In 1993, This Is What I Wrote About The Internet Coming To My High School

This spring, I attended my 20-year high school reunion at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. In between marveling at how easy kids these days have everything and celebrating the physical scars my class left on the facilities, I spoke with someone in the alumni office about my time writing for the school newspaper, Horizon. I thought it would be great to get copies of my work, and this gracious person followed through! Last week, I got a stack of articles I wrote from 1992 to 1995. This one, from September 8, 1993, had me laughing and shaking my head in awe at what the internet was and has become.

I have re-typed the article for your reading and annotating enjoyment. Where relevant, I have added hyperlinks for context and my own comments for fun. If you are reading this on Medium’s app, apparently you cannot see my awesome highlights and comments, so read it there but then return again via web browser to read again. Then print it and read it for a third time just to make sure you got it all! I’ve also recorded audio of me reading the story aloud with my verbal commentary.

Upper School joins Internet

September 8, 1993

In the past, Upper School students have used the computer room to write papers, solve math problems, conduct science experiments, and connect to local libraries and universities.

From now on, though, students will have one more reason to use the computer room. As a result of the interest of some Upper School parents, the school now has an Internet connection.

The Internet is a system connecting computer networks around the world. As of 1990, there were three million computers and 11 million people using the Internet, but with its increased publicity, that figure has since grown.

The Internet was started by the Defense Department to create a decentralized network so that if one part of the country were bombed, the network would not collapse. It has since grown to incorporate thousands of colleges, libraries, and businesses, and millions of computers so that every country has at least one connection.

The system itself is rather loosely organized with no one really “in charge.” As computer coordinator Ross Lenet put it, “It’s amazing it even works at all.”

Students will be able to use the Internet in a variety of ways including:

  • Electronic mail (also known as e-mail). This feature enables people to send and receive mail to and from other users around the world. For example, students who have siblings in college will be able to write to and chat with them.
  • File transfers. This allows people to send and receive files to an infinite amount of places. There are numerous “sites” on the Internet from which anyone can download files.
  • News groups. These are public forums or discussions with topics ranging from social issues to car repair. There are over 700 different news groups on the Internet.

Students wishing to use the system will be given an account and directory for which they will create a password and will be able to access the Internet at any time.

A useful feature of the Internet for students will be the large number of university databases they can tap into. There are also a number of supercomputers around the globe to which Internet users have access.

The only cost for the school is the installation of phone lines needed to make the connection. The other financial needs, including a new computer for the sole purpose of usage with the Internet, have been donated by two companies. Advance Incorporated donated the hardware which is worth approximately $6,000, and includes a top-of-the-line IBM compatible and a modem. U U Net donated the connection time for the first year, at a price of $250 per month. The Auction Office will have a similar machine which will be networked to the main one in the computer room.

The school has set up a number of terminals connected to the main computer, making it possible for more than one person to use the Internet at the same time.

To operate the Internet is quite difficult at first, because it uses a computer operating system called UNIX, with which few people are familiar. In order to make things easier of the students, junior Robert Watson and sophomore Jason Carroll have written a small manual explaining how to use the Internet, and have designed a menu based system to, as Lenet put it, “protect the students from UNIX.”

Steve Crocker was one of the Sidwell Friends parents who lobbied for the connection. “It’s a new kind of library,” he said. “We’re putting down paths to a whole new world.” Head of School Earl Harrison called it, “a terrific addition to our computer education,” and said that, “the school hopes to take a serious [school-wide] look at our responsibilities related to new technologies and computer education.”

And that is the end of the article. I was one of the first students to have an account (and directory!) on the UNIX system on the Internet computer. I can remember writing fun little programs in C and spending all available time poking around various online systems. This connection dramatically changed the course of my life, making nearly every creative, personal, and professional relationship since then powered heavily by the internet (which I no longer capitalize because it’s normal like that).

What is your first memory of having an always-on internet connection? And did you tell your parents you were only using it to connect to libraries and university databases??