Dialing up: Retro web browsing

Retina display is for the normals!
Retina display is for the normals!

Everything old is new again. Except for technology, which is why hipsters so adore old tech. It will never be new again and that will keep it out of the grubby little hands of the normals, with their Samsung Galaxy S4s. From Polaroid cameras to giant 1980’s boom boxes, we love to show people just how much we admire the craftsmanship of aging silicone-based mechanisms. But why have we stopped there? There’s a whole world of possibilities. Today’s focus: retro web browsing.

There’s multiple levels that you can take this, but to get the edge on other readers I’d recommend taking it to the only level elite hipsters know. The NEXT level. The ultimate primer here is, of course, the only true computer authority of consequence in the 90’s: Stewart Cheifet, host of Public TV’s The Computer Chronicles. Any and all references to this show are your instant pass to uber-hipster-geek-hero status. Thankfully, The Internet Archive has lovingly preserved many episodes. It’s imperative that you watch all of them. Added bonus if you can organize a viewing party at a local sports bar. After you’ve bathed yourself in wave after wave of mid 90’s tech terminology, you’ll be ready for the next step. The hardware. You’ll still need to be portable (so people can see you using it and ask you about it), and it still needs to be able to run Windows ME (to be ironic). But it needs to be oldish, something from either Compaq or Tandy would be ideal. Never rock an IBM as that practically screams that you’re a corporate sellout yuppy dink. If you can get your grandpa’s Osborne to surf the web, you will shame even the most ancient and venerable paleo-hipster techguru. You’ll probably also need an acoustic coupling modem.

Now that you have a new old notebook (never call it a “laptop”) and an operating system that boasts 37% uptime between bluescreens, you’re ready to proceed onto selecting a web browser. Now your first inclination is going to be to jump right into Netscape Navigator 1.0. Wrong. Kevin (to remind new readers, he’s like an OVER detector), is already running that with pride on public transportation, playing a web-based emulation of Oregon Trail. So lame. But I digress, Kevin just gets under my skin. You need to jump right to Netscape Communicator. It’s old enough to be interesting and different (which you love) and new enough to actually work. If you have the initiative to dive further into obscurity, which I’m sure you do, because you’re here, maybe try your hand at earlier browsers like mosaic, lynx, and the ultra-niche web alternative gopher.

Next step, get to the nearest cybercafe. The problem here is that wireless high speed internet is ubiquitous, so there are no longer places that refer to themselves as cybercafes. So basically, just go to any cafe. Stride determined to the barista and ask loudly, “is this a cybercafe?!” She’s likely a millennial who has never realized that there was a time in humanity’s past that there wasn’t fast, free, wireless internet everywhere, so she will look at you like you’re from outer space. Awesome. Carefully explain that you need to get hooked up to the “world wide web” (use quote fingers for added flourish) with a baud rate of at least “14.4k” (use those exact words) and inquire where the jack is for you to connect your modem. Once you’ve booted up go to the Internet Archive’s wayback machine and furiously start clicking your roller ball mouse. As soon as you are sure everyone is looking at you, pull out the retro phone handset from the modem and bathe them all with loud hideous squealing. Wipe the phone quickly with a moist towelette and jam it back into the modem. Next, pull a vintage dot-matrix printer from your rucksack and loudly print off an ascii art portrait of Spock. Ripping off the holes strips on the side of the freshly printed masterpiece, tack it (never staple) it to the faux painted wall next to you. After that, open up Eudora and punch out a couple of hurried electronic mails (don’t call them emails) to a few of your retro brethren. You are at the summit of hipster nerd power.

By now a crowd has gathered and the questions will start streaming (ha) in, which you’ll love. “Why don’t you just get a tablet?” Throw up your hands in disgust. “Right! Like I’m going to line the pockets of of the mega-rich corporate thieves turning out technology from child slavery camps** in Taiwan when there’s perfectly good stuff out there on ebay!” They will be shocked by your hostility. Perfect. “My phone has 2,600 times the transistor count of your ‘notebook’,” a smug half-hipster wearing orange non-prescription glasses will snap back. Don’t give him an inch. “This is a 486 DX! It has a math co-processor! It’s pre-pentium!” He will tilt his head quizzingly and realize there’s no point in arguing with you. And he’s right. Because you’re right. Even if you don’t know why.

** NHT does not endorse child labor of any kind