The Internet On Dead Trees

Books and periodicals about the internet were a curious phenomenon—in no small part because they frequently pandered to the largest possible audience.

Today in Tedium: Here's the thing about the internet that is striking from the position of a crate-digger: The crate never ends. It always keeps growing just a little bigger every single second. But that crate has a hole at the bottom. Stuff is falling out just as quickly, and pieces of history that would stick around in meatspace disappear in an instant online. So as a result, there aren't a lot of websites from 1995 that made it through to the present day. Gopher sites? Odds are low. Text files? Perhaps. This creates a curious value around books about the internet—dead trees about the dead-tree killer. They carry a bit of permanence about them, but they tend to go out of date, which for tech-related media is usually bad. But for my purposes, that's a virtue. Today's Tedium ponders the way the media wrote about the internet in the '90s. — Ernie @ Tedium

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The number of copies of the book DOS for Dummies that International Data Group printed in its initial 1990 run. Despite low expectations, the book quickly became a massive success, setting the stage for a cottage industry of books that break down technical topics in simple terms, mostly in the computer space. By 1993, the series had sold 1.3 million copies on its own. Now there are 1,950 individual books in the series, covering a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with computing, and the books have sold upwards of 300 million titles. In the '90s, the series inspired a whole lot of mass-market writing about technology, especially about the internet.

Free $tuff From the Internet

As I recently learned, you can actually buy Free $tuff From the Internet on Amazon. (yeah, that's my thumb)

What I learned from buying a 23-year-old book on free online resources

Recently, I bought a book—quaint, I know—and I'm probably the only person to have purchased this book or anything like it in more than 20 years.

It's a reference book, the kind that you can still pick up at Barnes and Noble today. But it's best described as what you'd get if you combined a phone book, a Matthew Lesko free money guide, and the internet.

The book, titled Free $tuff From the Internet (Coriolis Group Books, 1994), promises to help you find free content online. And, crucially, it focuses less on the web, which is still quite young, than on many of the alternative protocols of the era. The book is a bit tongue-in-cheek, to be fair, but some of the language and descriptions, surrounded by clip-art or screenshots of internet resources, are a little much.

"A revolution in communication is raging around the world, and it's called the Internet," author Patrick Vincent explains in the book's preface. "And whether you realize it or not, you are now on your way to being the latest foot soldier in this latter-day Information Crusade. Welcome to the Internet."

Conceptually, this book from the get-go speaks to the excitement that the internet generates as an online resource. But, curiously, it was less focused on its value as a real-time tool, and more focused on the idea that it existed as a means to an end. It's the only thing separating you from more free stuff!

Ernie Smith

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Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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