NPR reminds us of life when the Internet was new

An internal memo from 20 years ago shows us what it was like when the Internet was just coming into the workplace

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For some of us, it’s hard (or impossible) to remember when there was no Internet. But, believe it or not, there was a time when email and the web were brand new and those of who were around had to figure out what it was and how to use it. Back in those days, many people were first exposed to the Internet through their workplaces. Yesterday, NPR gave us a little glimpse into that time, when the Internet first became a part of our jobs and, soon, our everyday lives.


In 1994 it was simply "Internet"

Image credit: NPR/Johnny Kauffman

On April 28, 1994, NPR’s Dennis Fuze sent an internal memo to employees with the subject line “Internet at NPR,” which NPR shared on Tumblr yesterday. The memo is meant to give NPR employees a quick primer on what the Internet is, how it works and how NPR employees could begin to use it as part of their daily jobs. It’s a great read, so I picked out a few things that caught my eye.

First, they didn’t refer to it as “the Internet” just “Internet.” Sounds - and reads - awkward today. 

“Internet is a collection of computer networks that is connected around the world.”

As someone on Hacker News pointed out, the lack of definitive article was probably a way to distinguish the Internet from other networks at the time, which soon became unnecessary.

While the term “troll” was around but wasn’t in wide use yet in 1994, the memo clearly warns people that trolls were already out there on the Internet.

“A code of “netiquette” exists among users and within user groups, but otherwise, you pay your money, find your niche and take your chances.”

It’s interesting to see how tools and software like email and Telnet were written in all caps, making them seem more foreign and special. Also, the web is referred to as a piece of software.

“Friendly software like GOPHER, VERONICA, WORLD WIDE WEB, MOSAIC and CELLO provide easy access to the data on these other computers.”

At the time, the only Internet service NPR was rolling to its employees was email, since it would provide them with “the biggest bang for the least impact on hardware, software and staff support.” Just to get an email account required employees to jump through a few hoops.

“To get access to EMAIL, an employee must complete a separate Internet Account Application Form… and attend a one hour training session….”

My favorite line in the memo, though, is the one meant to comfort those who weren’t ready to dive into the Internet pool.

“If you do not want to use Internet, simply do nothing.”

Great stuff!

Do you remember when the Internet and the web first came to your workplace? Do you have any good historical nuggets like this memo? Please share in the comments.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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