Owen WilliamsFormer TNW employee
Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their word Owen was a reporter for TNW based in Amsterdam, now a full-time freelance writer and consultant helping technology companies make their words friendlier. In his spare time he codes, writes newsletters and cycles around the city.
In the 1990s, the internet was a hard-to-explain concept to people. Even though it’s commonplace now, the idea of electronic mail and being able to surf endless amounts of information without using an encyclopedia was quite foreign.
Many books, videos and images were created to help explain the Internet, some helpful, others not so much. Let’s relive those early attempts at educating the masses about the relatively new concept of a connected digital world.
Surfing the web
One of the most common ways the internet was depicted in the 1990s was people quite literally surfing it. The book pictured above by Scholastic was used to help kids understand the internet; you can still get it on Amazon today.
Well known magazines like TIME and Popular Mechanics provided some of the best covers that attempted to explain the internet to the world in bizarre ways.
Don’t copy that floppy
One of the biggest piracy issues in the 1990s wasn’t the illegal downloading of software; it was people making pirated copies of floppy disks.
This campaign run by the Software Publishers Association in 1992 was an attempt to squash floppy piracy (which was as easy as copying and pasting the contents).
It might also be the all-time saddest attempt at merging technology and rap.
The kids’ guide to the internet
This gem from 1997 teaches kids not only how to surf the Internet, but also how to defragment your disk.
Internet in stock images
There are simply no words for these excellent stock images from the 1990s that were used to describe the internet. I swear it wasn’t this bad at the time.
Images via Imgur
Microsoft produced an amazing video to help explain computers to the masses with some help from one of the biggest TV shows in the 1990s, Friends. If Chandler and Rachel can’t explain computers to you, no one can.
Along with that great intro video, there were some painful commercials about what you could do with Windows 95.
Consumer Electronics Show
CES, held every January, is the biggest electronics trade show in the world and has been around for a lot longer than you might expect.
This great episode of Computer Chronicles transports us to CES in 1994 where things like “computer smartphones” can be seen, although they’re approximately the size of a brick.
Watching TV advertising for computers from back then is one of the most jarring ways to understand just how far we’ve come; you could get a 20MB Commodore PC with no screen for just $1500!
AT&T’s advertising for its dial-up internet is just as great; a man exclaims that you can get all the books in a library on the internet now, while another argues that it’s too hard to get connected.
It’s also incredibly easy to forget how bulky and ugly those giant beige computers were back then, until you watch this Compaq advert.
Let’s not forget Apple’s great 1990s advertising, either.
Most of our American readers probably spent a good chunk of their time with the internet in its early days staring at this screen.
If you want to re-live some repressed dial-up memories, you can watch it with sound too.
Oh, and AOL wants to give you 10 free hours to order flowers and talk to your kayaking friends on your computer!
Remember any other great ways people tried to explain computers in the 1990s? Let us know in the comments!
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.