by | Oct 8, 1995 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Well, I have done it. I have talked to a screen. It was not very sexy. It was not very long. But I did it. And I feel . . . modern.

Which is not always a good thing. I felt modern when I wore my first Nehru jacket. I felt modern when I purchased Donna Summer’s disco albums. I felt modern when I spent $900 for an early model car phone — which you can now buy for $2.95 with a tank of gas.

I look back on those experiences, and I no longer feel modern. I feel stupid. And you haven’t even seen the Nehru jacket.

So I am sure, one day, I will look back on my first contact with the Internet and feel like a dork. The only good thing is that it didn’t hurt. And it didn’t cost anything.

Actually, it didn’t cost me anything. That’s because I was at the home of my friend, Ken Calvert, the radio star, who for months has been telling me,
“You gotta check this out! You gotta come over! I’m surfing the net! I’m webbing the sites! I’m running the Pentagon!”

No, wait, that was Ross Perot.

Anyhow, Ken has been trying to get me to Do The Net Thing all this time, insisting he is not “computer-savvy” and if he can do it, anyone can. He spoke of all the wonders of being “connected.” I asked for an example, and he said, well, Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian, had his own Web Site and you could pull it up — or pull it down, I forget — just by dialing it up — or dialing it down, I forget.

“And then what?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“And then what? After you pull it up? Or down. What do you do?”

Ken did not answer. His voice had turned into a high-pitched beep, followed

by a low-pitched tone, followed by a zwiiip! A question of ziggybites

Now, I use computers, it is true. But the way sports writers use computers is not the way they advertise them in Office Max and Computer City. These places boast how your computer, with the Pentium chip and the 486 processor plus the four ziggybites of extended ROM-memory, can play stereo CDs, print the encyclopedia and Lotus your Windows with Quicken Dos. Or something like that.

Sports writers are far more practical. We use our computers for job-related tasks, such as smashing bugs and knocking over drinks on airplanes. Also, now and then, we throw them out the window. I’m not kidding. I remember being in a baseball press box one night, after the game had ended, and the guy next to me was having a hard time sending his story. He was sweating and cursing and he kept trying to dial his office computer and it kept rejecting him and, finally, having blown his deadline, he simply yanked the computer out of the socket and heaved it out the front window — with an expletive that rhymed with “You niece of spit!” — and the thing flew for five seconds before smashing into pieces.

For a moment, we were stunned. Then, being professional journalists, we turned to our colleague and said, “Caffeinated coffee?”

Sports writers do not surf the net. (Most do not surf, period, since ocean water and 50 pounds of excess fat do not make for a good combination.) So for all my years with computers, all I really know how to do is type a story, press a few buttons, wait for the tone and then throw it out the window.

“You gotta try this!” Ken implored.

Fearing the worst, I entered his office. Inside the chat box

Ken has one of those setups that looks like the center seat in the Lunar Module. His screen plays color pictures when it’s off. He pressed a few buttons and the computer flashed, and I braced myself for the sound of an exploding missile, just in case we really were running the Pentagon.

Instead, the screen showed lines of dialogue. We were inside a chat box. Or chat line. Or chatting web. Something like that.

And here is what we saw.

Jenyhoney: “Hey, BILL! Long time!!

Honker: dos.//hhp.pp os.

Bill: Jeny! F—-!

“Do we just jump in?” I asked Ken.

“I guess,” he said.

What do you say to a group of strangers? I typed the most general question I could think of at the moment: “Guilty or innocent?”

We waited. And we waited. Finally, a line appeared. “Guilty, of course.”

Followed by: “Jeny! F—!”

That was it? That was the Internet Experience? I didn’t feel connected. I felt like I was interrupting a boring conversation. Besides, if you want to talk to someone, why not go outside?

Ken did show me how you call up a Rodney Dangerfield web. Unfortunately, Rodney is still using the same jokes from 20 years ago.

Which made me think of my Nehru jacket. And disco. And made me realize that by the time I get the hang of this computer age, I’ll have to go back and show Ken. In his house.

On the moon.


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