In 1999, broadband was still merely a dream for most consumers, so before you could do anything on the internet back then, you had to listen to the sound in the clip below. Provided, that is, that your mom wasn’t on the phone, in which case you were screwed, because a) you wouldn’t be able to get an internet connection, and b) your ma would yell at you for making that terrible sound while she was trying to talk your aunt. The dialup modem sound was sort of like the penance you payed in advance for all the sins you were about to commit on the “world wide web” as it was often referred to back then:
As is still true today, in 1999 there were two kinds of people in the world: people who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and people who don’t. Amongst the former were people who either had a Mac, or a Windows machine.
If you were rich, you might have had one of these stylish contraptions. Although the iMac started looking incredibly silly just a couple of years later, strangely, they kind of look cool again. Apple should think about doing a “ThrowMac” edition. This little baby had a screaming 233 MHz processor, an astounding 32 megabytes of RAM, and a mind-blowing 4 gigabyte hard drive. Imagine, you could almost store an entire DVD on this sucker!
Sorry Dude, It’s a Dell
It was much more likely that you had a Dell, mostly because you were being bombarded in every available form of media by this annoying dude who apparently learned to speak English by watching Valley Girl. The clip below perfectly recreates the feel of the era, with it’s skewed VCR tracking problem:
Welcome to the World Wide Web!
The average person seemed really confused for a long time about what the difference between “the internet” and “the web” was. Thankfully, the phrase “world wide web” slowly fell from common usage, partly because it was a really dumb name, and partly because its acronym had nine syllables, when the term itself only had three. Anyway, once you finally got connected, you probably saw the image below, because the mostly-text home page of Yahoo was many users’ “home page”, and Microsoft hadn’t been grilled for being a monopoly yet, so your Dell computer probably had Internet Explorer 5 pre-installed:
If you were especially ahead of the curve, this might be your home page, as only technophile hipsters knew about Google in 1999:
So Now What?
If you were cool, one of the first things you would do once on the internet is go get some of that FREE MUSIC that belonged to you. This was the era when the idea of music on line was an exciting new thing. YouTube didn’t exist yet, and iTunes was still just a not-yet-connected neuron in Steve Jobs’ brain. There were two ways get all this free music you suddenly deserved, one legit, one not so legit. We’ll start with the “arrrgh I’m a pirate matey” version first.
If you loved music and had a computer in 1999, Napster was one of the most significant developments in human history. After buying Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti on vinyl, cassette, and CD a dozen times over the last two decades because the LP warped, the tape jammed, the CD case broke and the disc started skipping like they claimed it never would, you could finally stick it to the man, and get just about anything ever recorded for FREE. You just had to wait about six hours for every album to download. But imagine! Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5 could be yours, WITHOUT SPENDING A PENNY!
The other way to get free (mostly crappy) music was via mp3.com. The downfall of what could have been an amazing site was driven by the fact that the only people who could figure out all the technology to use the site (and game the rankings) were nerds who had absolutely no musical skill. I personally fell into the middle ground of this field; you can still find MY crappy contributions on archive.org. Here’s my ambient music, and here’s my “alternative rock” music, memorialized – much to my chagrin – for all eternity.
No worries about how to fill the time as you waited on that Napster download, because another wonderful thing had happened. Never again would you have to experience the shame of buying your disgusting dirty magazines from the cute girl at the checkout at the corner liquor store, because the gods had finally smiled upon your generation and uploaded millions of pictures of naked women to the internet! Again, you just had to wait for them to download:
The Y2K Bug
You just had to be careful about visiting those porn websites, because they might infect you with the dreaded Y2K BUG. Or something like that. People in 1999 were pretty confused about what the “Y2K bug” really was, and if you could “catch it”. They just knew THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING BECAUSE OH MY GOD THE COMPUTERS WILL ALL SUDDENLY THINK IT’S 1900 A.D.!
This of course never happened, which is why in one of our next “Throwback Thursdays”, we’ll bring you the year 2000. When we all stopped partying like it was 1999.