Then and Now

It’s been 20 years or so since Sarah started university (21 actually) and it was around that time that both of us got online – me at home and she at Guelph. Internet experiences have sure changed a lot – especially for me as a home user. Let’s take a look.

Equipment to Get Online

  • Then – essentially a desktop or tower with a heavyweight 15 inch CRT screen.
  • Now- you name it – desktops, laptops, tablets, TVs, smartphones, door locks, washing machines, refrigerators…oy.


  • Then – a slow dial up at 28.8 Kbps at home; Sarah was connected to the University Internet backbone via wire. She got a blazing 1.5 Mbps.
  • Now – pretty much wifi over your local network. Speeds of 25 Mbps are routine. If you’re wired in you can easily get 130 Mbps with my ISP’s service. If I wanted to pay for it I could get gigabit speeds.


  • Then – mostly text based. We had email of course using a standalone client. Online we had forums and bulletin boards. You could make your own website if you were tech savvy and learned HTML.
  • Now – it’s the age of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs, vlogs, WordPress – all making online presence easy and full of content. Point and click – you’re an Internet star. This blog – with a custom interface and my own domain – needs less than half the work my old website required. And frankly it is pretty much old school compared to what the millennials are posting today.


  • Then – the browser heavyweights were Netscape and Mosaic. Internet Explorer was just starting to become popular. You could still pay for browser software back then.
  • Now – IE has morphed into Edge and Netscape became Firefox. Google Chrome has come out of nowhere to dominate. If you use a tablet or smartphone you probably use an app to access your favorite site like Facebook.


  • Then – remember hierarchical hypertext search engines like old time Yahoo! ? Remember Excite? Remember Altavista? Gone like a soldier in the Civil War (Bang! Bang!)
  • Now – all you need to know is Google or maybe Bing if you feel masochistic.

Privacy and Security

  • Then – The Age of Innocence – maybe you ran McAfee scans once in a while to check for viruses.
  • Now -The Age of Paranoia – everyone’s out to infect you, scam you, make you part of a bot army, encrypt your data for ransom, hijack your browser, spy on you, steal your ID. You have firewalls, antivirus, antimalware, antispyware, antiphishing, VPNs, incognito browsing – and you still worry about it. Madness I say…madness. That reminds me – I should go check the spam filter on this blog. Only 8 spam comments. Pretty good for something this obscure. How do they find me?


  • Then – There was ricky-tick electronic stuff called MIDI which you could embed on your site to annoy visitors. MP3 was just coming into its own but you needed a lot of bandwidth and storage to get music that way. It was also illegal to pirate music, as many downloaders found out.
  • Now – stream, baby, stream. Spotify is amazing. I don’t think I’ve listened to a DVD in months. Not only can I play an entire album from 1967 by The Doors, I can play it anywhere in the house. “Break on Through to the Other Side.”


  • Then – sure thing, Sherlock. Even the college kids didn’t have enough bandwidth for video. Hardware wasn’t fast enough to render it, storage wasn’t big enough to store it, codecs weren’t mature. You want video in 1997? Go to Blockbuster and rent a cassette.
  • Now – did I mention stream,baby stream? YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix rule the Web. The US is ahead of Canada which seems strangled by regulatory red tape and the telcos / cable guys – but we do OK. Even the social media is obsessed with video – which you can make on a smartphone. It’s a new world out there.


  • Then – shoot your 35 mm film, get it developed and prints made. Put the print in a photo album. Stack up the albums in your basement.
  • Now – capture your photo in digital with a smartphone camera. Attach it to a message, or post it on Facebook or Instagram. Never make prints of anything. If you want to backup your photos locally you can put a zillion of them on today’s storage media. Maybe if you are a dinosaur like me you’ll have an actual digital camera.

Banking and E-commerce

  • Then- you’re kidding right? Try telephone banking if you are desperate.
  • Now – everything goes from paying your tax bills to buying a new pillow from Amazon.

Who’s Online?

  • Then – university students and some geeky early adopters. The vast majority got their news, did their everyday work, made financial transactions the same way they would have in 1950.
  • Now – A tiny minority (mostly in their late 80s) still live an off-the Net analog life. They find it increasingly difficult to do so in an era of 24 hour online access and activity.

I could go on but you must have gotten the idea by now. The last 20 years have revolutionised our everyday life. And artificial intelligence hasn’t even gotten started. Wow.





You may like