Today marks the 20th birthday of the world wide web (www that comes before your webpage address). It’s twenty years ago since hyper text markup language (the html at the end of web addresses) became the common and standard language to write in to communicate the internet.
I clearly remember the internet before html or www. Even back in 1986 I was a geek, but a braver geek than I am now. I took a job setting up a computer department to teach disadvantaged young people how to use a word processor. Back then, typing was still on a manual typewriter and any corrections had to either be typed again or over a thick band of sticky tippex. I ordered the huge PC’s and bulky screens, plugged them in and hoped for the best. We all stared as I typed qwertyuiop, then deleted it. Then typed it again. Then deleted it. It took me a long time to get over my sense of wonder at instant correction, and what that would mean for the world.
Of course, I wasn’t content with the quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog, I had to investigate further. I used half my annual budget to buy a modem and installed ceefax from a floppy disc. We plugged it in and after a long, long dial-up chatter, the flashing cursor turned to ‘Hello.’ We were amazed into silence, as someone from another Youth Center, in London, took turns to type with us, telling us what they were doing and about their center.
The text was green and made up of huge pixels, like the TV ceefax system. But it was a start. I never lost interest, and one bank holiday weekend ten years ago, I taught myself hyper text markup language and made my first website.
Without the internet my life would be completely different. Like lots of other things, we take it for granted from day to day, propping up our lives more and more with online activities. Shopping, skype, Facebook, twitter, music, news. I doubt if I would have ever got together with my partner if it hadn’t been for the internet. I have met some wonderful people who I now know ‘in real life’ on internet forums. And I know I would never have carried on writing, or been able to do the job I do today. Would I have been able to study and gain the knowledge I have without online libraries and publications?
I’ll probably never get to see the Nasca lines, or Hawaii, but I’ve seen them live through webcams. I’ve been able to read about other people’s experiences, so vivid that I would recognize the place if I were to go there.
If I don’t know something, I google it. Recipes, holiday destinations, people, all these have been put on the internet, information shared. Of course, the blogoshpere is a more recent internet phenomenon, challenging truth and knowledge with everyday people on a level with top academics in their contributions to the formation of what we consider ‘true’ to make sense of our lives.
There’s a dark side to the internet, one where those with bad intention will try to hurt and influence those who are vulnerable or unsuspecting. But doesn’t this just mirror life? Both the ‘in real life’ world and the world wide web have a commonality that is more basic than we often realise: people. Personal responsibility applies online and offline, yet we are surprised when horrendous practices that are often stigmatised and hidden ‘in real life’ are played out online.
It’s something wonderful that happened 20 years ago, and I’m celebrating today by baking a batch of scones from a recipe I found online, doing some research on storytelling (plenty of that online) and arranging my birthday party through Facebook. For someone who is still amazed by television, the internet has exceeded my widest dreams, and here’ to another 20 years online and all the good things it brings.