Do you remember life before the internet? It’s tough for me to – at 35, I’m right at that age where things like MySpace, Instant Messenger, and Napster were incredibly formative experiences from my teen years. I remember using the internet at the library and the first wave of online computer games.
It’s hard to imagine that over the last 20 years, we’ve moved from the internet as a novelty to the internet as something that lets us function day-by-day. Try forgetting your phone for an afternoon and you realize just how ubiquitous internet accessibility really is. Suddenly, you realize how few facts you know, how unresponsive you are, and how out of touch with news and world events you feel.
Fundamentally, the internet is a great equalizer. While it isn’t entirely free, internet access on mobile devices crosses socio-economic, cultural, racial, age, and international lines. The price of information has fallen precipitously with the rise of the internet. My kids don’t know what an encyclopedia is, but they know you can Google things to find answers (or just ask Siri).
The Timeline of the Internet
It hasn’t always been lightning fast internet speeds, social networking, and information at our fingertips. The internet has evolved over the last 20 years and continues to grow, change, and adapt as we do.
The internet has its roots in the early 1960s at MIT and DARPA. However, the internet as we know it today came into being in the mid-1990s with the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, and the creation of HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol). This part is a bit dry, so let’s skip to the good stuff.
For the first several years, it was widely used for mailing lists, emails, and e-commerce (the rise of eBay!), online boards and messaging (chat rooms!), and basic communications. In 1996, AOL introduced a monthly flat rate for access to internet chat rooms ($19.95/month for as much chat room time as you want). They hit 17 million subscribers by 1999. Between 1997 and 2001, we had a speculative internet period with the dot-com bubble, a market crash, and an increase in internet accessibility for a wide range of people.
When 1998 rolled around, we all NEEDED those gorgeous colored iMacs, Instant Messenger, and the start of Web 2.0. My friends and I all compared notes on who had which color, who could create the most existential away message, and how many fonts we could conceivably get into our profiles.
Facebook launched officially in 2004 (that’s also the year I joined) and that has changed how we consume content, how we share pictures, how we communicate with friends and family, how we get our news, and how we see more cat videos.
In the last few years, social media has evolved, consumption of video has changed, the launch of video and music streaming has killed traditional media, and mobile adoption has dramatically changed how we access the internet.
It’s hard to believe that 20 years can essentially change the previous 50 years of advertising, content consumption, and interpersonal relationships, but here we are. In my job, I can’t wait to see what the next 20 have in store for us.