When Always on Internet Changed Everything.

Al Gore, seen here showing Bill Clinton and 2 random children http://whitehouse.com

    One of the more interesting things about older computer systems is their lack of 24/7 internet access. When you sat in front of your computer, it was to do something. Play a game, write a letter, balance your checkbook. Yes you could mess around and kill time, but for the most part, you were doing something.
    When Windows 95 came out, many users already had some experience with dial up, either from AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy, or from a PPP/SLIP dial-up ISP. Windows 95 and Mac OS 7 made it easier to connect to these services, but the machines were usually used offline. 
“Going online” was just another specific task. Check email, go to a chat room, download some files, etc. It was a task like any other program you would run back then. Many services charged by the hour, as did many phone companies, so “dicking around” online wasn’t really a thing. It took time, effort, and had a cost associated with it. (seriously, some services used to charge $4-$5 an hour to use them.)
    Modems got faster, and more people wanted to get online. This led to the first big change, service providers swapped over to monthly payments. Going online was more leisurely now. There was no pressure to get right to what you wanted to do. You could hang out in chat rooms. Download a bigger file. Or poke around websites and kill time. There was still the issue with the phones though. Most homes had a shared phone line, so this probably took place after 9pm, when people were more than likely not to call. Most of my friends and I knew how to disable the speaker on the modem so you didn’t wake anyone up.
    In 1998 my family got to be early adopters of “always on” broadband. Qwest DSL 256 kbps up and down. We had 2 machines that were networked to the DSL modem, so 2 people could surf the web at the same time!
    Now you could waste time browsing web pages. Download what you wanted, the file size didn’t matter. You could just leave your computer on and wait. IRC, AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ were always running, so you could chat with people when you wanted.
    For me, this was when the Internet went from “interesting, part of the future” to “where things were going”. The computer was no longer a tool to perform specific tasks (games, email, web browsing, warez, etc.) but another connection to the world. As useful as the phone, TV, or radio. We take it for granted how events play out in real time on web applications like Twitter or Facebook, but back in 1998 that wasn’t something that happened for everyday consumers. Major events would get broadcasted live to our TV sets and radios, but these were big events. The fall of the Soviet Union, the LA Riots, the Oklahoma City bombing. But smaller events, either regional, or not as ‘exciting’ to watch events you would either hear about on the 6pm news, or read the next day in the newspaper. 24/7 internet changed that.
    The big change for me was when I wanted to know the score of a random Trailblazer game. Before you would have had to wait for the news to come on, and get to the sports section (usually at the end of the broadcast). Instead I just went to espn.com and found it. (Scores here) I didn’t have to wait for the modem to connect. Just open Netscape, point it to the site, and there was the information you wanted. No waiting. Multiplayer games like Quake and Team Fortress became full time obsessions for me.
    This rapid change really threw people for a loop. I spent a lot of time from 99 to 2004 teaching family friends how to use their computer in the new environment. One of my neighbors was an old telephone engineer who had a hard time adapting to having the internet on all the time. She built her own computers back in the 70s , but after retiring, keeping up got hard for her to do. Once she wrapped her head around the idea that she could access information whenever she wanted, it changed her life.
    24/7 internet lead to a lot of improvements in our life. Most shopping can be done online. Napster and file sharing changed how we consumed music and films. Modern life has been shaped by it. It has changed things as much as cars, air planes, and container ships.
    And that is what was and still is really interesting to me. These rapid changes in tech. The change first comes slowly, but then when enough momentum is gathered, the change goes real fast. Around 2004-2006 when broadband took over, it was finished.