What's floating in cyberspace?
January 9, 2015 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Just about everything. On January 8, 1995, a reporter from the Dallas Morning News wrote that 1994 was the "Year of the 'Net, the turning point where everyone with anything to say, sing or display raced to stake a claim in cyberspace." Take a few minutes out of your Friday and enjoy this blast from the past.
posted by naturalog (64 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can we all just breathe a collective sigh of relief that the phrase "Infobahn" didn't catch on?
posted by jbickers at 8:07 AM on January 9, 2015 [15 favorites]


It's so Internet it even has a silly listicle.

Here are 1994's Top 10 developments in cyberspace:

1. Internet for everyone: Through America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe, millions of average users entered the Infobahn, invigorating cyberspace and irritating 'Net stalwarts with their newness.

2. Online services come of age: Suddenly everyone started signing up to AOL, pushing membership past the 1 million mark. And Prodigy, the network everyone once declared terminally boring, found a new attitude.

3. Rolling Stones 'Net concert: The band that defines rock and roll pulled the Internet into the mainstream during a concert at the Cotton Bowl.

4. "Myst": It's the multimedia game everybody's talking about.

5. "Doom II": Computer carnage on an epic level.

6. Aerosmith releases a single on CompuServe: So what if it's a three-minute song that takes 90 minutes to download?

7. Vice President Al Gore goes on-line: He's pushing cyberspace hard and is willing to go on-line to prove it.

8. Meet Mosaic: The Internet went from boring to brilliant, thanks to this software that makes everything accessible by clicking the mouse.

9. On-line election coverage: It's the start of something big.

10. The explosion of CD-ROMs: From encyclopedias to PC karaoke, information and entertainment blossomed.



Yay for CD-ROMs!!!!!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Can we all just breathe a collective sigh of relief that the phrase "Infobahn" didn't catch on?


Somebody must have written an alt-history where the Nazis won WWII where this usage actually catching on is a thing, right?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hmm.

Did Todd Copilevitz race "to stake a claim in cyberspace" with everyone else (and before cyberspace killed newspapers, like the one he worked for)?

In fact, he did!
posted by notyou at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Information Super Highway is what I remember. But it was cool back then to create fake German words like "Infobahn". We used to call a computer a "boxen" but that was reserved for the heavy metal Sun systems.
posted by stbalbach at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought boxen was plural. One box, two boxen.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2015 [20 favorites]


"Under a Killing Moon"

This thing barely ran on my 486 DX-33 with 8MB of RAM (half of which purchased at goddamn $32/MB at a computer show), but I still played the hell out of it. Good thing, though, it came with save files for the start of each of its seven days, because the puzzle where you need to assemble a note from scraps never worked for me. Got all the pieces aligned but the game steadfastly refused to acknowledge that I'd solved the puzzle. Frustrating as hell.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2015


The DMN, of course, was one of those who jumped on the CueCat train. I remember many breathless articles about it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought boxen was plural. One box, two boxen.

Ja! And they had blinkenlichten!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:32 AM on January 9, 2015 [20 favorites]


It only took ten years for Doom to become a movie.
posted by dave78981 at 8:33 AM on January 9, 2015


Fun fact: I once had an email flamewar with American McGee after he likened the Amiga to the TRS-80 in an email detailing exactly where Doom would never be ported. During the back-and-forth I suggested that, were they ever to make a Doom movie, they cast Hulk Hogan as the Cyberdemon. That The Rock ended up in the lead role gives me a small bit of satisfaction.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wonder what article written this year will be the equivalent of the Dallas Morning News article mentioned in the FPP in 20 years. Also, this FPP made me nostalgic so here's Stewart Chiefet with a look at the Internet in an episode of Computer Chronicles from 1995.
posted by Rob Rockets at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2015


It only took ten years for Doom to become a movie.

And another ten days after that for everyone to forget that there ever had been a Doom movie.
posted by Slothrup at 8:36 AM on January 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Stake a claim in cyberspace" may have meant to grab a domain name and be a "cyber-squatter!" It was like a gold rush with lots of people staking claims to every domain name available in the hopes of selling it later.

I still missed the bus by not taking "cars.com" when I thought of it back then....
posted by CrowGoat at 8:37 AM on January 9, 2015


I made a terrible decision in paying to see the Doom movie, but an excellent decision to be blackout drunk at the time. It was a wash.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:39 AM on January 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


It was still "on-line" back then.
posted by beagle at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The joke about the Doom movie back in the day, when Schwarzenegger was going to be in it, was that it would be cheaper to get him than it would normally be because all they needed to show was his hand.
posted by Naberius at 8:43 AM on January 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is making me nostalgic both for my off-brand CD-ROM drive that had Multi-Taskin', apostrophe and all on it, and for the little song I used to sing waiting for AOL to connect: "File, Edit, Goto, Mail, Members, Window, Help." EeeeeEEEEEeeeee-ohhhhh, eep!
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Everyone" with "anything to say," they wrote in 1995. Like, think for just a minute about who made up the set of "everyone with anything to say." That's pretty rich.
posted by clavicle at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2015


I tried installing my old Peter Gabriel "Xplora" CD-ROM on an IBM Thinkpad about 10 years ago, for old times sake. It overwrote Quicktime with like version 2.0 and, even after that, I don't recall being able to make it run. So now I keep it with my shrink-wrapped MS-DOS 6.0, hoping that there will be a collectible market for these items one day.
My retirement grease!
posted by thelonius at 8:57 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Myst ... The peach Schnapps of videogames.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:58 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


@Thelonious

DOSBox
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:58 AM on January 9, 2015


Ah yes. 1994, the September that never ended.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:59 AM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


My favorite document from this era is the February 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.
Reading it again seems both quaintly naïve and urgently relevant at the same time.
posted by Nelson at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


1994, the September that never ended.

2001 was worse.
posted by thelonius at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I thought boxen was plural. One box, two boxen.

Right, what I meant, we'd call multiple boxes boxen. Though its not a made up German word.
posted by stbalbach at 9:24 AM on January 9, 2015


me too.
posted by DigDoug at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2015


Similarly VAXen, being a conglomeration of VAX mainframes.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:34 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, MTV's Tabitha Soren, ABC's Peter Jennings, Vice President Al Gore and the Rev. Billy Graham all fielded live questions from computer users.

And they still rule the web!
posted by maxsparber at 9:36 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you find any 6 packs floating in cyberspace, make sure you pull them apart so no cyberbirds get caught in them. Help keep the internet clean!
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Whenever I come across "on-line" I always hear it in my head in a dorky robot voice, like a dalek that is very satisfied with itself.
posted by Mizu at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the line
posted by rhizome at 9:43 AM on January 9, 2015


I recently read a book about the Stratemeyer Syndicate and how Edward Stratemeyer would capitalize on each new technology crazy of its day (The Motion Picture Boys, The Radio Boys, etc. Many of which can be found on Project Gutenberg).

I wonder how well an Internet Chums or CompuServe Children series would have been received.
posted by dr_dank at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


dr_dank, we got CyberChase instead.
posted by emjaybee at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ja! And they had blinkenlichten!

ACHTUNG! ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS! Das Computermaschine ist nicht fur gefingerpoken und mittengraben.
posted by Foosnark at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2015 [15 favorites]


I still have a CueCat somewhere. Their failure made LibraryThing possible, an afforadable scanner when industrial units went for hundreds each. They still work just fine. Good times.
posted by bonehead at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Early adopter: infobahn.com
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2015


I was so excited by the possibilities of CD ROMs back then - they seem like kinescopes now.
posted by davebush at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I thought boxen was plural. One box, two boxen.

Ja! And they had blinkenlichten!

ACHTUNG! ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS! Das Computermaschine ist nicht fur gefingerpoken und mittengraben.


Ok, which one of you is my old roommate?
posted by surazal at 10:06 AM on January 9, 2015


Deals were announced daily. Record companies, movie studios, book publishers and television networks couldn't get on-line fast enough.

And now they're all busy jumping off window ledges.
posted by Melismata at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2015


Is there something I Myst? ba dum bump
posted by Chuffy at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I somehow have two CueCats. I remember buying the first one on ebay, but I'm slightly mystified at where the second one came from. Perhaps the first one reproduced.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think I actually *just* got rid of my CueCats. (I also had ended up with two of them somehow.) They may still even be in a box in my truck.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article is interesting to me not because it's sort of quaintly funny in retrospect, but because it comes from a time when the internet hadn't yet begun to function in the interests of the powerful. Now, information technology is completely colonized by capital and states, and tends to be deployed in ways that serve their interests, economic, political and otherwise. Automation enabled by modern IT erodes the economic security of human workers everyday, governments surveil everyone they can, and generally speaking the internet is more and more integrated with the lives we lead and the possibilities that they entail.

This article comes from a time when people were imagining "the internet" as this other place, a virtual location of infinite possibility, someplace people could maybe escape into or exercise novel forms of action and identity, and that seems kind of funny, now that in actuality the internet exists as a supervenient layer of communication on top of waking life, rather than parallel to it.
posted by clockzero at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


I used my CueCats to scan the ISBN numbers of all my personal books because that was apparently something I desperately needed to do in 2005. (The phrasing "[blank] is a hell of a drug" may or may not apply.)

(No offense to LibraryThing, which I found totally awesome)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


But not everything happened over the phone lines.
I laughed when I read that, thinking of the old dial-up beep and static, when it hit me that my hookup IS through my (fiber optic) phone line!
posted by TDavis at 11:03 AM on January 9, 2015


I was so excited by the possibilities of CD ROMs back then - they seem like kinescopes now.
I can still remember seeing a Macintosh with a CD-ROM encyclopedia for the first time in the early 90s. I'm not sure if the school librarians put it next to the TRS-80 on purpose, but the juxtaposition made me feel like I'd walked into a science fiction movie.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:22 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article comes from a time when people were imagining "the internet" as this other place, a virtual location of infinite possibility, someplace people could maybe escape into or exercise novel forms of action and identity, and that seems kind of funny, now that in actuality the internet exists as a supervenient layer of communication on top of waking life, rather than parallel to it.

Yes! I really liked Leigh Alexander's Breathing Machine on the topic. I mentally shorthand the divide as pre-Facebook/post-Facebook (admittedly I got online later than her--Facebook became a thing during my undergrad, and I'd only been online for 4-5 years before college). I don't miss the "everyone online is probably a pedophile, hide everything about your real identity up to and including your gender or you'll get murderabducted" narrative directed at young women from then. But the default concept of the internet being about "novel forms of action and identity"--I miss that very much.
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:32 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


That actually doesn't read as old-timey as I expected - maybe because I was there and I remember so many articles like this and they weren't necessarily incorrect.

What I don't understand though is the use of the term Cyberspace. In the list 1994's Top 10 developments in cyberspace 3 of the 10 are explicitly offline CD-ROMs. Was this common usage for anything computery at the time? I'm sure that even then to me "Cyberspace" (and of course the "Infobahn") referred to networks of computers of some sort be they corporate, university, on-line service, internet, etc. I never thought of Cyberspace being a disconnected computer playing Myst.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:29 PM on January 9, 2015


Yes, remembering the mid-'90s Internet fills me with such nostalgia and sadness for the contrast between what a utopian frontier it seemed like at the time and the sordid reality it developed into. Certainly the way that it ended up being so thoroughly colonized by capitalism and authoritarianism and power in general - in an even more general sense, though, the way that so many pieces of promise from that era have been fulfilled, but turned out, in their fulfillment, to be just as corrupted by human nature as everything else. We thought we would get all of the world's knowledge at our fingertips, and we did, just intermingled with all of the world's lies and propaganda and stupidity and viciousness.

We should really have seen it all coming more clearly at the time, or perhaps we did and my nostalgic memories of being a teenager have just elided that part away twenty years after the fact.

Vaporwave music like James Ferraro and Oneohtrix Point Never does a good job of evoking the complex set of emotions around remembering that era for me.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


My college GF's boyfriend before me apparently made a ton of money in the domain name goldrush. I remember at the time being insanely jealous at not having found such a get rich quick scheme, hateful at what a bullshit way to make money it was, and proud that she had left this dude for me. Yay early 20s and early 2000s.

I also remember an article from around 1994/95 that talked about things like webcams of toilets no one ever used and tons of other silly useless crap and compared it to the golden age of aviation, when people would tap-dance on biplane wings and such just because flying was so crazy and novel, and how we could expect the internet to become as corporate and blase as air travel in the coming decades, which, yeah, that feels about right.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:49 PM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


clavicle: "Everyone" with "anything to say," they wrote in 1995. Like, think for just a minute about who made up the set of "everyone with anything to say." That's pretty rich.
It's not a literal phrase; it refers to "the in-crowd". So, yeah: pretty much "everyone with anything to say".
posted by IAmBroom at 12:58 PM on January 9, 2015


What I don't understand though is the use of the term Cyberspace.

Oh, lots of reasons. First, people just really liked saying it. It was futuristic and mysteriously metaphysical sounding. I think Gibson's Neuromancer had been out for about what, 10 years? So some of the younger, hipper journalists had probably read it, or knew people who were aware of what was really an underground scene still, BBS folks and hacking and that era, and saw the chance to write cool articles, and the idea of "cyberspace" worked as a hook well enough. There was an exuberant futurist subculture, like the Mondo 2000 magazine crowd, that had roots in 60's anarcho-dope philosophy, and they were coming to the attention of the larger culture. The millenium was coming and there was an economic boom starting and people just slurped it up.

An unrelated thought. The PC as a whole, even connected to nothing but whatever floppy disc you put in it, was also seen as a device of personal empowerment and liberation by its pioneers and early enthusiasts, but it became instead an altar of drudgery in cubicles - a fate resembling the same dismal arc that people above discussed for the Internet.
posted by thelonius at 4:02 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


God damn. I never knew Aerosmith were such cyber pioneers.

About two years before this article came out, a guy I worked with invited me over to check out his computer. We went "on-line" and he said with barely-contained joy that there was something he wanted to show me. I watched as the screen filled with a heavily pixelated illustration of a red convertible sports car on a beach under a blue sky, flanked on either side by palm trees. Playing from the computer speakers was a tinny version of one of 2 Live Crew's more unmentionable singles, as the car and palm trees shook to the beat. I asked him what this was, and he told me some guy in his class made it. When I asked why, he looked at me like I was nuts and said, "Because he could?"

I knew at once that I had found my home.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:12 PM on January 9, 2015


1994 feh, cyberspace really landed the year before when Billy Idol planted his flag there.

I didn't have to look up the year when that happened. I knew it off the top of my head. I have wasted my life.
posted by Sauce Trough at 4:43 PM on January 9, 2015


The DMN, of course, was one of those who jumped on the CueCat train. I remember many breathless articles about it.

You don't say.
posted by dhartung at 5:20 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Early adopter: infobahn.com

In early 1995 the premiere issue appeared of Infobahn: The Magazine of Internet Culture. As I recall, it folded after one issue. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was the only slick commercial magazine ever to publish something I'd written.

Infobahn cover image
posted by Creosote at 6:30 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Strangelystuntedstrees: Yes, remembering the mid-'90s Internet fills me with such nostalgia and sadness for the contrast between what a utopian frontier it seemed like at the time and the sordid reality it developed into.

This scratched an itch I didn't know I had of when the internet was all about being someone different than yourself.

In about 1994 I posted something really dumb that I thought was profound to a listserv and several people corrected me. I remember reading just reply after reply after reply to me in the digest listserv (I was in high school and could only internet once a day, and it took SOOO LONG to download each email that it was better to do it all at once) and getting really upset. Then it dawned that they were treating me like An Adult Who Knew Things But Got One Thing Wrong, not like a Dumb Kid. It was liberating and scary at the same time.
posted by holyrood at 6:42 PM on January 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I remember back then when I was getting paid to create "content" for a game review site. It was pretty much anything goes.
One kick I was on for awhile was trying to fly improbable things with rockets ( blow up love dolls, freeze dried alligator heads, barbies and a library globe) sucking up fuel with vacuum cleaners and lighting the exhaust (that got a Dave Barry mention) and building a working mockup of the rocket launcher from Quake (I even made it all angular and weird like in the game) but the whole thing was on the web for about 48 hrs when the company folded so we never got to use the launcher.

I did get paid.
posted by boilermonster at 10:11 PM on January 9, 2015


If I could claim back all the difference in time between listening to people saying "information superhighway" and "infobahn", I'd've maybe got my whole POP3 mailbox downloaded back when these things were things.
posted by pompomtom at 5:32 AM on January 10, 2015


They still are things, but mercifully unnecessary most of the time. I remember my dad buying like a hard copy version of Metafilter, a book full of links with blurbs explaining why they are Teh Awesome. Altavista was awesome but hey this Yahoo site has curated a whole directory just like dad's gosh darned book? I'm glad disinfo.com and alternet.org and fair.org blew up as early as they did. Maybe not mid 90s but they were ready for my almost 20 something self as it entered the disillusionment of full time work. My pre-Metafilter mobile bathroom reading (sorry) consisted of printouts from those sites. Print, print the article. Read it, read it in the John. Aww yeah
posted by aydeejones at 7:57 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Similarly VAXen, being a conglomeration of VAX mainframes.

Boxen was a takeoff on VAXen. A single VAX (pictured here, the l0pht's VAX 11/750) could take up several cabinets; a VAX cluster could easily fill a room. These days you can literally hold the computing power of a VAX cluster in the palm of your hand; witness this pair of Raspberry Pis running OpenVMS in cluster mode.
posted by scalefree at 2:12 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: God damn. I never knew Aerosmith were such cyber pioneers.
Add to this that they were (one of?) the first white non-rapper groups to team up with a rap group, and suddenly they look like a fairly adept business team, adjusting early-but-not-too-early to changes in the market.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:19 PM on January 12, 2015


Bah, not a thing about GEnie.
posted by one weird trick at 5:09 PM on January 12, 2015


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