Online in 1984? A time capsule moment.

Do you remember 1984? No, not the book – the actual year. You might need to close your eyes to imagine yourself in a world in which there are no smartphones, not even any cell phones! 1984 was even before email! The IBM PC was only 2 years old, Microsoft Windows did not exist and the World Wide Web was not even a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eyes – he was the Web’s inventor. The World Wide Web would not enter general use until 1993-4, when websites for everyday use started to become available.

I (Chris), along with my mother, Marilyn, opened a computer training center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1983. I wrote a quarterly newsletter for 14 years to keep in touch with the students who attended our classes. The following article is from one of those newsletters in the Fall of 1984. It’s about my first use of online services. I used a personal computer and a modem to connect to a service called CompuServe so I could participate in an electronic bulletin board called Whole Earth Software Catalog. It’s really a blast from the past for me. I hope you enjoy it as you open this time capsule to 1984 …

Fall 1984 Computer News and Views


by Chris Van Valkenburg (now Chris Guld)

I don’t know about you but I’ve had some real computing fun this last month. I have found an on-line special interest group that I can’t wait to log on to each week. It’s called Whole Earth Catalog and it’s on CompuServe


If you’re scratching your head over what you just read you probably don’t have a personal computer with a modem. What I am talking about is hooking up a computer to the telephone using a device called a modem and letting your computer call a distant, BIG computer which has all sorts of information stored in it. Using a computer and a modem you can call Dow Jones Information Service and access an electronic version of the Wall Street Journal or ask for current stock quotes; or you can call CompuServe and access the Official Airline Guide for rates and schedules or look up information in an electronic encyclopedia. These services are called various things – Databases, Databanks, Videotex, & Information Utilities. A local example is Viewtron, however, Viewtron cannot be accessed with personal computer yet. You need their special terminal called Sceptre. CompuServe also sponsors a variety of electronic bulletin boards where people who all share a common interest can post messages, leave information about topics of interest or chat with each other through their computers. Whole Earth Catalog is a printed publication which recently expanded its coverage to computer software topics in a magazine called Whole Earth Software Review. I subscribe to WESR and it is by far and away my favorite computer publication, so when I learned that they operated a bulletin board on CompuServe, I jumped right “online.”

When I log on to CompuServe (you have to be a subscriber to do this) I go directly to the WEC (Whole Earth Catalog) bulletin board by typing “GO WEC.” A message appears on the screen welcoming me (by name) to the WEC sig. SIG stands for Special Interest Group. I then ask for the latest messages on the bulletin board to be displayed on my screen so I can read them: someone in Seattle is telling us about a radio station that broadcasts free software!(??), the editor of WESR asks for comments from users of a new program because he is writing a review on it in the next issue, some- one else asks if anyone out there knows how to get rid of the glitches in his communications program and the next message is an answer! I was then a “little birdie” listening in to someone else’s conversation as an online discussion ensued between the person with the questions and the person with the answers. And I learned a lot too! 

Pretty soon I saw a question that I had an answer to…so I left my first message -electronically- to someone I don’t even know! I don’t even know what part of the country he was from. The next time I logged on, I was greeted with a note that said “you have 2 messages waiting”! I felt the thrill of a kid who has been given a surprise party. In case you can’t tell, I’m hooked. Excuse me while I go log on… 


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