Ghosts, Witch Craft, & The Net's on The Windows in 95
28th April 2019
GHOSTS & THE SNAKE
WE ALL FALL DOWN
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR
CHANGE IS IN US ALL
GHOSTS & THE SNAKE
I've just finished watching Cobra Kai Season 1 and 2 on You Tube Premium; the follow on TV series from The Karate Kid films of 30 years ago. It was nostalgia that drew me to it to be honest, and if you've read anything else on this website already, you'll already know that I'm finding it draws you back to a lot of things once you hit 40 ...
I didn't hold very high hopes for it to be honest. My expectations were very low. My hopes and dreams have been dashed by all too many a bad sequel, prequel or reboot over the years.
All too often, a modern day reboot can be enough to make you feel like nostalgia has just gently prized open the buttocks of your mind, just enough to allow the film companies to jump in and rape your childhood memories for cash.
Such is how much films and tv mean to people. Although totally make believe, they matter to us. They provide mental comfort, stability, hope, and pleasure in a cruel heartless world. And understandably, people don't want those feelings lessened with lacklustre sequels, prequels and reboots that are just being blatantly pumped out for cash.
All too often, bad sequels only serve to water down and ruin an otherwise brilliant original concept. They are so often like a torrent of warm piss landing on your head on a hot sunny day: you thought you wanted something to cool you down, something that could only make your day even better, and then ...
I'd seen some ads for Cobra Kai on YouTube, and there was a 2 month free trial of You Tube Premium being offered at the same time, so I thought, why not; even though all the early warning signs of a bad reboot were clearly there ... I'd had a few beers, my guard was down.
Basically, it looked like it was attempting to do all the things that rehashed time distant sequels always tend to do, only to then leave you thoroughly disappointed and wishing that they never bothered: blatantly using the old as a promotional platform for the new; forcing little bits of nostalgia in with the vibe of the present day; making you think it's all about the old characters when really they are hardly even in it ...
The sort of thing that you usually end up just ghosting from the 'real' set of films that you held so dearly up to now: not only would you never rewatch these ghosted frauds, but they don't really even exist in your mind as part of the 'real' film franchise either; they are nothing to you; it's as if they never happened; you just forget about them.
I've done it with loads of films and tv over the years: anything Star Wars that isn't episode IV, V or VI or The Clone Wars animated tv series; Superman IV and all Superman films since; anything Ghostbusters that isn't the first film; Rocky V; Aladdin: Return of Jafar; anything Terminator that isn't Terminator 1 or 2; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; The Matrix 2 and 3; the list really could go on and on. I'm sure you get the idea.
Basically they just leave you with a feeling of huge disappointment, having just sat you through a couple of hours of weak plot and poor character development, after being hyped up and sold on the idea of watching it purely by manipulative nostalgia based marketing. Marketing that is incredibly effective I might add.
Unfortunately all too often, like an inept middle manager giving it the big 'I am', it over glamorises the promise, and then completely fails to deliver in spectacular fashion, before disappearing in unapologetic shame, never to be seen again. I'm not sure what I've seen more of in my time ... bad sequels or bad middle managers?
So given how much I loved the original Karate Kid from 1984 when I was just 7 years old myself; but also given how I ghosted all the karate kid films that came after on account of the fact that they were absolutely dire ... I had very low expectations of what Cobra Kai could possibly offer. I was basically watching it because it was free, and I was bored ... and possibly a little bit drunk.
But I was watching it none the less over any of the other near infinite possibilities of things I could be watching in this media overloaded society we live in, exploding at the seams with film, tv, video, games, music, and porn; all accessible at the tap of a button. I was settling myself down, and I was choosing to watch this. That's actually quite an achievement in itself to get me to do that these days. So point scored to You Tube Premium's marketing team ... their plan was working well thus far.
It's worth noting at this point that I've been wrong before:
I thought Rolf Harris and Jimmy Saville were great blokes in the 80s and 90s;
I thought the PlayStation would never catch on back in 95;
I thought Tony Blair was a decent guy back in 97;
I thought nobody would remember Eminem, no matter how loud he shouted 'my name is' back in '99;
I thought Donald Trump would never get into power in 2016 ...
But like Jerry Orbach in Dirty Dancing, when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.
But if there was ever a time that I was certain that I would be proved right, it would be in thinking that Cobra Kai would be terrible and quickly ghosted in my mind. Even just looking at the roster of other 'originals' as You Tube calls them, made it look like the writing was already on the wall. To say that these other 'originals' looked terrible would be a compliment, to pay £11.99 a month for them ... a crime.
But then I actually started watching Cobra Kai, non stop, all the way through; both Seasons over 2 days; and I have to say ... it was absolutely brilliant! And I do mean absolutely brilliant. I can't praise it enough: I couldn't get enough of it!
Some of the best tv I've ever seen. Without giving anything away at all, it's a superbly entertaining show with lots of action, humour, sadness, drama and brilliant characters throughout, for teenagers, up to middle agers like me, and well beyond I'd imagine. I can't imagine what sort of person would not find this entertaining? Anyway, I was totally hooked and loved every second of it.
In a world where so often all that is recorded are narrow minded Boolean values; black or white, success or failure, winning or losing; Cobra Kai celebrates how grey and messy life actually is instead. It's incredibly well written and both series are equally as good as each other, with the second offering good progression from the first rather than just rehashing it. And amazingly, both series completely have the feel of the original film and characters, developing them in ways that the films never could, whilst also setting it flawlessly in today's modern world with a new generation. The whole thing just works so well.
A couple of days ago, I never would have thought that I'd arrive at a day in my life where Johnny Lawrence from the Karate Kid had become a personal hero of mine ... but 2 days later and here I am! All the characters are great, but I think he is in particular. I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I can strongly empathise with a lot of the stuff he is going through. Either way, I fucking love that character; such a great idea. I genuinely can't wait for the third Season now: it's brilliant!
And that's coming from someone who tends to strongly dislike reboots. But then it just goes to show, there are always exceptions to any rule; Cobra Kai is definitely one of those exceptions.
Cobra Kai is exceptionally good tv in a way that it had absolutely no right be; it shouldn't have worked, but it did. It's a reboot done properly; perfectly in fact. The writers have used nostalgia to perfection. None of it feels forced. The whole thing is great entertainment with a very high rewatchable value. I'll certainly be watching it again that's for sure. I was surprised at how easily it managed to draw me in to be honest.
It's the most fun ass kicking action series; capable of both making you laugh out loud without canned laughter, and want to burst out into tears when it catches you off guard; since peak Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the 90's. And that is one hell of a personal seal of approval right there!
So another point scored to You Tube Premium's marketing team ... their plan was working even better thus far.
But unfortunately, and sadly, that's also the point at where it totally collapsed for me.
WE ALL FALL DOWN
Where You Tube Premium falls down for me is the price. I won't be paying £11.99 a month after the free trial is up; you must be joking. Apart from Cobra Kai, their 'originals' offer nothing I want to watch. Whether any of them are any good or not is irrelevant ... as I simply don't want to watch them. This is a big problem they have. Aside from Cobra Kai, both Netflix and Amazon Prime are much better and cheaper for streaming more attractive tv and film packages. And you can still use the free version of You Tube anyway.
The music offering isn't as good as Amazon Prime's either, nor sufficiently different enough from the free version of You Tube itself. And the removal of ads just isn't worth paying that amount per month for. The free version of YouTube is already good enough for me.
In light of their competition, both external and internal; given that the free version of YouTube is good enough already; I feel You Tube have to put their price down massively if they want get their Premium service mainstream. In terms of both price and content, You Tube Premium just doesn't feel like a competitive offering to me. Given that it's owned by Google, I'm not quite sure why they've set the price so high? They're not exactly short of a few bob or strangers to offering stuff at a loss to saturate market share. It's not going to get them a competitive market share at all at that price.
In my mind, it needs to be cheaper than Netflix's lowest price deal, which is currently £5.99 per month; people would jump at it then. But then that poses a problem for them too: if too many people upgrade to lose the adverts, surely this will have a detrimental effect on their content creators which You Tube has always traditionally relied on? Perhaps that actually explains the high price? Maybe they only want a small minority to go Premium to protect advertising incomes for content creators, whilst also making sure they make a large profit out of that minority? I don't know, it almost feels like that in trying to do everything, You Tube is getting lost in itself. One size never fits all; it just fits nobody properly. Amazon has proved much better at pin pointing and isolating serivces to target markets: you have Twitch for live game streaming, Prime Video for tv and film streaming, Amazon Music for music streaming, Amazon itself for shopping ... You Tube offers great services, but it currently feels all over the place in comparison to Amazon Prime; and its Premium pricing is totally whack.
But I won't pay for Netflix either, as although paying £5.99 a month (or £7.99 more likely if you want HD) for streaming the best selection of quality tv and film is actually excellent value in isolation ... they don't exist in isolation. I already have Amazon Prime for shopping, and that includes tv and film streaming too; and that matters. I don't want to be paying an accumulate price for similar services; I don't think anyone does; so it's either or.
The fact that Amazon Prime includes an excellent selection of tv and film to stream, at the same price of £7.99 per month, and also throws in an excellent music streaming service, special prime shopping deals, and free next day deliveries on Amazon orders on top, is basically the deal breaker in the streaming market for me. It's easily the best all round value, giving you enough of everything, and more importantly of high quality, so that you don't feel the need to pay for any other streaming services.
As far as Netflix is concerned, I'm just waiting for Season 5 of Black Mirror before I start a free months trial in order to watch it. I love that show, but I won't be paying £7.99 a month after the free trial is up. And although Netflix arguably has some better shows and films than Amazon Prime, by not offering anything else, it means they easily fall short to Amazon Prime for me. I use the music and next day delivery bundled with Amazon Prime all the time throughout the year; it's great; it practically pays for itself in free next day shopping deliveries alone over the year - I buy all manner of shit I don't need just to make sure I make the money back in free deliveries. Bargain ...
So with 2 of my all-time favorite tv shows, Cobra Kai(yes it really is that good) and Black Mirror(if you've never heard of it; watch it), not even being enough to sell me on the streaming services that provide them, what of my other all-time favorite tv show ... Game Of Thrones? Is that going to sell me on streaming?
Yes and no. It's no secret that GOT is the most illegally downloaded tv show of all time. Needless to say it was very easy to get through the entire 7 seasons thus far without paying a penny for any of it. It's not something I'm proud of or that I set out to do, it's just that there was always someone, somewhere, that could slip you the latest episode on a USB stick.
But for this final Season, I decided to give NOW TV a go so I can watch each episode as soon as they come out. Words cannot describe how much I can't wait for the next episode of GOT; The Battle Of Winterfell is coming; the White Walkers have arrived at Winterfell and all the good guys are there waiting for them. The scene has been masterfully set for one hell of a battle and there is no way that everyone is going to come out of it alive. No way. The suspense ... I can't wait!
There's no question, Game Of Thrones is the biggest show on tv EVER. At its best, it's discombobulatingly good. I fully expect to leave this latest episode feeling like I've just been hit over the head with a bat for several days to follow.
I don't want to be faffing around with illegal torrent sites, or waiting for someone else to either. Illegal downloading no longer sits well with me anyway these days. I don't think all this stuff should be free. I'm happy to give them my money for events like this. I actually want streaming services to be successful.
Makes me laugh, on a side note, the amount of You Tube channels dedicated to passionately slagging of the tv version of Game Of Thrones and even George RR Martin for 'ruining the show' and 'destroying character arcs'; like they could do better, sat in their bedrooms trying to think what outrage will get them the most hits. They're fucked when the show ends: despite their rambling, it's a modern day masterpiece that will be remembered for centuries. I guess they'll just mover on to something else to moan about.
But, although I'll no doubt ditch most of them after their perspective free trials, I've actually enjoyed testing out streaming services again now; I genuinely want them to be good. In the past, they simply haven't been up to scratch for me. But you can't just leave it at that; you have to dive back in every now and again to see how they've evolved. And that's what I've done this year.
To watch GOT on NOW TV you have to pay for their entertainment package which is £7.99 per month. And to be honest, there's nothing else I'd watch on it at all, but that's worth it for GOT to see how it all ends. I paid £18 for a 3 month deal to cover all the episode release dates, and I'm happy with that. But I won't be continuing the subscription fee afterwards. No need, I'm perfectly happy with just Amazon Prime and things I already have recorded or own.
Of course I'm from the days of VHS where you could record whatever you watched off the tele, so that you could re-watch it whenever you liked without having to keep repaying for the privilege. It's quite clear that streaming services absolutely do not want you to able to do that in this day and age. So in that respect, things have actually gone backwards in the last 30 years for the consumer.
But that's not to say you can't record like this with just a small bit of added know how; it's very simple if you have the right hardware. Let's just say it pays dividends to invest in a decent PC over an iPhone or iPad; it always has.
Along with all the different competing streaming providers, each carrying their own monthly fee, not being able to record what you watch is the biggest drawback of all streaming services as far as I can see. If you want to re watch stuff, you have to keep paying a monthly fee ad infinitum, or else buy the DVD or digital download. But if you buy the DVD or digital download, what the hell are you paying for the streaming service for? The two contradict each other. There doesn't seem a clear best way path yet for streaming. And then there was that confusing Ultraviolet nonsense that came with DVD's and Blu Ray's that went out of business faster than SEGA at the end of the 90's. It's still all a bit messy and uncertain for my liking; but it's clearly still also evolving and the way forward.
Streaming is the future no doubt, and although it's already here, there are a lot of things that still need streamlining in my mind for it to fully take over like it should. With all these different streaming providers providing different shows and films for monthly fees, it feels to me like it's the consumer that loses out.
It feels a kin to the situation we currently have in heavyweight boxing, whereby all the boxers want to fight each other, but the money men are keeping them all apart purely to milk and maximize their own respective gravy trains for as long as possible. The best outcome for the boxers, the fans, and the sport itself, is clearly that the boxers get their wish and all fight each other, several times each. Everyone will still get filthy rich, but the money men are still thinking that they'll get even richer doing it their way by cotton wooling and protecting the golden egg at all costs. This behaviour is ridiculous. It's meant to be the entertainment industry for Christ's sake, it's not only about protecting maximum profits. Nobody wants to watch endless bouts of potential legends fighting washed out bums. But bar the odd fight, that's all we've seemed to be getting for years, and it looks set to continue. There are no good legacies being made here: if these fighters really want to live up to their own names, they have to fight each other several times. Otherwise, whislt they may get ludicrously rich beyond anyone's wildest dreams, their claims are basically fraudulent. They are nothing but high level journey men manipulating a presence in a very weak heavyweight field. And the irony is, huge profit will still come for all involved anyway if they all fight, only it will also come with legitimate all time greatness; money can't buy that. They just need to get it on, for themselves as true sportsmen and champions if nothing else. Eventually, things just have to move forwards. And streaming I feel is in a similar predicament. Although it's been around for a while now, it's still not properly optimised for the benefit of mainstream consumers yet.
Fortunately for me, although I originate from the long lost days of the VCR, I am also very much a man of today too: my graphics card on my PC allows me to record anything I stream or play with ease, so my PC is effectively a digital VCR anyway. I can just back up/record any show I watch to .mkv as I watch them, strictly for personal use, just like we used to back up/record what we watched to cassette, strictly for personal use, 30 years ago in the VHS days. The .mkv file is then watchable on any device I own: Old Skool technique with new skool technology. I feel this is the best solution until streaming service providers get together and sort out their pricing and stategy in a cooperative way.
It's no good as a consumer having to pay multiple different providers multiple monthly fees, ad infinitum, in order to watch the things you want. Plus, if you only want to watch a couple of shows from each service it is simply dreadful value for money: imagine paying for multiple film and tv streaming services, as well as paying for multiple music streaming services; all of them ad infinitum ... who the hell is going to do that? You'd be broke! That's what turns people off of streaming as it is currently: ordinary people simply can't afford that kind of accumulative monthly fee, so whilst they may pay for one streaming service, they still ultimately turn to illegal downloads instead, or just stick with DVD's, for afforadability purposes. That is not a win win scenario.
How about all getting together and offering an umbrella pricing strategy that offers a decent discount for multiple competing streaming service providers? One affordable fee, multiple streaming service providers. The discount is justified as streaming service providers will still be getting paid while a consumer is watching one of their competitors, at no cost to them. The accumulative pot can then be distributed to each streaming service provider with an equal flat fee, topped up by a percentage viewing figures bonus. This in turn should encourage the different streaming service providers to fill their umbrella service offerings with quality, or rotate the things they offer, rather than just fill it with pointless quantity. It doesn't even have to be their full offering of content, they could rotate content for the umbrella offering as said, but it needs to be enough to make it a decent offering at an affordable price to get consumers on board. As a consumer, that sounds like a good idea to me; it's something I'd definitely be interested in if the price was right; a win win.
As it stands, Amazon Prime is the only streaming service that has me sold ... but ironically, not because of streaming. I'll happily continue to pay £7.99 per month for that, but primarily for the shopping and delivery deals; the music and video streaming is just a fantastic bonus that also serves to trash the competitions offerings and stop me spending money on their competitors. So I wont pay for anyone else on top of that. Amazon Prime is the only service to both offer something worth the price, that is also good enough not to need to pay for any other services on top as well. It's no surprise to me that that Jeff Bezos guy is a rich as he is. And to think, I still remember his first Amazon website when he just sold books.
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR
But there's another big problem other than accumulative pricing costs for streaming. The other drawback of streaming services is still the real world internet infrastructure, even in 2019.
In my home for instance in the UK, I still have a DSL line, promising an unlimited usage, steady 17Mbps connection, but which in reality frequently becomes unusable, often dipping to below 2Mbps without warning. It's a total pain in the arse!
All of a sudden, your film starts buffering, your car starts sliding and flipping all over the place uncontrollably in Rocket League, you keep teleporting and can't mine, move, or shoot properly in Fortnite, Splatoon 2 kicks you from the game and penalises you for quitting ...
To make matters worse, my DSL line only has a 1Mbps upload rate so it's no good for things like live streaming video, which my kids are curious about, that needs at least 4Mbps upload speeds apparently.
Switching internet provider doesn't help either; it all leads to the same issue as it's the same bloody line. Cable has never been in our area. Basically the line has become unfit for purpose in the modern world; I need a new solution.
As such, I was temporarily excited to see that fiber has just this year become available where I live. I say temporarily, as it was very temporary: my excitement was soon wiped away when I saw the cost - how much?! I'm not paying £40 a month for what I currently pay £17 for. £40 pounds a month? You must be joking? 10 years I've been waiting for fibre, whilst paying for a shit unstable DSL line that never performs as advertised, and now I get held to ransom for it! They must think consumers are stupid? They're only busting their asses to roll it out now as their hand has been forced with 5G suddenly on the horizon: they know all their broken DSL areas are gone for good if they don't do this now. And if that happens ... they're fucked by their own reluctance in the face of progress. And they expect us to be greatfull and pay over the odds for it? BT can shove their fibre up their arse. I'm just using mobile from now on.
As a result, I tend to mainly tether things to my 3 mobile 4G connection now which is by far the best and most stable option. It varies between 20Mbps to 40Mbps for both download and upload speed, so is an infinitely better option than the old DSL line, and on par with what I would be getting with a new £40 a month fiber optic package, but for just £22 a month instead, and with the added benefit of being totally mobile.
But I've only been able to do this recently, as it's only this year that 3 massively lowered the price of their 100GB monthly data plan. But at least it means I can finally ditch the DSL line once and for all when it's contract runs out next year. It'll be mobile all the way for me then ... change, it would seem, really is in the air! See what I did there?
At this point I'm aware that I'm boring myself with my conscientious pondering's, so god knows what must be going through your head? But I've started so I'll finish. Not much more I promise. Not only is it factual, it's important as it all helps to create a good juxtaposition for the final act where we will skip back in time thanks to some wavy lines, and find out just how much has changed since the emergence of the internet, as my family struggled to come to grips with this newfangled technology back in the mid 90's. This whole website would be nothing without nostalgia, so do stick with it ... it does get better.
But as I was saying, this muddled current real world infrastructure issue, along with the pricing issues, just makes it feel like things still aren't quite at the point yet where streaming can become fully mainstream. And this is in Bristol in the UK; what it's like out in the sticks, or in different countries, I have no idea.
But fortunately, with the insane high speeds and super low latency of 5G mobile internet, set to arrive later this year, I'm hoping this problem will soon be a thing of the past altogether.
If 5G actually is what it promises to be, 20 times faster than 4G with no latency (input lag), society will enter into the next phase of information overload. Who knows what the next 20 years will bring? Another metamorphosis of society will take place as 'the internet of things' transforms how we interact, travel, and even think, all over again, like never before.
I've no doubt streaming is the future; even for gaming. Google is launching its new Stadia streaming console soon, but as it stands, it still all feels a little disjointed and unconnected to me.
This is the internet: everything is supposed to feel connected, not unconnected! But I'm sure it will all converge into something that feels fluid and well connected in the end; I hope so anyway; only time will tell I guess.
On the other hand, speaking of time, part of me can't believe that I'm actually moaning about any of this at all! It's incredible how far things have come. Absolutely incredible.
If we had foreseen this future back in the 80's, we would have had a mental blow out and all been left like drooling vegetables: it would have been too much for our tiny little 80's minds to handle. Our idea of even a portable music player back then was carrying a humongous ghetto blaster around on your shoulder! If you'd asked me what an mp3 was, I would have thought that it had something to do with Colonel Decker's Military Police from the A-Team ...
Back then you were considered hi tech if you knew that you could stop someone recording over a video cassette by snapping the little tab off the side of the cassette. And if you knew that all you had to do to record on it again was put a bit of sellotape over the hole where the tab had once been ... well, then you were a certifiable technological genius!
But never mind the 80's, even when it first emerged in the mid 90's, my family weren't ready for the internet. I remember it well ...
CHANGE IS IN US ALL
Let's go back to around the mid to late 90's; when the internet was first introduced to UK homes. I don't think our family had it until around '96 or '97. On its arrival, the internet totally transformed human behaviour across the planet, and in unprecedented ways. Like most things, it started small... and then suddenly seemed to explode in popularity once it became more accessible. It was an unprecedented global game changer. And even now, as a middle aged man 25 years later, I realise that that process of unprecedented change is still in it's infancy as I've already outlined above.
When the internet did first arrive to the general public at large in the mid to late 90's, it was through a super slow 56K (56Kbps) 'dial up' modem connection using your existing telephone line, not the 20 Mbps DSL, 50Mbps 4G, or up to 350Mbps super-fast fibre broadband that we have today. Even a shitty DSL line that promises 20Mbps but keeps dropping to 2Mbps and below with an intermittent wireless signal, like mine, is insane speed compared the 56k dial up modem days of '97. We're talking Superman flying round the world anti clockwise, thus reversing the Earth's orbit and turning back time speed, by comparison.
Even 2Mbps didn't arrive in the UK until 2005, the same year that You Tube was created. Internet wasn't actually fast until 2008, when Virgin Media brought 50Mbps to the UK, followed up by 100Mbps in 2010. Annoyingly, as cable has never been in my area, that's actually way faster than the DSL line I have today in 2019. But as said, even an unstable 20Mbps is light speed compared to pre 2008. And things are set to change again for the better later this year in 2019 once again with 5G, which sounds nothing short of Witch Craft, with insane speeds of up to 10 to 20Gbps! Progress never stands still, although I'll believe it when I see it ... and the price.
And where as today I'm sat in a Starbucks Cafe writing this using One Note on my smartphone, with the knowledge that thanks to the cloud, it will also be accessible on all of my other devices later when I get home to add some web development to these words, in the 90's it was a whole different story. There was no wireless or mobile internet back then at all.
Back then your internet time was all spent uncomfortably at home, sat on a wobbly office chair, at your cheap, functionally designed, clunky, MDF Argos computer desk in the corner of the room, with your Windows 95 family desktop pc, and outrageously heavy, cubically proportioned monitor, perched on top.
Windows 95 was the latest operating system from Microsoft: the pinnacle of technological achievement, allowing a human being to interact with a pc in such a clear and simple way, that anybody could do it; or so we were told ...
It was certainly not without its pitfalls. The early signs of how it might not be as logical as it made itself out to be became apparent the first time you tried to shut it down ... by pressing the 'start' button? Brilliant. The pinnacle of technological achievement in the 90's: press start when you want to finish; what could be more intuitive than that? ...
What amazes me is, although this struck me as odd from day 1, Window's stayed with this logic for another 15 years before they decided to change it in Windows 8 in 2012 ... and even then it was unclear as you couldn't find the new button! Windows 10 finally fixed it all though in 2015. 20 years to sort out a power button properly. The pinnacle of technological achievement. On our Super Nintendo at the time, you just logically pressed the power button like on a tv to switch it off.
But there were several other annoyances too.
Our Windows 95 PC took forever to start up for one. Many times it took so long, you had to restart it! Then, once you were finally confident that it was actually up and running properly, you had to connect to the internet manually every time; it never just connected.
And the running properly check wasn't exactly the most technical of processes either: more a hold your breath with your arms outstretched in front of you, almost as if you were trying to steady the computer desk with the force, in case the slightest movement would cause the hard disc to skip a beat causing you to have to start over again; the thought of which was simply unbearable.
Although we'd had a BBC B microcomputer about 10 years or so before, all we ever did on that was type chain"" to load the game from the computer cassette reader. My family had no idea how modern computers like this worked back then. Games consoles had rendered our IT skills to plug and play instant gratification only. This Windows 95 stuff was even trickier than set recording the VCR, which we were beginning to realise that perhaps we had held as the mark of a technological genius for a tad too long.
It wasn't perfect, but this running properly verification technique was the best we had. It had an almost 50 percent success rate. It wasn't too long before that that the way to fix a vertical sync issue on a Cathode Ray Tube tv, was by hitting it. And unbelievably, that actually worked!
Just getting the bastard PC up and running could take up a hefty chunk of your internet time. In this age pre dating personal mobile phones, nobody could use the telephone if someone was on the internet, or vice versa, so you had to ask around the family and plan your online time in advance. Like asking if anyone needs the toilet before you have a shower and a shave, or a time consuming shit that you knew had been building up for a while.
Once you opened up the internet gateway software from your internet provider, of which we had the huge choice of at the time of either BT or BT, and then tapped in the username and password, and then tapped it in again after getting it wrong, after a long wait and a series of strange peculiar sounding bleeps and screeches, your pc would finally connect to the new-fangled 'world wide web'. You were in! And the exclamation mark is valid there. There was a huge sense of achievement to have even made it this far.
But all was forgotten by this point, because you were in! You were 'on the net'. This was where your adventure would begin: you had just opened a door into a whole new world; a world without borders, without boundaries; a world where anything was possible. You couldn't tell how it was going to end, you just knew that it had begun ...
But to say that what would follow would be one of the most frustrating experiences a human being could ever possibly encounter, would be an understatement ...
Accessing pictures online took long enough, and video ... well, you might as well forget it. Unless you were incredibly patient, it was never going to happen. And even if it did, it would most likely crash your pc and you'd have to restart it and start all over again.
Web sites themselves looked spectacularly awful. I mean really, really, spectacularly bad. The 'design' part of creating web sites simply hadn't been realised yet. It was just deemed a success if anything made it online at all. Function over fashion if you like ... just minus the function too. And it's hard to imagine now, but there wasn't even Google for searches in the early days of home internet in the late 90's. There were search engines but they weren't great. You pretty much had to www.knowwhatyouwerelookingfor.com.
The screen resolution on the monitor was also terrible by today's standards; it was only a pathetic 640 x 480. All in all, it's fair to say that the internet was not pretty back in the 90's. And that would be being kind.
But it's strange; nobody cared. Even just the opportunity to attempt to access the 'world wide web' seemed exciting, even if the return was a load of crap. It was new to the world. It was cutting edge. No one knew where it would lead. And this made it exciting, even if in real terms, it was not at all. It was a feeling of the time, even if relative to today ... it was a god awful pile of shite.
As said, my family didn't even know the internet existed until around '97. My mum had kindly been given a rich friends old PC as they had just upgraded. Home PC's were really expensive back then, we couldn't have afforded one otherwise. This probably explained all the problems we had even getting it to start properly. That the PC never had an antivirus or firewall on it no doubt wouldn't have helped either.
Net security on Windows to my mum back in the 90's was about making sure we always had net curtains on the windows so nobody could see in. Net curtains were supposed to be white, but ours turned grey pretty quickly as my dad used to smoke in the front room. One time as she was taking them down to wash them; what would the neighbours think of us with 'grey' net curtains!?; I commented that I thought it looked better without them. She was mortified: "But people can see in."
If only we had taken the same precautions with our PC in the early days...
But for all its flaws, that PC enabled us access to the internet, so I wasn't complaining. It wasn't perfect, but then neither were any of us, so I decided I was going to cut it some slack. It may have been useless at its job, but at least it was trying to help. It's a value I extend to all people not seeking power and status to this very day. I grew quite fond of the bastard. I had a habit of befriending misfits back then as I do now. To me, it's differences that make anything interesting, not success rates. There were a lot of up and down emotions sat in front of that machine ... even if most of them were just trying to turn the bastard on and get it connected to the internet!
And even though things had improved slightly by then, the internet was still expensive to use. You had to pay by data usage: there was no unlimited data package in the early days.
Fortunately though, as time passed, the internet connection gradually became more stable on our family pc at home. Some more RAM was fitted and Windows 98 was also installed on the bastard; and that proved to be a bit more stable. Not much, but a little at least. Our running properly verification technique had now risen to 50 percent; although there was only a 10 percent chance of that ...
Realising it was the future, telecommunications companies had been working hard and fast to improve service. But the improved stability brought with it increasing phone bills. As the web and the real world infrastructure to support it was improving, more web sites started to emerge and more information was being put online, and this meant more people would gradually start to spend more time online, more often. It was addictive. Google emerged in 1998 helping to make things easier to find; the internet was becoming more and more popular across the planet first by the month, then by the week, then by the day, by the hour, by the minute, and finally, by the second. It was starting to really take off.
We had a family rule that you could only go on the bastard after 6pm because the call rate was then priced at BT's much cheaper Off Peak rate. The only problem was, other people in other homes around the UK were also doing the exact same thing, so it meant the connection often became highly unstable just after 6pm.
We found that it was much better to wait until much later, like 9pm or 10pm, to go online. It would just save so much in frustration and wasted time doing this. It actually worked ok if we did that too, so it became a late at night thing. And, as the bastard was in the dining room, you were largely left in peace to browse the web all on your own. We'd gotten a nice pattern going as a family.
But despite this, the phone bills were still unusually high. As a result, at the very end of the 90's, my mum astutely decided to get BT's new itemised billing service just to see exactly why the phone costs were so high. What could possibly be causing these bills? Was she being ripped off by BT? It certainly seemed that way. Perhaps she was in line for a nice refund? That would be nice ...
It was then my brothers interesting late night porn habits were discovered!
Fortunately I was away at university at that point in time, so he was caught red handed with no one to share the blame with but himself. I absolutely burst when I heard the news, picturing his face as he tried to explain the long list of unsavoury web page titles on the itemised bill. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy! I must say, I never realised he was so patient! My poor old Catholic mother. What would the neighbours think!? How her heart withstood it I'll never know. Some of the stuff on the list ... I always knew he was filth.
And soon after that at the start of the millennium, broadband internet was introduced to the UK by the Cable company Telewest. Now you could get a super fast 512Kbps connection with an unlimited data package. What was this witch craft? Speeds like that were simply unheard of. But this ... was only the beginning.
And with that, the world had changed forever, never to return to what it once was. Unlimited data packages became the accepted norm, my poor old Catholic mother didn't have to worry about her monthly phone bill anymore, and my brother could now receive his hard core porn a whopping 9 times faster than ever before!
I guess what I'm trying to say is, as much as everything feels so technologically advanced to us right now, with the advent of superfast and latency free 5G wireless internet on the horizon this year, I have a feeling that in another 30 years, these days will be nothing but an almost forgotten distant memory. At a time where youngsters of today will be entering middle age themselves, looking back on these current times fondly, both marveling at how Game Of Thrones still hasn't managed to be trumped on tv, and also wondering how they got by with just the primitive technology that they had back then. Everything changes ... but some things will never change.
And I'll be looking at them all shaking my head, smugly grinning to myself thinking, "Oh yeah, but I bet they don't know how to set record the VCR though?" ...