Life before Google

At one time the TV show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was so popular, it was on TV every night. And it turned out that anyone could play along with the game in real-time on their web site, and we were determined to try it.

Online, we could answer the questions right along with the contestants, and we got more points if we answered faster. And there was a wonderful brand new search engine that should get us the right answer more quickly. And no, it wasn’t Google, but I think Google might have been part of it. This search engine used several other search engines and showed a bar graph of all the results it got. Surely we’d get the right answer faster using all those search engines instead of just one.

Unfortunately, all that using multiple search engines seemed to do was make the search very slow. In a timed game, slow searches didn’t help us.

It was quite a bit later before one of us discovered that Google found the right answer most of the time in a fraction of a second. Sitting and waiting 20 seconds or more for all those search engines seemed pointless. If the answer didn’t come up in Google the first time, we could try a second search query, and still get our answer before that other multi-pronged search engine had found anything.

Even though I remember it, it’s hard for me to imagine that there was an Internet before Google. There were a bunch of slow, inefficient search engines which weren’t likely to help you find what you needed. So how did you find things on the Internet? Why, you simply used the item pictured below. I actually have this, so I know it exists. I swear, I’m not making this up. It’s not a PhotoShopped image. This item really existed.

The Internet Yellow Pages

An anachronistic book

The cover tells us a lot of interesting things. They printed over one million of these books! And looking at the picture on the front tells you the vast diversity of things you could do on the Internet; you can see some exciting objects orbiting the earth. Behind the earth are some sort of dark red rays. Maybe we’re floating in space and the earth is eclipsing the sun, and we can see the sun’s rays shooting out from behind the earth, and we used a special filtered lens so the rays appear dark red on a red background.

Anyway, just look at the excitement that awaits you on the Internet! Orbiting the earth, you can see an envelope, a baseball, a telephone, musical notes, a newspaper, a floppy disk, three aces from a deck of cards, an artist’s palette, and a thick purple book with five pages whose title starts with “HAN”. To show how global this truly is, you can see a thin dotted line bouncing across Canada all the way to Japan. And to show how easily we can access these exciting orbiting objects, a bunch of purple dots come out of Juneau, Alaska hopping all the way out to the purple book. (I’m not sure about the places; the shapes of the continents only vaguely resemble ours.) And no less an authority than The Wall Street Journal tells us how vital it is that we use this book:

“…a must-have book for anyone who wants to explore the vast reaches of the Internet….Don’t venture into the ether without it.”

–The Wall Street Journal

Technology and style

The slightly less young among us remember how computers have changed over the years. Even if we limit our thoughts to what we now call a “PC” (which used to be called “IBM compatible” or a “PC clone”), there have been changes.

IBM’s original design for its popular “AT” computer was gray and beige, and when compatible desktop computers first became available in the late 1980s, the official color of computers was beige. This carried through to computer accessories such as keyboards, mice, printers, and scanners as well: everything was beige. (Even the first Macintosh computer was gray-beige-ish.) Did someone declare that computers shall be beige, and everyone just had to comply? Or maybe people just took it for granted that computers are obviously beige, and that’s just The Way Things Are.

This beigeness continued throughout the 1990s. As the 90s progressed, companies of all sorts were now trying to sound modern by including “2000” in their product or company names. “Gateway 2000” was a popular maker of (beige) computers. The Shell gas station on the corner offered three grades of gas, called “SR-2000”, “SU-2000”, and “UR-2000”, or something like that. Also, to emphasize how modern we all felt, every company suddenly decided to use a curved “swoosh” in their logo. Yes, these were exciting times.

The guy at the local donut shop kept asking me about what was going to come of all this “Y2K” stuff. I realized that it must be vastly over-hyped. If your bank gave you a 30-year mortgage anytime after 1970, their computers already had to know how to store dates after the year 2000. I half expected that from time to time, other common programming bugs might come into the news. Maybe some important piece of software would cause a newsworthy mishap because its loops went one iteration too far, and then there would be an “off-by-one” craze. There could be a lucrative business in having software certified for being completely free of all off-by-one errors in its loop counters.

Anyway, at some point in the early 2000s, someone rethought the beige thing and decided that henceforth, all computers shall be black. Later on they decided to cut them some slack and allow some silver parts as well. Peripherals were allowed to have bits of gray or beige as decoration. (Since then they’ve decided to allow other colors, especially in laptops.)

As I recall, sometime after that, LCD monitors became the norm. I once owned a CRT monitor from that era that was colored black and silver. But soon even the guy to whom I usually gave all my technological surplus no longer wanted any CRTs. I actually had a black and silver CRT monitor, and it went to be recycled because nobody wanted it.

Having a clear memory of the black computer revolution occuring first, being followed by the LCD revolution, I was surprised upon going through some old items around the house to have my memory jogged by finding not one, but two of these things:

A real anachronism

A real anachronism

I had totally forgotten about this! I would have thought this to be an anachronism, since we all know that the edict of blackness came before LCDs, but yet there it is.