Every Thursday, we jump into the Throwback Thursday fray with a focus on technology from the past, like the 14.4k modem. These days, we get a little cranky when we can’t stream a two-hour HD movie from Netflix. When this happens to me, my internal dialog sounds a bit like: “How dare you, Internet, for making me watch this in standard definition! What is this, 1991?!”
We are, in fact, throwing it back to that exact year when the 14.4k modem was released.
A dial-up modem, for those of you who have never owned/used/seen/heard one, was the analog way to connect to the web. The word modem stands for modulator-demodulator. According to Wikipedia, it “is a device that modulates an analog carrier signal to encode digital information and demodulates the signal to decode the transmitted information. The goal is to produce a signal that can be transmitted easily and decoded to reproduce the original digital data. Modems can be used with any means of transmitting analog signals, from light emitting diodes to radio. A common type of modem is one that turns the digital data of a computer into modulated electrical signal for transmission over telephone lines and demodulated by another modem at the receiver side to recover the digital data.”
If you were using a modem at home, it typically connected through your phone line, thus making it impossible to surf the web and talk to anyone at the same time. Surfing the web with a dial-up modem took dedication and lots of alone time. It was especially great when I was waiting forever for a web page to load and someone else in my house would pick up the phone and break the connection.
Then I would have to dial in to AOL again (the dominant dial-up Internet provider at that time) and listen to this symphony of technological wonder:
Once connected, I’d have to reload the page and just wait. Again.
At the zenith of Internet connectivity via modems, some households invested in a second phone line so that you could actually talk to your friend while looking at the same horrid Geocities web page for Dave Matthews Band.
Modem speeds also got faster – 14.4k quickly bowed to 28.8k a few years later. Then came the 33.6k modem and, finally, the 56k modem. Modems still exist today (think cable modems, DSL modems, etc.) but the act of analog dial-up Internet access isn’t used by most people anymore, with the exception of remote or very rural areas.
If you’re feeling nostalgic and want to throw back even more, be sure to check out our entire past library of Throwback Thursdays, from odes to Sega Saturn, to the glory days of AOL Instant Messenger.