A reporter’s inquiry about what the internet was like in the late 1990s sent me to the Pew Research Center archives for what turned out to be an amusing look back at some internet history. Here is what I found:

  • 1996: 23% of adults went online.
  • 1997: 36% of adults went online.
  • 1998: 41% of adults went online.

In 1998, 57% of non-internet users said they worry “not at all” about missing out on something by not going online. 22% of non-users said they worry “not very much,” 10% worry “a fair amount,” and 7% worry “a great deal” about missing out on something by not going online.

For those who did have access, trying to find something online was the top frustration, followed by slow connection speeds.

Back then, there was hype in the mainstream press in the 1990s about the personal isolation of internet users despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that internet users are just as likely to have a wide circle of friends and to get together with friends & family on a regular basis. That “geek in the basement” stereotype persisted even as the internet became mainstream, but I think it was finally put to rest by my colleagues’ report, The Strength of Internet Ties.

If you’d like to flip through the embarrassing middle-school yearbook of internet history, check out these links:

The Wayback Machine

Yahoo home page in 1997

AOL home page in 1997

The New York Times home page in 1997

And yes, our own class photo complete with stonewashed jeans and shag hairstyles: The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press home page in 1997