25 Years of Tech: The Rise of the Internet

In 1993, computers were a thing, but email barely existed. It was the beginning of the rise of the internet and the technologies that have become commonplace now.

In this segment from Industry Focus: Tech, host Dylan Lewis and Motley Fool contributor Daniel Kline discuss their different experiences with technology over the past 25 years. Kline, 44, explains to Lewis how dial-up internet access worked and what the limitations were.

They also break down how important AOL was in the adoption of the internet and the emergence of broadband in the 2000s. In addition, they assess the rise of Yahoo!, as well as its eventual displacement by Google.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 29, 2018.

Dylan Lewis: Dan, we’re talking 25 years of tech, and the reason we’re doing that is because The Fool is celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend. We have a lot going on for that. If you go to our social channels — Facebook, Twitter, all of that — there are a lot of pictures, magazine covers, audio clips, from the past 25 years. If you’re a longtime Fool fan, go check those out. It will definitely be something you’ll enjoy.

We have a lot of ground to cover in talking 25 years of tech. Every host has talked about this topic a little bit differently with their sector. For us, we’re talking not only about the time where tech dominated, we’re talking about when tech became something that everyone interacted with.

Dan Kline: It was really a major transition. Obviously, we’re very different ages, which we’ll talk about in a minute. But, there was a point where there was no technology in your house. Ten years later, your life revolved around technology.

Lewis: Yeah. I think that the two of us are actually in very good positions to talk about tech from different perspectives. In 1993, I was probably eating bugs and chasing a ball around in my backyard, because I was three years old. What were you doing in 1993, Dan?

Kline: I was a junior in college. I think I’ve told you this story on the air before, but at the time, I had access to email, but my school newspaper had one email account. And all you could use it to do was email other giant school institutions. You could literally, “Hey, email at another school, do you know so-and-so?” It was a lot of like, “Hey, I’m calling from a plane,” where there was no point to it. That was when dial-up internet and AOL were starting to take hold. In 1993, I was laying out newspaper pages manually on a Mac computer that had an external 20-megabyte hard drive.

Lewis: As someone that works in editorial now, I’m so thrilled that that is not our process. [laughs]

Kline: Just rendering a page could take 20 minutes, and you couldn’t use photos, you had to use physical photos — it was a very involved process, compared to what it would be now.

Lewis: That’s all to say that you and I have very different perspectives on the last 25 years of tech. I basically grew up with tech in the household, and this is something that you adopted. I think that makes us pretty well-suited to have this conversation. You mentioned AOL being in people’s homes. I think the first thing that you have to talk about when you’re talking about tech over the past 25 years is the rise of internet and the access to the internet that people finally had.

Kline: In 1995, when I was finishing college, my actual office had a CompuServe account. CompuServe was an early predecessor, it was dial up internet, and your username was a phone number — 5634200, etc. So, AOL was sort of the first mainstream version of that. That was really the change. That was when it became common — 30 million, whatever the number grew to at its height — for people to have email addresses. Then it moved to work and other providers. But that was the dividing point.

Lewis: You think about adoption here, I saw a stat that just blew my mind. In 1993, 23% of U.S. households had a computer, basically zero of them had internet access. Fast forward to 2000, 50% had computers in the home, 40% had internet access. So, that adoption happened really quick.

Kline: Part of it was because AOL was so easy to use. I think it was maybe 2011 before my mother realized that AOL wasn’t the internet, it was just a service that had some news, it had some stock prices, it had, at one time, Motley Fool. But, to show you how far I go back, my AOL address was dankline@aol.com.

Lewis: You were the original! You got in early! That’s the benefit of being an early adopter, you get to choose your username. Not only do we see a lot of change with how people were coming online — you have dial-up, you have that eventually going over to broadband in the early 2000s — but, you have a lot of change in what people are doing online. We have these web portals that really dominated the early internet era, specifically AOL and Yahoo. Then, Google passes Yahoo in visitor count in 2006. That was kind of a big moment, I think, for what got us to the current state of tech.

Kline: Google took us to the point where the internet stopped being a directory of content sites. If you look back at how Yahoo was organized, it was the Yellow Pages. It was really just, where do I find baseball scores? Google started answering your questions, and people started using that data to create new products. Once Google became dominant, there was this absolute explosion of website demand, bringing you to the current world, where if you want to see video footage of a penguin hugging a nun, it would probably take you eight seconds to find that.

Lewis: Not even, Dan! I guarantee you, 1.5 seconds, as long as you’re connected to good internet. But, yeah, that’s a good point. You go back to the 90s and early 2000s, people were publishing books saying what websites were good. It was that type of navigation.

Kline: I remember, in the early days, if I sent someone a photo that was taken on a digital camera or scanned or some archaic technology, it would take them ten minutes to download it. Now, if you and I want to watch The Godfather simultaneously on our laptops in different places, it doesn’t take any time.

Lewis: Yeah. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve been able to deliver content, and how much richer that content has gotten.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of FB. Dylan Lewis owns shares of GOOGL and FB. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GOOGL, GOOG, FB, and TWTR. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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