1995: The year the future began
News reports at Christmas that year suggested as much: It was a time when millions of Americans went toe-dipping online, and newspapers presumed to offer them guidance about the wonders of the emergent digital landscape, and how to get there and what to visit.
The guidance tended to be quaintly rudimentary and, from the distance of 20 years, more than a little chortle-inducing.
“Many Americans found computers under the tree this morning, and it seems likely that some will venture onto the Internet today for the first time,” the New York Times said in an article on Christmas Day that carried the headline, “A Christmas trip through cyberspace.“
Accompanying the article were links to seven sample sites online, including those for Christmas carols, Webcrawler.com, and President Bill Clinton’s holiday greetings card.
“For the uninitiated,” the Times said, “here is some simple advice and a guide for your first cybertrip. … At first, the Internet may seem daunting. But if a topic is picked and its connections, or links, are followed to other sites, the Internet’s variety becomes apparent. To start, we offer a holiday tour. The first stop is Rockefeller Center, with a real-time view of the skating rink and Christmas tree.”
The Web was often the object of gee-whiz wonder in 1995, sentiment the Atlanta Journal and Constitution embraced in an article on Christmas Eve:
“On Christmas Day, your family can take its most extravagant holiday vacation ever,” the newspaper exclaimed. “You’ll move faster than Rudolph can fly — stopping along the way to exchange holiday greetings with folks around the world and even traveling back in time to visit Ebenezer Scrooge.
“You don’t need a password or even a Visa card. Instead, just gather in front of the family computer and see how old-fashioned a high-tech Christmas can be.
“Think of your modem and the Internet as a modern-day sleigh,” the Journal and Constitution suggested. “If your family has origins in another part of the world, that’ll be a fine first stop. The Internet’s World Wide Web can take you almost anyplace and show you how your ancestors celebrated the day.“
In the Washington Post at Christmas 1995, Internet newcomers were counseled to stick with the mostly closed world of commercial online service providers such as America Online and Prodigy.
“Each of the on-line services has a way to get outside of the closed network and onto the very open Internet,” Victoria Shannon, a Post tech writer stated. “My advice is not to worry about the Internet — yet. It’s not going anywhere.
“If all you wanted was the Internet, signing on through one of the big commercial services was probably not the way to go, anyway. But my guess is that you wanted the security, organization and services that go along with one of the biggies, so get to know home base first.”
By digital reckoning, I write in my latest book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, it was all a long time ago — “a time before Smartphones, social media, and ubiquitous wireless connections.”
But 1995 also was “when the Internet and the World Wide Web moved from the obscure realm of technophiles and academic researchers to become a household word, the year when the Web went from vague and distant curiosity to a phenomenon that would change the way people work, shop, learn, communicate, and interact.”
No publication at Christmas 1995 hyped that sentiment more determinedly than Newsweek did, in its memorably manic year-end cover story that declared 1995 “the year of the Internet.”
“Remember when surfing was something you did outdoors, in a bathing suit?” Newsweek asked. “That was 1994. Now it’s what you do on the Internet — the worldwide network of computers that in 1995 was embraced as the medium that will change the way we communicate, shop, publish and (so the cybersmut cops warned) be damned.
“Suddenly,” Newsweek added, “the biggest companies in America were tearing up business plans and betting billions of dollars on the future of the Net, as techno-mania drove the stock market over 5,000 and produced unheard-of valuations for companies like Netscape, the maker of the ‘browser’ that taught millions to love cyberspace.”
Netscape’s Navigator commanded at least a 75 percent share of the Web browser market at Christmas 1995. Maybe more.
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