One Web Day: Earth Day for the Internet

Happy One Web Day! Yup, that’s today, September 22nd. It’s a day to celebrate and internet and to focus our attention on a key internet value. This year, it’s online participation in democracy.

Started by University of Michigan Law Internet Law and Communications Law professor Susan Crawford in 2006, this year’s event features a number of prominent speakers in New York, including Stanford professor and author Larry Lessig, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and Pandora founder Tim Westergren. Quite a list of luminaries!

One of One Web Day’s collaborative features is their Stories submissions. It’s a way for you to share how the Internet has changed your life. So in the spirit of One Web Day (or is it OneWebDay, all one word?), here’s how the Internet has changed my life.

How the Internet Changed My Life

I was a lucky kid. My Dad introduced me to email and newsgroups at an early age. He even encouraged me to program in BASIC on a Tandy CoCo, a TRS-80 Color Computer. So I was online, learning about Usenet, netiquette, and emoticons before most people.

One day, while in college, my sophomore roommate pulled me over to his computer and said, “Check this out.” I stood there for a moment, waiting, while a bunch of text appeared on a gray background.

“Um, okay. So what?”

“Isn’t this cool? This information is coming from another computer across the world!” Apparently, I was looking at the Mosaic web browser render an early web page.

This was way back before the Web was commercialized and open to the general public. Before ecommerce and blogs and social networks. Heck, it was before CSS, back when HTML tables and images were still an innovative feature. I didn’t quite realize the immensity of the moment just then, but I filed it away for later use.

A year later, I built my first web site. It took me a while to figure it out, since I didn’t have a computer and had to use my university’s computer lab. Fortunately, I was taking a graphic design class, so I had access to their fancy multimedia lab. I remember being the only person using Mosaic, and later Netscape Navigator in that lab. I often had to download Navigator too, since most of the computers there didn’t have it.

I still remember the day I heard the news – that the Web was going to be opened to commercial use. The academic community seemed torn. Some supported it, saying this was going to open a whole new world of innovations and opportunities. Some were against it, saying this would bastardize the honorable intentions behind the Web and cheapen it. I felt apprehensive but excited.

I also remember telling myself, as I sat there at a computer staring at my web site, “This is going to be huge. I’m going to make a career out of this.” (I meant the commercialization of the Web, not my web site.)

To start building my professional experience, I found and bluffed my way into an Internet internship. I told them I knew HTML during the interview, then rushed home to look up all the free HTML resources I could. To be fair, I already knew basic HTML, but hadn’t yet tackled HTML tables, which the interviewer wanted.

On my first day of work, I partnered up with their main (and only) technical guy, who also claimed to know HTML. We sat there, trying to wrap our heads around <table>, <tr>, and <td> tags. When our effort finally paid off, we high-fived each other and went on to build more pages.

We completed the site in a few weeks. When I FTP’ed those files onto their web server and saw our pages live on the Web, I felt a rush. Our code was live for the world to see! Awesome.

After college, I followed through with my dream. I made a career on the Internet. And that’s how the Internet changed my life.

How did the Internet change your life?

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.