March into the archives : The Internet

The following article on the internet appeared in BMA Magazine sometime around mid-1995 and captures my first experience of going online (aside from using a friend's modem to dial up a very basic bulletin board in 1983).

Timothy Leary called computers the “LSD of the ‘80’s” and from an old fart trying to sound relevant it’s quite catchy. Computers are, in my mind, a language that is becoming increasingly harder to ignore, and the Internet, is the Infobahn where the turn of the century already seems in sight.

It was set up twenty years ago as a US military experiment to design a decentralised computer network capable of withstanding a nuclear attack. Since then, it has been taken over by academics and recently commercial enterprise.

To visit the Internet you will need: a PC, modem, phone line and an account with a server. My tour guide is Rodney Swift, who works with the ‘net most of the day as a public servant and as a consultant. He explains that first you have to dial into a server, and from here you are linked with the rest of the servers in the world.

Different servers offer different information that can be downloaded onto your C drive or saved onto disk. You can also send E-mail which allows you to have conversations with people all over the globe. The trick is, you need to know an address to log on at different servers, otherwise you can “surf” the world wide web. The W.W.W. links servers through hypertext, which appears as highlighted words in text. You may click the mouse pointer on a hypertext reference to “Reservoir Dogs” in a critique of contemporary cinema and file will open that plays a scene from the film. Likewise, if you’re reading a document about music and click on the title Beastie Boys, you might be transported to the Grand Royal site, which is what we did.

The Grand Royal server offers icons to click on for a range of services. There’s: Grand Royal magazines (almost impossible to buy in Australia) that you can save, print and read; samples of eight songs by four artists (including: the Beastie’s, Luscious Jackson, DJ Hurricane & Noise Addict) and then you can down load an order form for merchandise (such as recordings and T-shirts, of which “all sizes in X-Large”). Yes, you still have to order by mail because credit card numbers become public property on the ‘net, though a solution is undoubtedly in the works.

Clicking on B. Boys opens a new directory and shows pictures of the band which load stuff like: thirty animated screen savers; segments of film clips and tour info (the band are currently in Europe). Same with Hurricane and Luscious, who’ve got live performances to down load and clips for “Elbow Room”, “Four Fly Guys” and “City Song”. Rodney demonstrates the morphing segment of Michael Jackson’s “Black and White” video, which runs at about ten frames per second in comparison to the twenty-eight available on television. This drawback will be ironed out as soon as optic fibre cables are laid directly to our homes, as Rod Swift explains: “It’s just going to be bullshit. In six months it’s gone from being crap to wicked. At the moment you can receive 28 800 bits per second through a modem, when optic fibres come you’ll be able to pump television images through and that’s not running at capacity.”

We decided to check out something a little more local and cruised to the Next Online site set up by the publishers of Australian Rolling Stone, Simply Living and Hyper magazines. There they offer: info on the Big Day Out; a Sydney gig guide and a sample of the Severed Heads CD ROM amongst others including “Fish Tank Cam” to replace your Afterdark screen saver.

To prove a point, we exit to the newsgroup Alt. Tasteless, where you can load pictures that would normally carry strict censorship warnings. The list of hypertext headings reads like an ad in a People magazine, “dog licking blonde, nude lady with peacock, Simpson murder photos, man run over by truck, golden showers, Cobain autopsy shots, circumcision pictures...”

“There is the funniest shit” says Rodney, “like a fat woman who’s knees swallow her legs which swallow her ankles, standing there naked with two guys dicks. It became the joke of our work.”

Then there’s not so funny shit like “child pornography and films of decomposing dead people.”

The latter particularly takes my girlfriend’s fancy but instead she asks to check on info about Glenn Danzig, her favourite artist. She’s in luck, there are lyrics from his bands The Misfits, Samhain and Danzig, along with footage from banned film clips, the latest gossip (he was offered the role of Wolverine in the upcoming X-men movie) and art from his publishing company (including Frank Frazetta who kindly illustrated the art we downloaded for this article). She spends the next hour saving onto disk while Rodney tells me about his experiences cruising the “Information Superhighway”.

“When I was interested in skydiving I was on here, until some guy on the other side of the world persuaded me it was a good idea....The Internet offers everything, I haven’t met a person who wouldn’t be interested in something it has.”

He talks about the personals that are like “Make-A-Date” in the Chronicle except “with pictures of fugly people who look like axe murderers”, or travel groups where you can arrange accommodation with ‘net users in other parts of the world. Visit computer art galleries, tour the Whitehouse and send Bill Clinton E-mail, read the London Telegraph or the New York Times, or maybe you’d like to talk on Group Wired, a party line of sorts: “You can say “you’re a dickhead” to someone you’ve never met. They might say “you’re a dickhead” and then another fifty people might as well, which is what has been happening a lot lately.”

The Internet is fast becoming the biggest public library in the world, though your library card adds up to a sizeable bundle of cash. Currently you can request songs for JJJ but it won’t be very long before you can watch movies, attend concerts and learn courses at university. Whatever you want to know, whatever you want to do, the world wide web most likely offers news groups, manuals, pictures or sound on the topic plus a heap of other stuff that you wouldn’t expect. Get connected.