Nostalgia can be a misleading, even dangerous, phenomenon. We're often predisposed to remember the good parts, while conveniently forgetting all the bad stuff. As historian Stephanie Coontz put it in a recent New York Times essay: "Memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
Which is at least partly why I was hesitant to click on an innocuous link to a throwback how-to video from 1997 with an equally innocuous title: "The Kids' Guide to the Internet." Technology is forward-looking. Why dwell on the past?
But boy, am I glad I did.
Basically, a couple of kids go over to the the Jamisons' house to learn all about "surfing the web." The video scores an easy 10 out of 10 on the cheeseball scale, and it's brimming with just about every bad '90s trope you can think of, from the recurring jingle ("Take a spin / Now you're in, with the tech-no set / You're going surfing on the in-ter-net") to the off-center middle-part hair that just about every current twenty-something guy sported at some point in his life.
That said, there are some creepily prescient gems in there that still hold true today. Here, a few highlights:
1:20: Truer words were never spoken
"Now that I've gotten on the internet, I'd rather be on my computer than just about anything."
What are the chances this kid's on 4chan today?
3:40: The gang arrives!
"Hey guys. Mom's just leaving and Dad said we could have the computer all to ourselves!" And note the rare awkward handshake at 3:42.
(Also: Why is the computer in the middle of the living room? Surely there are closer outlets along the wall.)
4:23: The lesson begins
"...the first thing you need to know…"
"…is that the internet is amazing."
7:03: You can contact anyone you want!
Squeaky-voiced middle-part guy: "Wanna write a letter to President Clinton?"
Little kid: "Would he answer us?"
Squeaky-voiced middle part guy: "I bet he would!"
Presumably, this was before the existence of the NSA's internet surveillance program.
Also: Here's what the White House's website looked like:
12:06: "What's a search engine?"
"The internet has news lines that give you up-to-the-minute information."
Look at all the fun they're having reading the news.
26:12: The big lesson
Mom: "You have to remember the internet is not a regulated environment, so the quality and accuracy of various information offerings can differ quite a bit."
Today, we have Reddit.
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