How has your world changed after the WWW? Here’s my Before and After

Happy birthday to those turning thirty today, the day the World Wide Web came to be.

Here I am, in front of a computer which is permanently connected to the Internet via a WiFi. I currently have five browsers open – two are my social media, one is my email and two are search browsers with results of my latest search, one on books and the other is an article on writing dialogue.

The search took me back in time, beyond thirty years ago, before the World Wide Web (WWW), when the way to find information was by penning a letter to a person, but first, you needed to have the person’s post office address.

How did we communicate before the WWW?

  • That was the time we learned calligraphy, used a fountain pen to write letters to family and friends.

  • While in school, we received letters via the school post office box. The days when the bell rang for Friday evening assembly where school prefects read out names on letters and passed them to the owners. Those were the days of friendships, if you missed to receive a letter, a friend would read theirs and give you to read, especially if the letter was from their boyfriend.

  • The school secretary was an expert on the typewriter - doing the sixty-words per minute with minimal use of white-out.

  • We relied on fountain pens and ballpoints to complete school and university class assignments. Computers at university were limited to lecturers and other offices.

  • The 1990s were the times we used a pen and paper to write job application letters - looking back, I am tempted to believe that anyone posted a typed and printed letter of application could have been without going through the interview process.

  • How did we receive letters when we resided in rural areas? If your family did not have a P.O Box number, you used the postal address of the nearest school or church.

  • In my rural time, except for the local MP and a few rich families, the rest received phone calls at a local boarding secondary school. There was a procedure to be followed, a letter arrived days or weeks in advance with a message on the impending phone call with a day and time. Yes, as “development” invaded rural areas, one could be seen the local telephone booth, begging others not to talk for long as they were waiting for an important phone call.

Do you recall the days of calling the Telephone Exchange or receiving a reverse call?

  1. What about the dreaded Telegram? The epitome of communicating only what was necessary - “Come home, …is dead.” The sender paid per letter/word.

  2. Upon employment, I used a computer to type official letters, addressed envelopes by hand, appended a postage stamp and carried the letters to the organization’s mailing office.

  3. Long live the Telex machine. We organized successful meetings at the national and regional levels whereby detailed letters of invitation were posted months in advance. Once air tickets were booked, the organizer sat in the mailing office and punched Telex messages to each participant. The reply came the same way. The communication involved typing a succinct message which appeared on a teleprinter on the other side. The recipient typed a response that printed on your end. Yes, you needed paper on your Telex machine.

Dawn of the World Wide Web

The rays from the WWW penetrated some thick clouds in the 1990s, mostly in big cities.

  • We typed official messages and saved them in the outbox.

  • At the end of a work day - when the telephone line was least in use, the WWW genius within the workplace unplugged the line cable from the telephone and plugged it into a computer, and the magic happened, messages saved in outboxes of all computers in the organization streamed out as “Sent.”

  • The next morning, the WWW genius went through the same process of connecting the telephone cable to a computer and downloaded new messages that magically appeared in Inboxes of various computers. Employees arrived in the office, switched on computers, logged in and checked for indications of new messages in their Inbox. They replied and saved the messages in the Outbox where they waited for end of work day when the messages were sent out.

Was there anything like, “Go Google the answer to that question”?

Thirty years later, we have the whole world wrapped up in our shirt pocket

  • Sometimes I get the feeling that I have lost a lot, in the form of the many communication machines, now sandwiched into a small gadget called a cell phone.

  • The cell phone is always connected to the WWW, where both the young and old reside.

  • No more need for physical exercise with each visit to the Mailing Office.

  • No need to talk with officemates, to enquire if email messages have been downloaded, or, if the clerk has collected letters from the Post Office.

  • No more need for patience, to wait until the next morning, or Friday to receive new mail.

  • No more waiting to know the latest happenings, NEWS – you go online, or to social networks where there will be NEWS, including a discussion on your “just” dead relative before you receive information from relatives.

Does that mean we know it all? An era where anyone can go online, search how-to materials and voila, you are now an expert, whether the source of the information is verified or is the opinion of one person on the other side of the web, the WWW.

Happy anniversary. It will be interesting to hear your story - your before and after the World Wide Web.

  1. What has changed in the way you communicate since the 1990s?

  2. What aspects of your pre-1990 communication channels do you miss most?

Image credits: Telephone @EKOmosa. Telephone Booth and Network Apps Telex machine,