If you follow tech blogs, you might have seen this late-90s Kids Guide To The Internet linked already. If not, let me introduce you to its awesome awfulness. In this educational film, the Jamisons: Mom, Dad and their kids Dasha and Peter – the smuggest suburban family since the early Disneyland Paris promo that came with The Little Mermaid in 1991 - guide you through the basics of the internet. Funny, for a video promoting a high-tech future, it looks pretty 80s. It even starts with the instruction: “Adjust your VCR tracking for the best picture.” The pan-pipes-and-singing ditties in between segments: “Take a spin now you’re in with the techno-set, you’re going surfing on the internet…!” are Book of Mormon-meets-Avenue Q minus the swearing.
Obviously, mom loves the internet for gardening, recipe tips and buying her daughter birthday tickets for the ballet, while dad and son enjoy keeping track of their investments and reading the sports reports (hopefully when mom’s not too nearby so her pretty brain doesn’t explode…). And of course, games, movies and MTV are coyly mentioned after the kids have excitedly done their homework. OBviously these wholesome all-Americans wouldn’t dream of printing pages out from the internet and flogging them to the kid in class who doesn’t have a computer (actual storyline from a brilliant 90s UK TV show…)
I’ve taken a nostalgic, wizened look at some of the internet’s exciting features, as presented in the video (or, I couldn’t get the damn music and cheesy smiles off my brain, so I wrote an article to compensate…)
- Usenet Newsgroups These were an early version of online forums, where people could discuss common interests, from eastern religion to Tori Amos. If you like, a fan club with the animosity of the worst corners of Twitter, where you could enjoy being ribbed by a group of adults convinced you were a middle-aged man with a personality disorder, because a teenage girl couldn’t possibly be able to write and spell.
- News and current affairs. Growing up in a part of the country where UKIP look like a genuine threat to the galaxy, the internet offered me refreshing possibilities of meeting people whose political instincts went beyond “FOREIGNERS & GAYS – BAD!” Fourteen years later, the amount of social-justice infighting online almost makes me want to order a porcelain statuette of a minor Royal from the back of a Sunday supplement. The best lesson you can learn about politics from the internet is that how elaborately and emphatically someone lists their political views in an online bio is directly proportional to how much of a plonker they are.
- Emailing politicians In the video, Dasha and Peter email President Clinton asking for more computers in schools so more children can experience the wonder of the internet. These days, getting anyone in power to take your email seriously is like trying to recover one particular pair of knickers from President Clinton’s bedroom…
- Online shopping Dasha and Peter also love being able to buy concert tickets online. Mysteriously they don’t exclaim: “£5 ‘handling charge’, WTF?!!!” at the last screen.
- AOL Or as it was commonly known, AO-Hell, the beginner’s Internet Service Provider. Lowlights of my AOL experience included the Member Directory, a sort of phone directory as envisioned by Dali. Pre-empting the Twitter experience, it was a way anyone who didn’t agree with something you’d written elsewhere could look you up and shout at you: I once had a hysterical email from a 12-year-old after a throwaway comment on a message board that someone from EastEnders was a bad actress…
- Online Chatrooms Apparently some people got beyond the “a/s/l? / receiving unsolicited photos of a stranger’s genitals” stage of these. Never met any though.
- Social Media Obviously this hadn’t been invented, let alone conquered the world in 1997. But it’s worth mentioning, as Web 2.0 nostalgia is the next stage. We can already scoff at cutely-excited 2007 articles about social media bringing people together, which don’t mention it’s full of kitten videos and misspelt racism or that it links you with everyone else your friend Tactile McDrunk has inappropriately slept with in 15 years.
- “Defragging your disk” Apparently you were supposed to do this before going online for the first time. Other than that, it just sounds like a euphemism for something David Cameron wants to ban from the internet.