How People Explained Technology, 2003 Edition

What’s a web journal?

It’s weirdly easier to remember long-abandoned technological habits—like recording a television show to VHS, or that thing where you untangle a landline to let the handset dangle from its cord and spin—than it is to recall how people talked about tech a decade ago.

I know this because I recently came across a guide to writing about the Internet from 2003, a subsection of that year’s Associated Press Stylebook, that sounds ancient in today’s terms. “Blog,” for example, is described as jargon that should only be used if the writer explains that it’s a web journal.

It should be noted that the purpose of the Stylebook is to instruct journalists on the proper usage and meaning of various terms, so it makes sense that some of this stuff is over-explained. But still! These definitions harken back to a different—really, very—time in Internet history. A time when, for example, Facebook and Gmail and YouTube didn’t yet exist. The first iPhone was still years away.

Here are a few of my favorites from the 2003 Stylebook:

blog Internet jargon; if used, explain that it means web log or web journal.

browser Software that enables personal computer users to navigate the World Wide Web and to perform various operations once they re linked with a site. The two most often used are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer.

brick-and-mortar Note the singular brick and the hyphens for the term meaning traditional companies that sell their products in retail stores as distinguished from Internet companies. (Related is click-and-mortar, to describe commerce integrating the Web and traditional offline sales.)

chat room A World Wide Web site that enables computer users to message each other in an online conversation. [A chat room can exist on only part of a web site, or even off the web.]

cyberspace A term popularized by William Gibson in the novel Neuromancer to refer to the digital world of computer networks. It has spawned numerous words with cyber- prefixes, but try to avoid most of these cutesy coinages …

dot-com As an informal adjective describing companies that do business mainly on the Internet.

DVD Acronym for digital video disk (or digital versatile disk) ... The acronym is acceptable in most stories, but spell out somewhere in a story in which the context may not be familiar to readers.

emoticon A typographical cartoon or symbol generally used to indicate mood or appearance, as :-) and often looked at sideways. Also known as smileys.

Strangely, as time goes on, some of these once-unfamiliar terms will pass back into obscurity. In some cases, they already are. (“Mom, what’s a DVD?”)