You know you’re getting old when you start talking about how rough you had it when you were a kid. Such is the case with me whenever conversation turns to the Internet. Born in 1980, I came of age along with the ‘net; people born just a few years later often fail to realize how different things were in the early days of computer networking. The example I like to cite, as is usually appropriate when discussing the Internet, is pornography. Nowadays, you’re never more than a few clicks away from whatever you happen to be into, be it vanilla hetero porn or gay midget donkey sex. Not so when I was a lad. You see, in the early 1990s there was no World Wide Web or sophisticated file sharing; the Internet consisted of e-mail (pine!), BBSes, and newsgroups. For those of you under 25, newsgroups were basically electronic bulletin boards, like discussion boards on websites but text-only. There were newsgroups for all sorts of topics; I remember frequenting rec.sports.baseball, alt.tv.simpsons, and the like.
I spent most of my time, however, browsing alt.sex.pictures. As far as I knew, this was the only way to get porn off the net, and it was a Sisyphean process. People would post binary files to the newsgroup; some had descriptions or informative filenames, while others had neither. Due to the high failure rate, the reasons for which I will explain shortly, I would start downloading 20-30 of these files at a time. All I had was a 4800 bps modem; again, for those of you unfamiliar with these terms, a “modem” was a device that connected to the Internet via telephone lines, and “4800 bps” means it was slow as molasses in January. Downloading these files took all day, so I would set it going in the morning and let it sit, praying that nobody picked up the phone and that the connection didn’t break on its own, which happened all the time. When it did, I was screwed; there was no way to reconnect and pick up where it left off.
If I was lucky enough to keep the connection, maybe half of the files I started downloading would finish successfully. Now I could open the files and go to town, right? If only it were that simple. These were binary files, so I had to run them one by one through a program that converted them to images (usually .gif). This added another half-hour or more to the process and presented another failure point, since some of the files wouldn’t convert. After this step, there might remain four or five of the thirty files I started downloading. Now I had to open yet another program called “see” in order to view the files. When I did, I’d find that some of the files were corrupt and couldn’t be viewed, others could be viewed but turned out to be pictures of a boat or something, and still others were pornographic but not exactly the type I was interested in (and trust me, I was not very particular at this point in my life). If I got even one decent image, I considered it a smashing success; unfortunately, this did not happen often, and I wasted untold hours of my youth in pursuit of what spoiled kids nowadays can get in a fraction of a second.
If I ever have grandchildren, they’ll probably be able to beam virtual reality porn directly to their mobile devices in real time. I look forward to sitting them on my knees, opening a bag of Werther’s, and telling them what Grandpa had to go through when he wanted to have a wank.