Gough Liu, a biomedical engineer, recreated the modem Internet connection experience in the late 1990s, and recorded a video of the entire process in real time.
Those of us of a certain age) we remember how it was: the simple act of booting the computer required patience. Then you opened the phone dialer to establish the connection to the modem.
You occupied the phone line for the duration of the Internet connection and therefore prevented you from receiving or making any calls at home — cell phones did not exist back then. Also, until a few years later, there was no flat rate, so every minute of internet connection cost money.
The video begins by showing Liu’s Techway Endeavor II computer (circa 1995) booting up. The “credits” provide the basic specifications: a 100MHz Intel Pentium I CPU, 32MB RAM and a 2.6GB Fujitsu hard drive, plus a Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive and a 56k modem.
Available software includes Microsoft Windows 98 SE, Netscape Communicator 4.8 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5.
Then comes the dial sounds to connect to the Internet (with time you learned them) and in a few seconds, you are ready to start browsing at 31.2 kbps (reaching 56 kbps was not always possible due to the analog nature of the connection).
So the experience is similar to browsing at “full speed” with an old modem at 33.6 Kbps. For context, a current 100 Mbps connection is 100,000 Kbps — about 3,000 times faster.
As you can see in the video, it is not possible to visit the most modern websites directly because the changes in protocols https make it impossible to negotiate a common cipher.
Liu uses a miniProxy, which connects to the site over https, downloads the content, and returns it to Liu’s computer with all the links rewritten.
It takes a while to download a sample page of slashdot, and the status bar at the bottom provides up-to-date progress information.
The rest of the video includes a visit to the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (still using http), google.com, Wikipedia, xkcd, and others, with everything loading in real time, so it takes a long time.
Downloading a 120kb executable file for a simple software update takes no less than 3 minutes and 27 seconds. The entire video will make you thank all the technological advances of the last 20 years.