Monday 5 May 2008

Tracking Pop Culture References about the Web

As many readers are aware, I’m one of the old ladies of the Web, having started in 1993 back when the Web was text-based, accessible and not at all a part of culture much less popular culture.

It surely has been a fascinating experience watching the Web, and the online world in general, infiltrate society in different forms. From the first time I saw a URL advertised on television (1996, I believe, for Subway Sandwiches); read about Web sites in books (“Mary went downstairs to Google for an answer to her lonely heart”); and more recently, references to Twitter on shows such as CSI, I have been in awe of how the Web has become a part of the fabric of our lives.

Sitting here last night watching an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun from 1999, I was tickled beyond pink to hear the character of Dick Solomon quip “I was going to order it off the Internet until I realized there was no such thing as Amazon Dot Crap.” It got me thinking that tracking such references to the Web and Internet in popular culture could be a really fun and revealing adventure.

Got a favorite reference about the online world from a film, book, lyric or other relevant media? Share below!

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 12:29 | Comments (22)

Comments (22)

  1. I enjoy the scene in knocked up when the main character’s niece tells her she Googled “murder.”

    3rd Rock was great! ;]

  2. CSI is good for this. I’ve seen Rocketboom (2 Feb 06), Twitter (15 Noc 07) and Second Life in CSI NY (24 Oct 07)

  3. Hi Molly,

    It’s really fascinating to look back on the early days of the Web. I designed the Pac-10 conference’s first Web site, and the Oregonian had an article about it. It was fun reading it over late last year because the writer explained to his audience what Web site was, and what HTML was.

    Also, a friend found an article somewhere crediting me as the first writer to refer to America Online.

  4. One of the references I can think of is the Clacks system in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels, a semaphore system that ends up becoming a med-fan equivalent of e-mail, with its own problems, and it’s hackers – mainly portrayed as the Smoking Gnu group in Going Postal. But then Pratchett is a great one for references, from ancient history to video games. I particularly loved the spoof of Lemmings using the Terracotta army in Interesting Times…

  5. I remember seeing an episode of Growing Pains where Carol was wanted a modem for Christmas. Of course at the time I probably didn’t know what that was but it’s kind of funny now!

  6. I guess I figured we had passed some kind of a milestone when the Dancing Baby made its appearance on Ally McBeal.

    I don’t remember the first URL that I ever saw in a TV commercial or a magazine ad, but I did have the experience of discovering an old stack of magazines from 1996 a couple of years ago, in the bottom of a box of Stuff To Be Reviewed For Goodwill. The finance magazines in particular struck me as odd and I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time. It wasn’t the articles. Save more. Pay less in taxes. Look for lower fees. Don’t trade on emotions…. And then it hit me. There wasn’t a single e-mail address or URL in the entire magazine.

  7. How can you mention the internet and pop culture without mentioning “The Net” from 1995?

    You know, Sandra Bullock, identity – her LIFE – all on a 3.5 floppy?

  8. I don’t remember the year, but when I saw a giant URL advertised on the side of a bus, I knew the Web was out of the bag.

  9. The 1997 Seinfeld episode “The Betrayal” has a flashback scene set in 1995 in which Jerry is discusses e-mail with his girlfriend.

    And from the episode “The Serenity Now” from the same season:

    Elaine: Oh, that’s insane.
    George: I’ll tell you what’s insane: the price that I could get you on a new desktop computer.
    Elaine: I am not buying a computer from you.
    George: There’s porn.
    Elaine: (Pausing) Even so.
    George: Damn it!

  10. Well early in the piece, I recall having a .wav of Homer Simpson declaring “The information superhighway shows us what some nerd thinks about Star Trek!” … I reckon for many many years that was the sum total of what the average punter thought of the ‘net.

    In more recent times I find the changes in William Gibson’s work fascinating. When he wrote his earlier works he was (famously) ignorant of how computers really worked. It contributed to his portray of silent machines and essentially mystical/spiritual data constructs. These days he weaves deep specifics of wireless networking into his stories. In Spook Country his protagonist finds herself looking for open wifi amidst experiences of extreme alienation. The name of the network is mentioned; as is the fact she has to stick her laptop on the windowsill to connect. It highlights the experience of being alone in a strange hotel room.

    Hmm. Does Gibson actually count as “pop culture”? It requires this weird activity called “reading a book”, I hear that’s not so popular anymore 😉

    NCIS is always chock full of internet/tech references (sure, they’re vastly exaggerated but they’re there). Last night’s episode (in .au) included a reference to MySpace being better than official databases for finding information about a young college student.

    So how is it that nobody has mentioned movies like Hackers or Sneakers yet? Hack the planet! 😉

    Overall I think the big change is that early pop culture references tended to be either highly dismissive or totally hysterical. The internet was either the sole domain of sad, pathetic, expendable geeks; or the evil hackers were going to steal your entire life.

  11. Benson, early 1980s. While doing a WWIII simulation in a bunker, they receive information through the arpanet.

  12. Molly, yes indeed it’s fun to track Pop culture references about the web. You know, somehow i do not recall the single in Marathi, Hindi or English in Pune or India. Thanks, i am going to have a great time digging it up.

  13. “You know women, first their exchanging muffins on Facebook, next their mowing eachother down with cars”

    Quote from last weeks CSI

  14. I think this was from Wayne’s World.. but I could be wrong…

    “Get with the now… get the net.”

    Or something like that.. I refer to it all the time, but no one understands it now.

  15. Oh, let’s not forget the movie WarGames from 1983… Not quite using the internet but certainly computers connecting to each other.

  16. Ladies, but not old.

  17. “The internet, is that thing still around?”
    – homer simpson

  18. I remember the internet being called the “digital highway” in the nineties, at least in Dutch media (“digitale snelweg”). You don’t hear that anymore nowadays.

    And somewhat related:
    About 7 years ago, when I had a big interest in New Media Arts, the name of Erkii Huhtamo ( popped up several times in relation to media archaeology. Maybe you’ll find his work interesting as well.

  19. I remember seeing an episode of Growing Pains where Carol was wanted a modem for Christmas.

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