In Tales of the Early Internet, Mashable explores online life through 2007 — back before social media and the smartphone changed everything.
“The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed,” William Gibson famously wrote in 2003. With the benefit of 2020 hindsight, we can add this about the era he was describing: the future was also unevenly believed. Even when it was right in front of us, we couldn’t see it through our assumptions. This was especially true of the things we were most passionate about.
Everyone who was extremely online back in the late 1990s and early 2000s lost themselves to some new obsession when we got our first high-speed internet connection at home. Often it was an obsession that seemed somewhat illicit at the time, and utterly quaint now. For me, as for millions, that obsession was music — and acquiring it on Napster.
This was spring of 2000; dotcom mania was in full swing, and I’d just moved to San Francisco to cover it for Time magazine. The moment Pacific Bell hooked up my first DSL line, I couldn’t resist downloading the bad boy of music sharing — we’d just put Napster on the cover — and soon saw what the fuss was about. More than 30 million people freely sharing music collections on the same server: This was something new in the world. It was the first cultural bazaar where everything was available, instant and free. One night I asked my visiting British dad to name a tune it might not have.
“‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ by Lonnie Donegan,” he replied gruffly, almost like he regretted making the challenge too hard. He scoffed at the likelihood of finding it. Ping! Donegan downloaded 30 seconds later.
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