It was a Tuesday evening and I was with a friend in the computer unit at Napier University’s Merchiston campus.
I’d heard about “The Internet”, “The World Wide Web” and “Email” but really didn’t know what they were. Strange new symbols like “@” and the letters “http” were starting to appear at the bottom of adverts and I was intrigued. Something was happening and I wanted in on it.
Just the previous day I’d been eating a hamburger at Burger King and noticed “visit our website” at the bottom of that flyer they put on your tray. If this bizarre new phenomenon had infiltrated the world of fast food then clearly I needed to be involved.
We were sitting side by side in silence, locked in our own computer worlds but I knew Gordon was about to do the same thing I was. In that slightly awkward and anti social fashion favoured by computer types the world over, we were both about to take a step – or a click – into the unknown.
We were venturing into cyberspace – or “surfing the internet” for the first time.
I sat staring at my screen wondering how I “got on” the internet.
Then I noticed Gordon had clicked on the “Netscape” icon, which had a symbol of a ship’s steering wheel. That seemed to make sense.
Seconds later, I was on.
A minute and a half later, the page had finished loading and I was staring at http://www.napier.ac.uk – the university home page.
I’d love to say the first webpage I ever looked at blew me away with its innovation and possibilities.
Instead, I thought it was incredibly dull. It bore more a suspicious resemblance to the university prospectus which had been lying under my bed at home for the last few months, but with all the pictures and colour removed.
(these pages will appear in colour now but at the time, on the system I was using, they were black and white)
All rather pointless I thought but not wishing to dismiss something new so quickly and unable to believe that something I’d been excited about for so long could turn out to be so dull, I decided to press on and try another website.
Remembering the advert during my Burger King trip, I typed in their address.
Gordon and I had a heated debate about journalistic ethics while I waited for the page to load.
He seemed to be having more success than me and had ventured into a “Newsgroup” which was full of discussion about Formula 1 which he was heavily into. It looked a but grey and full of badly laid out, difficult to read text but at least he had something on his screen.
I had a few teasing lines of text and huge empty spaces.
The first computer I ever owned was a Sinclair Spectrum when I was 5 so I had developed patience when it came to these things. But this was ridiculous.
Eventually, the pictures finished loading and I was looking at this…
I was raging. 10 minutes of my life gone and all I had was something even less interesting than the flyer in my tray telling me to go on the website. And no chips to eat either.
“That’s it” I decided, “One more and I’m done.”
But where should I go?
I had absolutely no idea.
Google might have been big on the Stamford University Campus at the time but I’d never heard of it.
And Yahoo? More like “ya-WHO?”
I sat for a new moments then did what I’d always done whenever I got stuck with a computer – try to get back where I started.
This Netscape Navigator thing had some pictures along the top, one of which looked like a house and had “Home” written underneath it.
Sure enough, pressing it took me back to the Napier University page. My home page.
I also noticed a “Search” button but quickly dismissed it because I didn’t want to search the computer. I knew what was on the computer, I wanted someone to tell me what was on the internet.
By the time the Napier page had finished loading I’d had a brainwave.
Maybe these “websites” had something in common. They all had addresses that started “http://www.thensomewordsusualyacompanynamefollowedby.com or .co.uk
So if I kept the first and last bits of the address and changed the words in the middle, maybe it would take me somewhere interesting.
At least I had some things to try. So for the next hour I sat trying out different words and phrases and seeing where they took me.
It wasn’t earth shatteringly exciting and I went home that night not entirely sure I’d ever go back on the internet. I couldn’t really see what the point was but figured maybe it would one day be a useful way of replacing the Yellow Pages.
Instead of looking through a huge thick book for someone’s number you could just type the company name into the browser and their details would come up, and if you could hang around long enough, you’d get a nice black and white picture of their logo too.
And maybe, if you were really advanced, instead of even having to pick up the phone, you could just click the “E-mail” button and get in touch with them that way.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned e-mail up till now.
And there’s a reason why.
The university’s entire IT system was managed by the “Computer Unit.”
So everyone’s e-mail address consisted of their lengthy matriculation number – mine was “96056541” followed by “@” and then “csunt2.napier.ac.uk”
Due to my e-mail address being so dangerously close to a highly offensive word, and most of my socialising at the time being done in noisy bars, with a high risk of me being misheard as I yelled “CSUNT2!” repeatedly over loud music, I’m sure you’ll understand why I decided it would be safer not to give it out to many people.
Now it’s over to you. Think back and share your memories of your first experience of the internet. What did you look at? Where did you go? What did you think? Have your say in “comments”, and have a great weekend when it comes!