DGST 101

The Internet 20 Years Ago – DGST 101: Week 2

Reading Small Pieces Loosley Joined, I felt like I was transported back in time. Between the retro-looking website and the old view on technology, author David Weinberger completely immersed me into his writing about the beginnings of the Web; so much so, sometimes I had to take a step back and remember I was reading this article 20 years later and was not just introduced to the Web.

In his book, Weinberger explains how individuals were thinking (or conversely not thinking) about the Web 20 years ago. He demonstrates this through a series of personal anecdotes about all things Web. It was fascinating reading his work in 2021, as many of the things Weinberger predicted (or even experienced) ring true today. In Chapter 1, he gives a brief summary about the Web, which I think is one of the most accurate I’ve heard, even 20 years after its writing. He states: 

“[The Web] consists of voices proclaiming whatever they think is worth saying, trying on stances, experimenting with extremes, being wrong in public, making fun of what they hold sacred in their day jobs, linking themselves into permanent coalitions and drive-by arguments, savoring the rush you feel when you realize you don’t have to be the way you’ve been.”

My digital artifact is the Motorola Skytel two-way pager, specifically this TV ad for the pager from 2000.

In the reading, Weinberger brought up the disconnects between the Web (and technology in general) and the real world. One of these things being time. He talks about returning to something on the Web when it is convenient for him, and this is a similar concept as the pager. You get the number and call when it is convenient for you. Or, in regards to a two-way pager, you get a ‘text’ and can respond to it later.

Examining this commercial is really beneficial to see how people thought about technology 20 years ago. At the time, it was rare to be able to talk to someone on the go (via text, not speech). Usually, you would send someone a page and they would call you back at their convenience (or, as the man in the commercial showed, just answer your phone). This two-way pager gave people the ability to talk to each other via text, discreetly, and on the go. You could send messages to be read ASAP or put your pager away and read them later. It was also convenient to send short messages instead of sending an email or talking on the phone.

This handy device was a big change from the traditional one-way pager. Previous pagers were helpful to know if someone wanted to get in contact with you, or just receive typed messages, this Skytel pager was two-way. It allowed people to easily send messages back and forth on a small, portable, device. This type of pager closely resembles the early cell phone, and I bet was a big influence. It is interesting, looking at this 20 years later, to see how much we take for granted this type of technology.

My mom’s old technology, featuring the Skytel pager.