“It feels fragile because of the Internet”

This blog post about using a 14-year-old PowerPC Mac Mini running 12-year-old OS X Leopard has this musing towards the end:

Something about using this feels very fragile, and not because of the machine itself, the operating system, or even the interface. It feels fragile because of the internet.

The internet has so aggressively taken over our lives that we can’t imagine a computing experience without it. And when it’s no longer there on a platform that didn’t really work properly without it, it becomes impossible to use in many ways. One has the feeling that even older operating systems won’t feel this broken in retrospect, because their experiences are otherwise separate from the internet and work without it being at the center of the experience.

I remember this period of “even older” operating systems in the 90s, of coaxing my Pentium desktop PC to run Red Hat Linux 5 and work on it for a whole day – tinkering, programming, writing, simple gaming – without connecting to the internet, or for that matter without any part of the OS being internet-first. I’d “go online” by dialling the modem via a shell script, look up what I wanted to all at once, then disconnect. The internet was like a trip to the library instead of being the environment itself. No chat client ran perennially, no mail client polled for new email. No iCloud Drive synchronised silently with the Cloud (the term didn’t exist then) in the background.

It wasn’t necessarily a better or worse time, just that it definitely was different.

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