[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Surfin’ The Net!

April 23rd, 2012 by Benj Edwards

PopSci for Kids September-October 1995 CoverOuch. Get off my hand, you tiny mounted knight.

Few magazine covers represent the playful optimism of the early Internet craze years like this cover of PopSci for Kids from 1995. Before the public understood what the Internet really meant, it was up to journalists (who usually didn’t know either) to tell them. This resulted in lots of visual hyperbole (see children happily trapped inside a computer above) and colorful metaphors like “surfin’ the net” to convey the energy and potential of something that, in reality, looked rather mundane on the screen.

Did these whimsical and exaggerated media tactics succeed? I think so, because that little thing called The Internet became much more popular than even journalists in 1995 could imagine. There is no doubt that the media played a large part in popularizing the global computer network in its early public years.

[ From PopSci for Kids, September/October 1995, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When was the first time you surfed the ‘Net? Did you feel like you were actually surfing on a digital surf board made of ones and zeros?

15 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Surfin’ The Net!”

  1. Lorfarius Says:

    I remember it well. Was a bit of a late starter in the tail end of 1997 and I had to plead with my parent to buy the 44K modem. But what an experience! Finally getting out there and discovering the web!

  2. VP Says:

    Late 1995 at my town’s public library, first using the Mosaic browser and then switching to Netscape Navigator in 1996. At this same time at home (I was 13) I had an old 386 PC with a 1.2 Kbps modem (slow even by the standards of the day, but someone gave it to me) and I had used it to access BBS’s. After discovering the net I found a free dial-up internet service offered by our town that gave users a SLIP connection for 2 hours (if I recall) a day; I was able to use the Lynx browser and telnet (for playing MUDs) through it, but for “serious” web surfing, and building my “homepage” through Geocities, I had to go to the library (in fact I was there so often that I got a job there during the summer putting books back on the shelf and unofficial tech support for other internet users). Hard to believe that most kids in high school now literally don’t remember a time before the web.

  3. Shadax Says:

    The first time I actually used any sort of internet connection was actually a Gopher set-up in 1993ish as part of the third grade gifted and talented program. I got in some sort of trouble for pulling up some Why Beer Is Better Than Women document.

    I can’t really remember what my first real CRUISIN’ THE INFORMATION SUPER HIGHWAY experience was but I am pretty sure it involved NetHack in some capacity. I was a doomed kid from the start.

  4. Stan Says:

    I discovered the internet for myself in 1994 during the summer before my 1st year of university, via a Time Magazine article about the first Usenet spam message. I was an young BBS geek in the 80s, so the idea of this (relatively) high speed worldwide network of computers was terribly exciting.

    The university had lots of computer labs full of unix terminals. Usenet and terminal-to-terminal chat are what most people used back then. My first Usenet posts from 1994 are still visible in Google Groups.

    I can remember logging into Telnet and FTP servers from around the world, just for the novelty of it. The first time I used the internet from home I dialed into the university network, then connected to an FTP server in the UK and downloaded some files just so I could say I downloaded a file from the UK.

    By the end of 1994, URLs were starting to show up in magazine ads. You’d flip through Rolling Stone and see a little “www.sony.com” in the bottom of an ad. You’d then head over to one of the PC labs, fire up the Mosaic Web Browser on Windows 3.11, type http://www.sony.com, wait 2 or 3 minutes, and then a picture would appear.

  5. Donn Says:

    1993, and no, not really. It was mainly Usenet, Telnet and FTP then (and Gopher, of course), in the dorms of Cal Poly, which were wired for Ethernet. In my senior year of high school I worked at the library periodical desk, so I had all the time in the world to read every article I could about how to use the Internet. When I got there, I was off and running… subscribing to newsgroups, downloading warez, and playing Doom with my friends down the hall.

  6. Xyzzy Says:

    My first real ‘net experience was in early 1994… The county library system had added a portal to state university library systems, which in turn offered open TELNET access, which a friend and I primarily used to reach a chat designed to emulate a beach full of surfers (that all happened to be students at the university my friend hoped to attend).

    In a way, it was what I imagine surfing would be like. I couldn’t tell how deep the ocean of data/sites beneath me was, kept feeling like I was getting in over my head, and even though I was a long way from where I’d started (with no clue how to get back) I kept getting glimpses of the familiar ‘shoreline’ in the distance as I bobbed around the proverbial waves.

  7. BDD Says:

    Mid-94, when someone I worked with showed me Lynx and downloaded Doom shareware from some server. He gave me a list of URLs to check out and off I was. Very archaic at the time, but fun.

    I set up my old P70 shortly afterwards for better access and to get on IRC and Usenet.

  8. Zoyous Says:

    It’s actually quite a prescient image. That’s pretty accurate to my day-to-day experience of surfin’ the net. Particularly those @!#?@! parrots always circling around my head…

  9. Arlandi Says:

    went online in the internet at 1994. using Telnet access to browse (Lynx). the first thing i download was The Anarchist Cookbook. took a while with 2400bps modem.
    it’s more of a Surfboard made with ASCII art instead of 0s and 1s…

  10. leftylimbo Says:

    Wow. I first started using the net on a dial-up 28.8Kb modem on my mom’s 386x back in 1993. I joined AOL, which was all the hype for online chat and “cyber sex”…lol. I wonder if people even use that “asl” inquiry nowadays (age/sex/location). Man were there some freakin’ pervs on there. Once I created a female screen name just to see how bad it was, and at one point so many perv IM windows popped up that the computer froze. Crazy. “To Catch A Predator” would’ve been herding people like cattle back in those days.

    I never thought the distinct sound of a modem dialing and connecting to a server would ever be obsolete. Back then it was like, some kind of magical journey to hear that sound then the characteristic “Welcome! You’ve Got Mail!” voice from AOL once I connected. That’s all gone now.

  11. technotreegrass Says:

    It was in 1996 when my school got a grant to upgrade from Apple ][‘s to modern Gateway PCs. My teacher embraced the Net and made us research the hell out of recent events. Yahoo! was my surfboard, I depended on the links on screen or their search box to take me where I wanted to go.

    Funny how years ago I’d go anywhere and everywhere I could online,and I would be on top of trends and memes. Now I depend on savvy friends or the news to tell me about what’s popular because I primarily visit a handful of sites and I don’t really venture out.

  12. torgo Says:

    I was first online around 1991, thanks to the National Education Supercomputer Program. They gave our school (and interested students) the login info to a Tymnet account, and from there I could get to the supercomputer that was part of the program. After that, it was a launching point to hit BBSs and the occasional MUDD (because what better use is a Cray Y-MP than for whiling away the time on a BBS?).

    After that it all accelerated to dial-in at 2400 baud to the college servers in ’92-’93, and shortly thereafter SLIP and PPP access. I remember when I first downloaded Mosaic, and was pulled out of the text-based world of Usenet, FTP, Gopher, telnet, etc. I turned to my dad and said, “This is what the internet should be. Ordinary people will get this.” I also have the distinct memory around 1994 of looking at web pages and actually circling back to where I started from, just by following people’s links they were interested in. The web was smaller back then.

  13. Alexander Says:

    I remember about 95 or 96 we had a simple AOL account back in the day, with an early version of Netscape to browse what little web there was. In 1998, I got my first email account, and that year in 3rd grade was the first time I ever did research on the internet, with school computers. We used Netscape Communicator on some Macintoshes. We were doing reports on important buildings in Washington DC, and of course, some kid went to whitehouse.com instead of .gov, and that was the day that all of the 8-year-olds boys in the class discovered their first porn site.

    Finally, in 2000, I had my own dial-up connection on my personal desktop, where I found funny sounds and flash to watch across the net, and even got my own AIM account. 12 years later, I’m still using that account.

  14. Jay Says:

    I have very faint memories of using compuserve + prodigy around 90-93 with a hayes 14.4 modem and Mac Classic. That’d make me only 5-8 years old, so I really had no clue what I was doing. My grandparents got AOL in 94, so whenever I’d go over to their house it was pretty sweet. I remember mostly reading sports articles and looking up video game codes. Chat rooms were always fun to screw around with, and then IMing finally came in like 97 (on AOL at least)? Will never forget “peak hours” where you couldn’t get online, and having to try different access #s.

    Good times.

  15. Fjord Prefect Says:

    If I remember correctly, the reason why the word “surfing” was used was because that’s how we noobs used the net back then. Hypertext. That’s was it was about. Most early pages were just text with hypertext links. Maybe you’d see a couple of grainy GIFs on the page but mostly, you read the text and skipped (or surfed) from link to link to see what was else was out there. By the time you had used up your Compuserve minutes for the day, you had gone from reading about the moon landings and ended up on a page of Monty Python quotes – by way of surfing from site to site. In 1995, most computing veterans already had been reading text on screens for years, but with the internet, it was the first time (for most people) that you could immediately jump to another article/story from within an existing one. That in and of itself was the biggest feature.

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