      I’ve never heard of anything like Worldgate. Ever. It doesn’t sound like it was the smoothest of ways to connect to the www, but back then we all were so enamored of the internet that any way to get there was great. However, I’m glad that you finally got a computer and went online in the proper way. 😉

      I know what you mean about being a social butterfly online, while clinging to introvertedness in real life. I’ve become more like that– especially after we moved here where I’ve never felt understood/comfortable. I don’t see using the internet to connect as sad, as much as I see it as forward-thinking & practical.

      We all do what we can where we are to make the best lives for ourselves, don’t we? ‘Cuz if you don’t do it, nobody else will. Just saying…

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  21. As someone who loves connections with others, the www has helped me keep in touch with many people and feel more knowledgeable(sometimes too much!) about what’s going on in the world and in other’s lives. I remember the excitement as the screechy modem hooked me up to the (what is now) VERY slow internet. 🙂

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    1. Margaret, it was exciting to hear that noise, knowing that you’d be able to “talk” with people instantly OR find the answer to your problem almost instantly. Before the www life was much less interesting, to be sure.

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          1. My dad was all into that stuff. If he were still here, I would have had an iPhone prototype before public sales, I’m sure. He just HAD to have all the gadgets.

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            1. Some people are all about the gadgets, but I’ve found my attraction to the www is how creative I can be here– and how many cool people are around here.

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              1. True. I wonder sometimes what my dad’s love of this stuff would have morphed into — connection, creativity? He was a great cook and probably would have exchanged recipes with strangers near and far.

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    1. Mary, it was all about waiting back then. I think we put up with it because we didn’t know any better. I remember reading about wifi and thinking this is nuts– you can’t wander around your house and connect to the internet. You have to sit at your desk and wait.

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  22. I remember having a dial-up modem, but I was so annoyed by it rather than impressed. I constantly was shutting it down only to realize I hadn’t completed all my research or what have you! For that reason, I figured it would never last, lol. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would come to *this*, the way the internet is now! Really quite amazing–and sure proof that it’s only going to get more unbelievable in the next 50 years!!

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    1. Kate, I remember that horrible feeling when you realized that you’d forgotten to do something online. Like you, I never imagined that the www would become the all-encompassing, all- engrossing thing that it has become. Go figure?

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  23. OH that screeching noise and dealing with phone calls or computer choices. Remember Commodore computers? That was our fist one (mid 80’s).We had a neighbor with Apples ( and those were in the schools) so we’d go over there and huddle around the screen.
    I loved the company laptops (and the company check for internet.) Emails, then video meetings (and some of us were messaging online during those talking about how annoying the “meetings” were. It seems I was always with tech obsessed companies.
    I remember my dad talking about how they road to church in a horse and buggy and he lived to see space travel and men on the moon – as well as small computers instead of the multi room sized ones.
    Bet we’ll be saying the same archaic things and talking about the wonder, too

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    1. philmouse, the screeching sound was awful, but what it gave us was amazing. I remember friends with Commodore computers, but we didn’t have one. Ours was a Gateway, had to have a cow box! Eventually I wised up and got an Apple computer which was a real game changer… hence the blog.

      I’m sure that you’re right about how we’ll all be these crazy old people who’ll talk about the days before home computers and the www. But will it be with fondness or with a sense of appreciation for what we have now? That’s the question!

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