The Need for Speed

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As I’m typing this, a chap from AT&T is perched on a ladder high up on a pole, prepping the fiber optic line that is going to snake its way into my house.

I’ve been online, in one form or another, since 1981. The fiber install today got me thinking a bit about my history with connectivity. My first go at it was with my TRS-80 Model I and a 300 baud Lynx modem. I couldn’t find an image of it – – – and, mercifully, I just barely missed being required to use an acoustic coupler like the one shown below – – but this is pretty much the level of technology I was dealing with (and I felt fancy having 300 baud instead of a mere 110):

Of course, at that speed, you could literally watch the text flow from left to right and from top to bottom. The idea of actually transmitting a picture back in those days (not that there was such a thing as a graphics card to support it) would be ridiculous. But it was great fun doing pure text stuff, and as I got more sophisticated, I found some good BBS sites that, yes, I’ll confess it, had pirated games I could download. Of course, at that speed, downloading an actual program was an overnight affair.

As time went on, I made the leap to 1200 baud – – whoa!! – – which was something along these lines:

During the 1980s, modem speeds bumped up to about 2400 and then 9600. When I started Prophet back in 1992, we bought a rack of Hayes SmartModems, and although I used a 9600 baud at home, I vaguely remember we went all-in and got the 14.4 kilobaud kind. As my partner described them at the time, they were “God’s own modem.”

What was really cool in those early Prophet days was watching the rack of modems light up, especially around 3 p.m. when the futures updates were complete. It’s an very odd kind of love to feel – – seeing a stack of modems glisten like a Christmas tree with all their TX/RX lights, but I know all too well how much I crave acceptance. Having all my modems busy was more satisfying than I can express.

As the Internet starting happening in the mid-1990s, a friend of mine showed how my computer could dial up a get a TCP/IP connection and go crazy-fast with stuff like AOL. I honestly didn’t get it. I didn’t understand TCP/IP. I didn’t get the Internet. You’d think it would instantly ‘click’ for me, but honestly, I was dumb as a post about the entire topic. It took me months before I got around to getting a website established.

My big leap forward, connectivity-wise, was that @Home was offering T1 lines, and I jumped at the chance. I distinctly remember driving to the @Home headquarters and picking up the T1 modem, which was a goddamned monstrosity. Honestly, the thing was gargantuan compared to a normal modem. But the prospect of having 1 megabit connection seemed like science fiction to me (by way of contrast, my pre-fiber connection, which is what I am using right now, is 55 times faster than that).

But, as with all things technological, my connection to the world has done nothing but (a) get faster and (b) become cheaper for every bit of the past 40 years. Now I’ve got a spiffy new fiber hookup……….

…………and, now that it’s finished, my speed has gone from this:


………to this: