When was your first time? A history of web browsers

Colossus computer at Bletchley Park: before even my time

Colossus computer at Bletchley Park: before even my time

Hmmm. A history of web browsers – that’s not a promising title, you might think. Well, you might be right. But whilst glancing through the browsers in this short well-presented history, I started to remember when I first use the web.

Ah, my first time: I used Netscape, probably around 1995 or so, where I used to work. We had a single PC – despite the fact that we sold and repaired them – sat on its own in the corner, as if on an altar. It was on dial up I think. Colleagues asked if I knew about the ‘world wide web’ – so revered was it back then that we often used its full title – and saying ‘no’, they invited me to have a go. The cursor blinked in a little box onscreen. ‘Just type in anything’, they said. So I did. I typed in ‘monkeys’.

Before long (although longer than we’re used to now) a list of monkey-related websites appeared. Nowadays, this event is forgettably commonplace, but then it felt an almost overwhelming experience. I tried again, thinking it might be a ruse. But no, entering something else – I have forgotten what I typed – worked just the same. We all looked at each. Nobody said anything.

And so looking through the list of browsers I’ve used is part informative, part nostalgia. There is probably a rule for technology nostalgia somewhere, following the numerous rules that have sprung up, but I’d like to suggest a new one: the cultural value of a new piece of technology can be measured in the length of time it takes to become nostalgic about it. The shorter the length of time the more valuable.

You can’t fool nostalgia – it’s red in tooth and claw when it comes to the survival of the fittest memory, an instinctively-driven evolution to save and remember those things that mean the most to us. For me, it was Netscape and the wonder of world wide web. What about you?

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