1994 Flashback: 'You Don't Need a Phone Line to Operate Internet?'

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It wasn't all that long ago that we were still figuring out what the Internet was and pinning down the language we would use to talk about it. Above, we see an unaired portion of NBC's Today Show from 1994 in which Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel, and Elizabeth Vargas discuss the new tech. It's an amusing reminder of how technology changes our language, and how culturally we can converge on grammar and meaning relatively quickly.

A rough transcript, for posterity:

Gumbel: I wasn't prepared to translate that, as I was doing that little tease. That little mark! With the "a" and then the ring around it?
Vargas: At?
Gumbel: See that's what I said. Katie said she thought it was "about."
Couric: Yeah.
Vargas: Oh.
Gumbel: But I'd never heard it, never heard it said.
Couric, talking over  Gumbel : Or about or around ...
Gumbel: I'd seen the mark, but never heard it said. And then it sounded stupid when I said it. Violence at NBC!
[All talking over each other.]
Gumbel: See, there it is! "Violence at NBC GE COM!" ... What *is* Internet anyway?
Couric: Internet is, um, that massive computer network.
Vargas: Right.
Couric: The one that's becoming really big now.
Gumbel: What do you mean? How does one even? What do you, write to it? Like mail?
Couric: No, a lot of people use it to communicate ... I guess they can communicate with NBC writers and producers. [Directs question off-screen:] Allison, can you explain what Internet is?
Gumbel: No, she can't say anything in 10 seconds or less.
Vargas: Oh ho! Allison will be in the studio shortly. [Chuckles]
Couric: What is the [inaudible]?
From off-screen: It's a giant computer network, made up of, started from ...
Gumbel: Oh I thought you were going to tell us what this was? [draws "@" symbol in the air]
Vargas: It's like a computer billboard.
Off-screen: It's not an [inaudible]. It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide.
Vargas: Right.
Off-screen: Several universities all joined together.
Gumbel: And others can access it.
Vargas: Right.
Off-screen: And it's getting bigger and bigger all the time.
Vargas: It came in really handy during the quake. A lot of people, that's how they were communicating out to tell family and loved ones they were okay, because all the phone lines were down.
Gumbel: I was telling Katie ...
Couric: But you don't need a phone line, you don't need a phone line to operate Internet?
Vargas: No. No, apparently not.

H/t @c_luck.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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