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Check out ‘The Internet Show,’ an hour-long PBS special from the dawn of cyberspace
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Check out ‘The Internet Show,’ an hour-long PBS special from the dawn of cyberspace

A YouTube user named Andy Baio has collected a number of explanatory videos dating from the very dawn of the commercialized World Wide Web (roughly 1995 for our purposes here) and created a killer playlist featuring them. Here’s Baio on the group of videos:

A while back, I started collecting old VHS tapes about the Internet from the early- to mid-1990s. While most of these are pretty corny, they also inadvertently captured pieces of the web that don’t exist anywhere else. The Internet Archive’s earliest snapshots were in late 1996, so anything before that is extremely sparse. The videos, silly as they are, still represent valuable documentation of the early web.I digitized the VHS tapes using a VCR connected to a MiniDV camera’s pass-through feature to my Macbook Pro. After I started putting these online, a couple more were sent to me, which I’ve included in the collection. And then my VCR broke.

As Baio writes of this delicious video, which dates from 1995, “Ripped from VHS, The Internet Show is an hour-long introduction to the mid-90s Internet from PBS Home Video, hosted by writers Gina Smith and John Levine.” It’s impossible for such videos not to appear hideously dated, but this program isn’t too horrible. Smith and Levine do a decent job walking newbies through the history of the Internet (ARPANET etc.) and some technical aspects no ordinary end user needs to know about (packet switching) as well as the nuts and bolts of writing an email and so forth. They bandy about a whole lot of scarcely familiar slang, such as “Internaut” (???) as well as well-nigh obsolete terminology like “cyberspace.” But you can hardly blame them for that. Pre-iPhone, pre-Facebook, pre-Google, pre-Netscape even, the Internet in 1995 seems awfully arcane to us today but in fact the essential components of the Internet were already present, including email, chat, newsgroups, spam, political activism, mapping programs, emoticons, and e-commerce—Smith and Levine touch on them all.

The general tone and the graphics and the clothing styles are purest mid-1990s, which is always amusing. One of the most surprising aspects of the video is that it’s shot not in Silicon Valley but in Texas, at Houston’s Rice University. At about 20 minutes in, there’s a nice Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference, which is all the better for the hosts not calling attention to it.


Posted by Martin Schneider
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