What I Miss About Old Computers (Part 4: The 386 and AOL)
This will be a brief entry as this was a pretty brief moment in time. Like all of the other computers, we got an old 386 laptop way past its prime. I say we, but I’m pretty sure this was the first computer I bought with my own money. Also saying it was a 386 makes me think that what I thought was a 486 in my previous post was actually a 286. I may have to go back and edit that.
This 386 laptop came installed with Windows 3.1. I wish I could remember the model of the laptop, or even the brand, but for as much as I can retain, those details are lost. I just remember it had a black and white backlit LCD screen and a pretty compact form factor. Its size is really the reason I bought it because I thought it was a slick looking little laptop. I did a little searching around and I couldn’t find anything that looked exactly like it. But it was similar in size of what you might call a netbook these days.
The reason I bought it though was because of Windows 3.1. Windows 95 was a thing already, so I was keeping the idea of running hardware a generation or more behind. But the OTHER reason I bought this was because… it had a modem. Windows 3.1, and a modem and I suddenly entered the arena of being compatible with the thousands upon thousands of AOL floppy disks you got in the mail, at the grocery store, pretty much everywhere in the 90’s. So I picked one of those bad boys up with what I remember being 40 free hours. By the end of the 90’s AOL was begging people to come over with like 700 free hours. But 40 is what we had… so.
I remember setting this laptop up, literally on the telephone stand in the living room at Ingalls. Went through the installation and of course at the end, you have to choose a phone number to dial into. Well as you can imagine, in Ingalls, Kansas there were no local AOL numbers to call. So we ended up having to call a Wichita number.
“Is that long distance?” I remember Mom saying.
“Yes… but we won’t be on very long!” I said. Heck we only had 40 hours. haha
We logged in, hearing that crunchy modem beeping and buzzing away. Several long seconds later, the screen slowly refreshed to reveal the classic AOL starting page with all the different channels for news and fun. All in glorious monochrome display for me though!
The amount of “things you could do” was a bit over whelming right off the bat. So my friends and I went straight to the darkest corner of the early internet. … Chat Rooms.
This was 1995 or 1996. So the internet was still “new” but it was catching on to the point that everybody kinda knew it existed. The things you could do. So we also knew the rules. Don’t give people your real name, don’t give out your location. You’d be proud to know that I lied on every A/S/L request that popped up in those chatrooms.
I’m sure you didn’t have to go far to get into the real nasty chatrooms, and while they all were somewhat coarse depending on who was online at the time, for the most part, everyone was there just to goof around, waste time, and have fun. Or argue… I don’t remember ever seeing anything that was absolutely shocking in a chatroom back then.
We popped around, we played some games. But honestly we didn’t spend too much time on AOL. Didn’t even hit those 40 hours. It was just too expensive with the long distance charges. Luckily soon enough we were entering the Windows era, and ISPs would make the internet available whenever we wanted it!