If you have trouble comprehending a world without instant access to a nearly infinite amount of information, think of how hard it would be to comprehend the internet in a world where it never existed. Colin Rowsell imagines the World Wide Web as one man's cryptic dream - and his daughter's quest to decipher it.

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It's only once in a while that I get knocked back by something that powerful.

That was astounding.

Interesting story. I know exactly what it's like to live in a world without the internet. I was half-way through college before it even existed. Before the internet, I subscribed to half a dozen or more print magazines to keep abreast of gaming, sports, and other hobbies I had. I sent friends and family actual paper letters and recieved letters back sometimes. I talked to people on the phone more than I do now. For more immediate info about the outside world, I'd tune into one of the three TV channels we got in our part of the world (NBC, ABC, PBS)and watch the news. Or, I'd listen to talk radio (which I still do sometimes).

If I wanted to play video games with my friends, I'd go to the nearest arcade or take my PC to a LAN party. Or go over to a friend's house and play multiplayer on whatever consoles he had (or invite him over to my house). There are times when I miss those more social gaming times. There is still an arcade near where I live and I go there sometimes even though I don't really have to, just for the experience of it. Whenever I suggest to my friends that they come over to play games now, they look at me like I'm nuts and say "I'll look you up on Xbox Live" or something.

My freshman and sophomore years in college (1992-1993), I had to go to the library and actually look stuff up in the card catalog (they had a computerized version by then but the process was pretty much the same). I'd spend hours sitting in the library on campus or the nearest city library going over perodicals, trade journals, scientific journals etc. to research for class projects. If I needed something that wasn't at our libraries, I'd ask the librarian to order what I needed. They'd call me when it came in and I'd check it out. Information moved about much slower than it does now (in days and weeks instead of minutes and seconds) but you could still usually find what you needed.

Then towards the end of my sophomore year, the college set up FTP and Telnet labs. You could go to the lab and look up references at other colleges and libraries through search engines like Archie, Jughead and Veronica. It was on a black screen with green letters, but you could read all or at least the abstract of articles from other libraries all over the world. The modem was the size of a shoe box and had rubber cups on top. You actually picked up the phone handset, dialed the number for the ISP and put the handset on the cups. You could hear the computer squaking and beeping the data back and forth the whole time you were online. It sounded like R2D2 or something.

Then part way through my Junior year, we got computer labs with internet that could show whole articles and even still pictures in color. I remember being pretty impressed, even if it did take quite a while for anything to load. That was also the first time I ever used e-mail. Good ole Compuserve was the ISP at the time.

About halfway through my Senior year, my family bought me a laptop as an early graduation present. This high tech wonder could even surf the net via a dial up modem. And, well, you know the rest of the story of the net.

So, it's not hard at all for me to imagine a world without the internet. I lived in it.

Wonderful story. It echoed more of my own feelings than I thought at first.

I am approaching 35, so I have the privilege to have lived in an era with no internet. Multiplayer gaming meant a nice evening with friends at someone's home and it was the most fun pasttime one can imagine. Even single-player games took on a new dimension of fun when played in turns and with "audience commentary". And that's only a gamer's perspective - I am reluctant to dive into a personal relationships analysis as it has all been said before and will no doubt be said again. If you haven't already, I suggest you read E.M.Forster's brilliant short novel "The Machine Stops" - it was written 100 years ago this year and it predicted the kind of internet-centric world we live in with frightening accuracy.

The irony of today's "massive multiplayer" games is not lost on me - they are responsible for isolating millions of people behind ultra-expensive enormous screens and Teamspeak-blaring headsets! The same isolation can be said to stem from the use of "social networking" sites, but I can't comment on those much as I have been too busy wasting time on World of Warcraft to get entangled in one of them...

For the record, I quit WoW after 4 years(!) of "playing" and I'm now very very happy facing off against my niece on Mario Power Tennis.

I enjoyed that quite abit.

Absolutely incredible, I love the idea and admit that I've never thought of anything of the sort myself. "What if there was no internet?" I was born in '90, to me, there's nothing astounding about the internet or globalization. The world was always small. But to a person who'd never seen such things? Well...your story was dead on, and I look forward to see more thought provoking writing from you.

Absolutely incredible, I love the idea and admit that I've never thought of anything of the sort myself. "What if there was no internet?" I was born in '90, to me, there's nothing astounding about the internet or globalization. The world was always small. But to a person who'd never seen such things? Well...your story was dead on, and I look forward to see more thought provoking writing from you.

I was gonna comment, but then realized Mray said exactly what I was going to.

I'm intrigued by this fascinating idea of a sort of technological stagnation. I wonder if halting the development of the internet would've actually caused this. Perhaps. Or perhaps it's the other way around - that only a world that prefers technological stagnation could halt the development of the internet...

Either way, this was a beautiful character study, and I look forward to many more short stories from Colin.

At 41, I well remember the pre-Net world. I started playing video games in the mid-70s, RPGs in 1979 and got my first home computer (Atari 800) in 1980.

I spent over a decade with 'stand alone' computers and game consoles, socializing face-to-face in arcades and home parties.

I remember BBSes, GEnie, early USEnet and all that. I remember the early, fumbling efforts at network protocols and cabling standards. I do not miss Token Ring. ;)

I am hardly unique - or even distinctive. Pre-Net computing and gaming were not part of some ancient quasi-mythical otherworld. It was just a generation ago; there are legions of us still extant.

I'm really glad you're enjoying this - when The Escapist first asked for something nonfiction on 'gaming without the internet' I was completely stuck, so decided to drive it off the deep end :-)

I'm 30, so sorta straddled the pre/post internet divide. As a kid it was standalone consoles/computers and arcades with a touch of BBSes (as BrainfromArous says), then in my last year of high school the commercial internet arrived. This had a particularly big effect in New Zealand, on a bunch of levels; NZ really was very isolated, in writing SHAMAN I'd essentially imagined a kiwi farmhouse in the early 1990s. Not a unique experience in any way, but I do enjoy the odd moment of looking back and wondering.

What're everyone else's memories of this sort of thing? Have you always had the internet around, did you straddle the divide at some point, or is it all new-fangled hogwash and you'd rather stick to HAM Radio?



I remember first tinkering around with the net after it had exploded at the library, when even dial-up was relatively new, and then at school a little bit, but nothing really serious until I found roleplaying. It wasn't until my family got our own dial-up connection - but only three or four years ago - that my passion for the Internet really exploded, when I found that all this stuff I'd only heard about, including games (mostly between Kingdom of Loathing, NationStates [though that's more of a simulator than an actual game], a sad, serious, and recurring addiction to MapleStory, and most recently my new used PS3), the forums (where about 60% of my time has been spent), and so on, really existed for me now.

But even before then, I remember playing around on many game systems, some of which I went back and bought the games for again, and others of which I've found other means of finding. Really, by now, I can't think of living without the Internet, or the games that surround/permeate it now, but I do remember when TV was still the main form of entertainment for the young, and when books opened so many doors that it boggled the mind. Now, I can watch TV on my computer if I wanted to, and write my own volumes in characters that I designed with other people from all around. Unlike some, though, books still play a part in my life to an extent, and television is as much of a distraction as ever.

Maybe I'm just simple-minded, but getting snail mail still brings excitement to me, and reading a well-written action novel can still enthrall me for hours on end if I don't watch my time. But as the technology expands, pretty soon we may move away from paper altogether, and maybe television will become Internet-exclusive because its more convenient. Having actually seen some of the old equipment used for communication in the 'Old World' since my grandpa was a HAM radioman (though, sadly, none of it works now, due to time and disuse after his passing when I was barely old enough to walk >.<), living in a house that's quite possibly older than my grandma, having a mom that owns some old 45s and both parents that listen to music from their generation, there's been saturation. And since we didn't get our first computer (a 486, when they were on the way out) until I was about ten or twelve or so, I'm still finding out new things about the Internet all the time, and my parents are slowly starting to soak it in. Anymore, it'd be hard for me to imagine a world where technology just sagged and never moved forward. It just doesn't fit, because it hasn't happened... yet.

Eye-opening read, I must admit. Certainly something that makes one appreciate all of what's happening, and has happened. A world without the Internet would be bleak indeed, in my opinion...

It's only once in a while that I get knocked back by something that powerful.

That was astounding.

truly fantastic!

Excellent Job.

I don't think you should ever stop thinking or dreaming or even getting angry, 'cause that's how we change the world.

This is amazing.
I'm actually stunned by it. To look at such a simplistic lifestyle and then the idea of being thrown into what most of us have now.

I started to tear up. Bravo and a job well done. This was one of the best pieces of work I have read in a long time. Thank you.

Anyone else remember how special moves/finisher/cheats were closely guarded secrets when you couldnt look it up on the net?

There were items I dreamt of owning that I had no way to get my hands on them without a trip to London and an indepth knowledge of niche shops.

Oh yeah, I also remember the shit selection of music in the stores, the internet is for more than porn and posting shit goth poetry.

Wow... just... wow.

unfortunately i was part of the eternal september, so i grew up with internet [be it AOL]. but i remember playing against people face to face on consoles in split-screen and accusing each other of looking at each others screen. part of it took me back to those days for some reason, the other half made me feel how my parents must of lived like during that time.

I usually don't get past the first page of a lot of these short stories, but I read this one all the way through. I truely enjoyed the style you wrote this in. Very touching, and very real. I hope to see more of your writing here :)

I hope to see more of your writing here :)

Thanks! I think 'SHAMAN' makes number 15 for the Escapist, I went on a tear last year after (finally) getting back to writing after a stint in communications. They're listed here:


Some are weirder than others, the Family Gathering Survival Kit is a bit of fun...



Pardon me for not reading other responses before I post.
That was a truly wonderful story. I have always liked something with a nostalgic feel to it, and this really hits that note. The parallel between magic and technology, reality and metaphysics, they're all very awesome and welcoming. I love stories like this.

An Incredible story.

excellent writing. I absolutely loved the daughter-father relationship and how it played out in this. Kudos.

Absolutely incredible, I love the idea and admit that I've never thought of anything of the sort myself. "What if there was no internet?" I was born in '90, to me, there's nothing astounding about the internet or globalization. The world was always small. But to a person who'd never seen such things? Well...your story was dead on, and I look forward to see more thought provoking writing from you.

Yep, pretty much this. Fantastic writing, intriguing premise.

You know there is a reason why i limit my use of the internet with a kind actual "social interaction" on specific sides.

This reason is that all this "reltions" are niot real.

THERE IS NOTHING like talking to a person and looking at/in her/his actual facial expressions and real bodylanguage, as much as i enjoy multiplayer ( to be exact Coop) on my consoles.


That was fantastic. Truly a fantastic work of literature that should be respected for ages to come.


This was...confusing, I have to say. Very scary to think about really, being plunged into a reality you have no idea where, or what it does. makes you think. an excellent read.

Try to slide 'singularity' in there where no one'll notice, will ya? I saw it!
Sneaky bastard.
I did enjoy that, though. I'm often hit by that feeling--while we haven't reached what the retro-futurists had in mind as far as flying cars and robot maids, I feel like what we DO have would blow an 80s techie's mind.
How would they react to iPods? Car GPS? Flash drives? Redbox*? MMO's? iMax? Windows 7?

*edit: actually, I think redbox might be exactly what they had in mind, except that it doesn't dictate your selection with a hot chick's voice and accompanying hologram. And there's no clear plastic housing so you can see the mechanical arms picking your DVD's out.

Holy balls awesome

that is all there is to say.

...This was really...


I don't even know what to say, but that's one of the most astonishing things I've read in the past month.


That was great. No, fantastic.

Probably the best thing I've read in a while.


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