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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

7 computer and internet things I miss (no porn or cats involved)

I swear, the world of computers and the internet is the one place where people regularly say “Oh, I really miss the slow, clunking systems we used to have. Why don’t they bring them back?”, and really mean it.
I am one of the nutters who says this, although I wouldn’t really want to go back to the days of dial up – having to wait for your sister to get off the phone so you can view one grainy image of Radiohead, on a website that runs at approximately 1KB per year due to all the fucking clip art it contains.
But there are a few things I’d like to see again, purely for nostalgia’s sake.
Our first computer (VIC-20 etc aside) was a Packard Bell desktop with Windows 95. I’d spend hours bathing in the glow of its monitor as a lonely, friendless child. I’d draw crappy pictures of stars and flowers in Paint, write even crappier poetry (even back then I had an inflated and wrong sense that my writing was good), and spend hours dicking about with the bundle of CD-ROMs that came with the computer. Greeting card making software, although our family never made any greeting cards, ever, a weird Batman animation thing, and a pre-school collection of weird interactive ‘games’ (I use the term loosely), that I wish to god I could remember the name of.
When I am rich I’m going to buy a Packard Bell desktop, complete with Windows 95, and track down all my long lost software. But for now, telling you guys about the things I miss will have to do.

1. The dial-up music -

Everyone misses this a bit, and those who don’t are liars. This is probably on every single ‘things I miss’ list that anyone has ever written, and with good reason.
The internet just doesn’t have that sense of ceremony anymore. The dial-up music was essential for creating that build up of tension and excitement you experienced when about to be launched into an electronic world of wonder.
I know it’s not technically music, but it feels wrong to just call it a noise, it deserves more than that. I’ve included a clip below, so your ears can listen to it –

Dial up sound - uploaded by cdoamh -

2. Packard bell Navigator -

I’m not sure if this was ever intended to be a full operating system anywhere, or just a whimsical optional extra. It was a graphical user interface, replacing the standard desktop layout with the interior of a house, with different rooms for different functions. For example, the study contained all your office programmes, the Hi-Fi area in the lounge stored all your media, or you could click on the skylight, which would take you to the dizzying heights of the internet.

I think one of the reasons I loved Navigator so much was that it gave me a feeling, albeit slight, of having my own house, where I was free to come and go as I pleased. This feeling was reinforced by one of the upstairs rooms – a hangout for teens called MySpace (no, not that Myspace, I’ll get to that later).
MySpace was the cool and groovy hangout for losers like me. It contained a filing cabinet that could store various files, including your homework (like kids back then ever did any homework on the computer), some other stuff, and a weird pairs matching game, which would sometimes reward a winning round by showing you a short clip of Nosferatu (I swear I am not making this up). There were also links to all your cool, teenage software which, if you were me, was the word processor, Paint, and the aforementioned weird pre-school software.

3. Microsoft Entertainment Pack -

I know all computers are pre loaded with games, but these days they tend to be the all singing, all dancing, ‘connect to the internet and pay us money’ kind of thing. I just bought a new laptop with Windows 8, and I don’t even know what games I have on here, that’s how bothered I’m not.
Back in 1995, Windows came pre loaded with a varying assortment of small games, which could include, but were not limited to –

Freecell –

I was a goddamn expert at Freecell – I’d spend hours up in the spare room playing it, when I wasn’t writing shit poetry or trying to find pictures of Thom Yorke to swoon over (I was a weird kid).

Microsoft Golf –

I was a bit shit at this. I’d normally score about 4000 over par at any given hole, and the computer would encourage me to kill myself since I was such a failure. Still, like a woman who is convinced she can change her drug taking, layabout boyfriend, I kept playing.

Rodent’s Revenge –

Rodent’s Revenge was a puzzle game in which you had to move blocks in order to trap a cat, so he wouldn’t eat the mouse (you). I was ok at this, but tired of it quite quickly, and always buggered off to play Freecell instead.

Minesweeper –

I never played Minesweeper, but you all know what it’s about. It was always there, like the can of soup you have at the back of your cupboard that you’ll never eat, but is nice to have in case of a power cut, or Armageddon or something.

Ski Free –

Forget it. I am only good at games where you need no hand/eye co-ordination whatsoever.

Sim City –

This was definitely the game I played most. I don’t know if my version of Sim City was the very first, but it was definitely a very early one. It was a 2D, birds eye view of your Utopia (I always gave my city a name like like ‘Jennyville’, which might give you a clue as to how shit my poetry was).
You could place, roads, parks, or commercial, industrial or residential areas by “plopping” them onto the map, using the “plop” button. Occasionally, a Godzilla or an earthquake would devastate the town, at which point I normally lost. But I kept plodding, or ‘plopping’ on. I wonder if the residents of my various cities are doing well these days? Probably not. I bet Godzilla has eaten them.

4. Geocities -

I never had my own Geocities site (my connection was far too slow and haphazard to allow this), but back in the day these were the sites I visited most. They were normally pages about someone’s obsession – everything from Chesney Hawkes to rare specimens of beetle. But more often than not, it was clear (in retrospect) that Blogger and LiveJournal would eventually take up where GeoCities left off. Thanks to Geocities, every stroppy teenage girl and her dog had the chance to feel like a public figure by spouting their shit out there for everyone to see. Now this trend is carried on by blogs. For examples of self indulgent crap-mongering in a blog, see THIS example.
But I loved it, like I love reading random blogs now. And sometimes, by searching on ‘Ask Jeeves’, I would happen upon a site of interest to me. Usually these were things like ‘TaMSinS RAdiohEaD SiTE’, and ‘Broken BUtterFly – whY my lIFE is HorRible BecAUSe my paRentS won’t Let ME stay Out pAst 10.pm’

5. Floppy disks -

The reason I loved floppy disks so much is that they made me feel like I really had something to contribute to the world. They really made me feel like a somebody. Nowadays, when I occasionally do write something that a couple of psychos on the internet want to read, I save it online, or on my hard drive, or on a USB stick. None of these methods give me the sense of importance that floppy disks gave me for this reason – on a floppy disk, you could write what it was, in pen, on the label, for everyone to see. For example, I could leave a disk named ‘Jenny’s poetry’ on the table, and my family would see it and think “god, another disk full already? She must be a creative genius!” Or, more likely, they would think “She’s wasted another one of my disks. We’re going to have to start locking them away Ann.”
If only there was some easy, free way to show people how much of an artistic genius I am nowadays. Oh wait…

6. Myspace customisation -

Technically this hasn’t become obsolete, but it has really. How many people do you know with a personal, active Myspace? That’s not to whore out their band or their deluded ‘modelling’ career? Yet a few short years ago, it was de rigueur to adorn your Myspace page with all kinds of sparkly shit like this –

And like this -

Can you imagine going onto someone’s Facebook profile, then waiting ten minutes for all that tat to load up? Me neither. I do miss being able to add such a personal touch by fannying about with my layout, but that’s a small price to pay for not having to wait for a page like this –

7. Encarta Encyclopedia -

Before Wikipedia became the go-to source for plagiarism, Encarta was there, quietly helping us with our homework, and helping us bone up on important topics such as the length of the river Ouze, or one song by David Bowie. Encarta was a proper, old school encyclopedia (as old school as it can be without being in actual book form), with the one drawback that it didn’t contain any content that the makers didn’t class as worthy, or that they’d never heard of. As such, the articles were limited. But to a 13 year old me, it was the font of all knowledge. Plus, there was a groovy little add-on game called MindMaze –

MindMaze was a bit like Knightmare, only without the mortal peril, and you had to answer general knowledge questions.  If I remember correctly, a jester guided you through the various rooms of the general knowledge castle. I think I might have completed it once, although that might be my overinflated ego, again.

So, that was my little reminiscing session through the annals of time. All I can say now is that it makes me feel old. Now I’m going to go watch Antiques Roadshow, while wearing one of those big single slippers that you buy from the advert pages of TV guide magazines.

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