By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)
May 19, 2022
The first time I have ever heard of the Internet was in 1993 while still in high school. A school employee, still newly graduated from Stanford, often mentioned the e-mail -- something that was at the time mostly reserved to universities and libraries. The local public library had many of those VT-100 "dumb" terminals for catalogues and for access to various online resources. These terminals were text-only, black screens with either green or orange glowing ASCII letters. The library provided access to a number of Gopher sites and WAIS resources either via Telnet or with the Lynx browser.
I've finally gained access to the nascent World Wide Web in November of 1995 when I heard about a new Internet cafe in town. That place had 20 or so of those VT-100 terminals for free, and eight "X terminals" with Unix GUI frontends (with Netscape Navigator 2.0, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and RealPlayer!) at the price of $3.50 an hour (or, $30 for a 10-hour prepaid punchcard).
The 1990s was an optimistic period in history, sandwiched between the end of the Cold War and September 11. Tech was cool and people generally saw it as a force for good. Geeks were yet to become a major corporate power. Ironically, the conservatives were busy pushing for censorship of the Internet via the proposed Communications Decency Act. The cyberspace pushed back with the ubiquitous "Blue Ribbon Campaign for Free Speech" (Zondervan, a major Christian publisher, countered by spearheading a "Green Ribbon Campaign for Responsible Speech"). Sometimes history can be an irony, considering how the same conservatives decried "cancel culture" and "Big Tech censorship" a quarter century later (of course, now these conservatives are back at promoting censorship in schools and libraries, though!).
Search engines were still primitive. People discovered the Internet through directories such as Yahoo!, posts on BBS, Listserv and Usenet, or through "links/bookmarks" pages on other people's web sites.
There was no Google. There was no Wikipedia. There was no YouTube. Amazon was just starting out as a small bookstore startup in downtown Seattle. The Internet was kind of like a scavenger hunt. Looking for information took time, and along with the journey of finding answers, you made serendipitous discoveries of things you never knew that existed.
And there were no Facebook or Twitter -- or for that matter, Friendster, Tribe.net, Livejournal, or MySpace. But people expressed themselves on personal web pages on GeoCities, Tripod, and Angelfire, and they congregated on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Usenet, and many Listservs. Even though they were mostly anonymous/pseudonymous unlike today's social media, we had many offline social events. People with niche interests have finally found their friends.
Things have changed so much since then. As majority of online activities have moved to smartphones, wallgardened apps became more common. In some African countries, "Internet" actually means Facebook. Instead of users discovering, now algorithms and artificial intelligence "discover" users and push "curated" contents that only entrench and fortify their preconceived biases. Search engines such as Google have become so potent that most people only click the first link on the SERP and get everything they want to know.
In the 1990s, the Internet was likened to a "global village" on the "information superhighway." Now it's enmeshed with our "real life" and increasingly more regulated both by the governments with authoritarian tendencies and by a small number of Big Tech corporations.
"Small Internet" movement is kind of like the "slow food" movement of the cyberspace. It's a return to the simpler times -- and also restoring the freedom and that sense of wonder that the Generation X experienced in their teen and early-20s.
Recently I have moved my personal website to smol.pub. In the past I've used different platforms such as Tumblr, Blogger, Wordpress, Google Sites, Github Pages, Weebly, and Wix. But this is hands down the nirvana for bloggers. Pages can be added or edited using any web browser, even on smartphones, without any need for an app. On desktop, I can write a blog post using a plain text editor and upload it from a Linux shell. And contents are accessible from Gopher, Gemini, and World Wide Web protocols simultaneously.
If you haven't heard of Gemini and Gopher, you're missing out a lot!
Gopher is the classic Internet older than the World Wide Web, designed to serve up text files (other files such as images and audio can also be downloaded, however). Gemini is a kind of an improved version of Gopher, notable differences being Gemini pages can attach images and hyperlinks, as well as to include some formatting such as headlines (In Gopher, links to such objects are only allowed in menu files, and all texts are unformatted).
I assume most people who are reading this are on the World Wide Web, and my site is https://willowashmaple.xyz.
If you have a Gemini browser, try this: gemini://willowashmaple.xyz
If you have a Gopher browser, gopher://smol.pub:70/1/willowashmaple takes you to the same content as https://willowashmaple.xyz/posts or gemini://willowashmaple.xyz/posts
And I encourage you to explore. Some good places to start:
Get a Gemini browser for Android (download, install and come back to this page to access the links below)
Experience Gemini without installing an app (Web proxy)
A Gemini search engine
A good starting point
It's Wikipedia for Gemini (save $ on your mobile data plan!)
The Guardian (unofficial mirror)
Start your own Gemini/Gopher/Web site like this
Get a Gopher browser for Android (download, install and come back to this page to access the links below)
Experience Gopher without installing an app (Web proxy)
A Gopher portal page and search engine
National Weather Service (USA)
Latest news headlines from VOA, Democracy Now! and more
Copyright 2022. Articles on this site may be used freely under the terms of the Cooperative Nonviolent Public License (CNPLv7+). All other uses require express permission of the author. See contact page (on Gemini or WWW: willowashmaple.xyz/contact; on Gopher: gopher://smol.pub:70/0/willowashmaple/contact) for email and other ways to get in touch.