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27th Sep 2018

Throwback Thursday: The Days of Dial-Up


The days of dial-up can seem like a lifetime ago, when your sketchy internet connection was funnelled through your landline phone, a modem, and a desktop computer with a monitor that was as deep as it was wide.

The Internet monopolised your connection entirely. When you were using the web, phone calls were not possible. This meant that users would have to decide between making a phone call and getting online. As this was largely in the days before mobile phones made their appearance, you could only do one of the two at a time.

In the years since dial-up, a lot of Internet trends have emerged, many gaining steam and even “going viral.” One of these is the notion of Throwback Thursday, often seen in hashtag form as #ThrowbackThursday or even #TBT.

Today, we’re celebrating Throwback Thursday by going back to a time before the hashtag was even in existence; when a pound sign was just a pound sign. Let’s travel back and reminisce about the innocent age of dial-up.

The Joy of Dial-Up

Listen to this sound clip.

Chances are, that sound just transported you back approximately a decade and a half, when dial-up Internet was the norm.

In those days, we would sit at our computer and go through a lengthy waiting period to get online. The dial-up sound was imbued with anticipation, as we eagerly awaited confirmation that we were successfully on the Internet!

Today, we don’t have such a sound. Connection is basically instantaneous, and some of our devices never seem to be disconnected from the Internet. This is certainly a change and we likely take it for granted. Think back to those days when going online required a little more patience.

In the days of dial-up, you probably connected to the Internet via a gigantic, clunky computer that more resembled an old-fashioned robot than the sleek laptops and tablets of today.

While waiting for your Internet to connect, you probably had time to run and make a cup of tea. It was certainly not a quick process. Travelling over the phone lines, the computer would place a phone call for you via the modem. The modem would convert the signal from the computer into analog, then go through the network and connect to modems operated by the service provider.

Did you ever pick up the phone while someone else was using the family computer? (Because yes, in those days there was typically one computer for everyone). If you did, you may have heard a horrible screeching sound. This would let you know that the line was in use by the dial-up connection.

In addition to that loud screech reverberating in your eardrums, you had to deal with the wrath of whoever had been using the computer. Because when you picked up the receiver, you cut off their connection and knocked them offline. Uh-oh. Time to sign back on and wait for the modem to dial-up again.

We grew very used to being kicked off the Internet, so we’d start to warn our family members that we were going online. Even so, occasionally the connection would break for no reason whatsoever. No doubt dial-up Internet caused more than a few tense moments in many households.

The Slow Dial-Up Internet

Once you were online (success!) it was time to browse the web.

But unlike today’s lightning-fast mobile apps and whiplash-inducing download speeds, things back then moved at a snail’s pace.

On your 56k modem (which arrived in 1997)….

Downloading a single song took as long as a day.

Performing a Google search took at least one minute.

Opening a typical web page required about 30 seconds.

If you watched a YouTube video of today, it would take….well, let’s just say you might age a bit before it fully loads. Much buffering would be involved.

In the preceding years, the process would have been even slower, when speeds still ranged from 28.8Kbps to 33.6Kbps.

The Internet moved slowly back in the day, but fortunately, it was paired with websites and graphics that matched its speed. Today’s complex sites and heavy graphics would barely even load, if at all, as one user discovered when trying dial-up in 2017.

Gratitude for Technology

It’s fun to look back in nostalgia on the technology of yesteryear. As we reminisce about days gone by, it can remind us of a simpler time, but simultaneously fill us with gratitude for how far we’ve come.

Now, you don’t need to connect your computer directly into a modem/phone line to connect to the Internet. While phone lines still do play a part in the system, Wireless Internet is everywhere, and connections occur via fibre and even satellite.

Rather than waiting several excruciating minutes for your computer to (hopefully) get you online, you can be connected in seconds. And instead of just 100,000 websites for your viewing pleasure, there are now over 1.8 billion: more than you could ever visit in multiple lifetimes.

For those of us who lived through those days of painfully slow Internet, it’s a pleasure to look back with nostalgia at a simpler---albeit slower---time. Why not pause for a moment and recognise all the wonder and miracle of the web.

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