What Was Your First Internet Experience? Here's Mine

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"Think back to the first time you saw the Internet. Not just saw it, but really got it. That 'oh wow' moment when you realized how important this could be. It doesn't matter if it was last decade or last week. We want that story."

That's the call to action from media maker Derek Powazek's new project, On the Network, a podcast about the Internet. He wants to hear your voice telling that story and you can do it by simply calling this phone number and leaving a message: (415) 483-5628.

I'll tell you my story, very briefly.

I was sitting in rural Washington state, where I grew up in a year like 1994. We'd probably gotten the Internet through our old ISP Pacifier the year or two before, and I'd slowly started using it instead of dialing into the BBS' I'd gotten into in '92. In any case, I had some question about microbiology. I don't even really remember what it was. The Internet! It could tell me the answer, I was sure. So, I dialed in, waited through the pops and hisses until our 14.4 baud modem connected, fired up Netscape, went to Yahoo and typed in something like, "microbiology." Up came Jack Brown's webpage at the University of Kansas. Brown was a molecular biology professor who maintained a fairly extensive set of resources about various sciencey things including his "What the heck is...?" series. Most of it is still online. After reading through his work, I emailed him my question, probably beginning like, "Hello, my name is Alex Madrigal and I'm a sixth grader at Union Ridge Elementary School, home of the Tater Tots..." Or whatever.

A few minutes later, Brown fired back a response and we struck up a correspondence that lasted for a long time, years, IIRC. We were both big college basketball fans. He rooted for the Jayhawks, obviously, and I was (and remain) a huge UCLA Bruin fan. Brown became my first Internet friend.

There were no "social networks" as we think of them now, but the power to connect to people -- anyone! including Kansas biology professors! -- was like a neon arrow pointing from my dark bedroom at the end of a gravel road in a tiny town to the future, when we'd all sort of be everywhere in the world at once.

So, thanks, Jack. You made my Internet that day, and helped set me on a path to many more days when I'd connect with someone unexpected about something we both wanted to talk about.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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