Remembering dial-up

With Google Fiber, we won’t need to wait for anything.

Trent M. Kays


My grandfather is fond of relating his experiences to me. One of his favorite stories is that he was one of the first employees at his company to request a computer. His argument was that everything was moving in the direction of computers, so his company needed to jump on board. My grandfather worked in telemetry and satellite tracking; it made sense, yet his company was still hesitant: Computers were expensive.

I now understand the type of remembrance my grandfather often experiences. Recently, I waxed nostalgic with my students about the “good ’ole days,” when people had to wait for the dial tone to complete. We would click to sign in and wander off to do housework while the Internet dialed up. I received mostly blank stares from my students. Many of them had never experienced such a thing.

We live in a connected world. We have networked, linked and complicated our lives, but, perhaps, what’s most notable is the lack of patience. Even I — a person born in between the little linked and hyper-linked worlds — have become impatient. I want access to the Internet, and I want it now. I abhor waiting. I served my time in the waiting room, and it wasn’t pleasant.

Now, we may not need to wait at all. Google began offering its Fiber service in select cities. Google Fiber is a fast Internet service that promises downloads and uploads in gigabytes and to be 100 times faster than current Internet connectivity. So, it’s fast. You would be able to instantly download, play online games at the appropriate speeds and do everything you do now online — except at faster connection speeds.

I daresay it might be amazing. I find it amazing because I use the Internet most of the day. I’m an Internet researcher, so Google Fiber excites me. Unfortunately, I live in Minneapolis, and it isn’t one of the selected cities. However, the mere thought of Google Fiber and its free basic data connection plan seems to have spurred other Internet providers into action.

My current Internet provider is OK. I mean, it’s all I can get where I live, but it’s expensive. Some providers have started rethinking their fiber networks and are increasing connectivity. It is the great plight of capitalism: Improvement seems to come only when faced with competition. I suppose that’s OK; it’s the American way.

As I read about the news circulating Google Fiber, the promise of great connectivity and the allure of uploads and downloads in gigabytes, I wonder if I am not turning into my grandfather. Meaning, I’m the one who now tells younger generations about the past when we had to wait for things. I certainly don’t mean to fetishize, but I can’t help realize my students are mostly of a generation that has never been without omnipresent digital connection.

The other side of the coin, of course, is that Google is continuing its march to rule the world. Perhaps that’s a touch of hyperbole, but consider all the Google services that are used now. Take all of those services, and then access them through Google’s own Internet provider. Is there nothing that Google will not control in the future? I haven’t a clue. I envision a future where our hyper-connected lives are projections of our aggregate selves — everything we’ve ever done mashed into digestible view.

I’m not worried. While services like Google Fiber will provide Internet connectivity, humans still have to use it. Otherwise, what’s the point? The service would just exist without definition, which is only made through human use. The great hope of Google Fiber is that it might lead to greater connectivity throughout the world. Other services might be spurred to work on connectivity in places that have none.

The connectivity in the U.S. would increase, and with any luck, maybe we can get more of the world online. While some may lament the rise of Google and their Internet, I welcome it with open arms. It’ll be nice to have reliable and connected Internet. As it stands now, my Internet sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t — and I pay for this. I only pay for this because it’s all I can get. That’s how consumers are treated. It’s like throwing a bone to a dog just to keep him happy. We take the bone and move along.

We could have demanded greater connectivity long ago. But instead, we have tolerated our slow Internet and paid far too much for something far too important to our day-to-day lives. Our economy, culture and politics are dependent on the Internet, so why wouldn’t we demand the absolute best from it?

Dial-up is long gone. Thanks to Google Fiber, I can download and upload quickly. Also, I’ll be able to watch “South Park” online without hiccups, and isn’t that the entire point of the Internet?