December 11, 2006

My 1993 view of the internet.

I was just noticing this old letter to the editor that I got published in the NYT, back on September 14, 1993. (TimesSelect archive link.) I think it's kind of a funny look back:
Chatting with unseen acquaintances nationwide on a computer network can make for an energizing experience for kids, as you describe (front page, Aug. 31). It's exciting to discover who's out there, to engage in verbal thrusts and parries, to win a stranger's interest in you.

But before you declare this activity within the reach of anyone with a computer and a modem, I'd suggest you do a little basic arithmetic.

You say kids may stay on the line as long as three hours -- anyone who has seen kids play video games and watch television should be suspicious. People stay on as long as 10 hours, addictively, endlessly searching the virtual rooms and trying to find out something about who's in them.

But let's take your conservative three-hour ceiling and multiply by 30 (days in a month). That's 90 hours. You quote America Online's reasonable-sounding monthly fee of $9.95, which includes five free hours. That leaves us with 85 unfree hours at the price (which you don't give) of $3.50 an hour. That's $9.95 plus $297.50, or $3,689.40 year! And that's assuming the kids knock off after three hours, that you have only one child and that you yourself don't go "savvy" and start hanging out electronically.

And it's all so convenient: to sign up for the service, you program your credit card number into the software, so you don't really know how much you've spent until the bill arrives. A few months of this "digital age" entertainment, and you may find yourself rediscovering the old-fashioned virtues of hanging out on street corners.

ANN ALTHOUSE Madison, Wis., Sept. 3, 1993

20 comments:

Edward said...

What I’d like to know is how Ann got the NYT to print such a long letter.

My biggest complaint about the letter section of the NYT is the ridiculously short size limit that they usually impose. The NYT rarely allows letter writers enough space to develop any original or even slightly complex thoughts.

I’ve had personal experience with this, because I’ve had letters of my own published in the NYT.

I’ve also had letters to the editor printed elsewhere, and I’ve greatly appreciated the more generous space allowance that other publications typically make to their letter writers.

Of course, blogs and their threads change this equation entirely.

Jonathan said...

I would think some enterprising person oh those years ago, saw that letter and thought to themselves

"We better get ahead of the game and come up with something cheaper. These suckers aren't going to pay that for very long!"

Ann Althouse, inadvertant catalyst for the birth of DSL!

Ann Althouse said...

I'd like to claim credit -- partial at least -- for the change in the AOL rate structure that took place shortly thereafter. I think I had an effect on saving consumers millions of dollars.

Rowena Hullfire said...

Perhaps not DSL, but flat-rate pricing for your ISP using a local telephone number for dialup. Heck, I live in rural Appalachia and had that since 1995. Just went to DSL this year because webpages are so dense now, dialup is just waaaaay tooooo sloooowww. Eckspeshully after using a T1 line at work.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a reasonable take on the matter as it stood then.

Don't think many people in 93 or 95 were envisioning how things look now in nearly 07 (with regards to just about everything, but especially the various turns the internets have taken).

Also, I'm sure that particular letter got published because it fit in with some notions that skeptics within the editorial staff had with regards to the article in question.

But what I'm really curious about is the how of the noticing of this old letter rather than the noticing itself.

Was it from self-searching on TimesSelect? Or a good old self-googling? Or the even gooder and older coming across a newspaper clipping saved from the original paper?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Ann Althouse said...

XWL: I needed to make a list of things I'd published in the last year and was checking what I had in the NYT (an op-ed and a book review). Then I saw I could get the text of that old letter and wanted to read it. I have another old letter -- about gymnastics, actually -- which I'll put up sometime.

flory said...

Ann Althouse said...
I'd like to claim credit -- partial at least -- for the change in the AOL rate structure that took place shortly thereafter. I think I had an effect on saving consumers millions of dollars.


So *you* were the inspiration for Love Story? Not Al?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answer (and such promptness).

Just idle curiosity, really.

Of course, that answer only prompts another question (which need not be answered, and some of them probably shouldn't be answered, of course).

Why do you need a list of published articles?

(leadingly speculative questions follow)

Updating your CV at UW-Madison?

Soliciting more writing gigs?

Personal edification?

Considering changing schools or careers?

the pooka said...

Actually, the really cool part is that my digiphone lets me hang out on street corners and surf the web at the same time...

JohnF said...

What is this thing you call a "street corner"?

Alan said...

I started out on Prodigy when the yearly subscription worked out to $8.95 a month for unlimited online fun. I locked that deal in for a couple of years when they started upping their fees. I eventually moved on to Compuserve. They charged for online minutes to their pay areas. But programs were available to automate the process, thus keeping the cost low. IIRC, the program I used was OzCIS which would download and upload content to the groups. Once the Web came around the writing was on the wall for the online services and their additional online fees. And that was about the time you wrote your letter. :)

Wickedpinto said...

September 14, 1993.

thats about 6 months after I got kicked out of highschool, about a month after I enrolled in college, and a little more than a year than I enlisted.

Why you so attractive AND so old?

(Yes I mixed the praise and offense on purpose, and I hope the sarcasm, and superficiality is apparent.)

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, Wickedpinto, I am so old. I tell you people this -- what? -- every week. I was born in 1951. Truman was President. I didn't give a good goddamn... but Truman was President.

johnf: LOL.

XWL: Just the usual bureaucratic stuff. People demand reports, etc. And you do have to keep an updated vita. I should be more organized about preserving information, but then, I also like to think that whatever I do is some sort of method that deserves respect. My own respect... self-respect.... not yours... it's too chaotic!

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Oh, Wickedpinto, I am so old. I tell you people this -- what? -- every week. I was born in 1951."

That does nothing to vitiate WP's other point.

Art said...

I can remember going to see "Independence Day" and watching the scene where they're about to infect the computer in the alien's spacecraft with a virus.
As everyone was wondering how they were going to do it, I expected the alien to pick up a floppy and say, "Look, Grock! Forty free hours of AOL!"

Simon said...

People's exhibit A. The Prosecution rests.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I'd like to claim credit -- partial at least -- for the change in the AOL rate structure that took place shortly thereafter.

Are you channeling Camille Paglia again?

Tibore said...

Hanging out on street corners??

Maybe at restaurants, malls, other people's houses, but street corners?? Nothing exciting there!

;)

Anyhoo, wow... '93. Doing my 5th year of college back then, and only getting back into playing with computers. Messing around with IRC chat and Usenet on old Mac System 7 Quadras and Win 3.1 486 computers. Man I feel old...

... but at least I don't remember any president before Carter!

:)

Ouuuuuuuuuuch!!!!! What, I'm now banned for life?... ;)

Theo Boehm said...

Tibore, I don't remember any President before Eisenhower ;-)

Are we getting old? Let's just say Althouse and I were in college at the same time. I like to think we're similarly well-preserved, but I don't have any pictures up anywhere to prove it.

Hmmm...I do have some JPEGs of yours truly on this disk, and I've just upgraded Photoshop, so maybe with a wee bit of work you could get a look at old Uncle Theo as he thinks he really might be.

Back to online life: I was on AOL when it had 100,000 subscribers. I solved the AOL extortion problem by becoming a chat room host. You got free AOL if you worked something like 5 hours a week. I was a host on "Classical Chat," a truly wonderful classical music chat room. We had an amazing community that included quite a few professionals. It was like a musicians' party every night. Hilarious, witty, informative—a great group. That began to change as AOL got more popular and the "snerts," as they were known in AOL-speak, began their nightly invasion. We had limited tools to deal with them, mostly just Terms of Service violation reports, which were basically useless. AOL then changed its pricing structure, we all got booted, and hosted chat rooms evaporated.

Should I blame Althouse for writing that letter and helping to break up that old gang of mine? Naw, it was all just fate and Steve Case.

Tibore said...

Yeah, I hear you Theo. Some of the old IRC channels and Usenet newsgroups were wonderful before the advent of 1. Trolls, and 2. Spam.

Now, too much of the non-web internet is nothing but spam, uuencoded porn and pirated apps, and the occasional flame war between 10 year old ULt1m4t3 Un1x h4ckz0rz.