YouTube is awesome. But you know that. It’s the repository for the flotsam and Jetsons of popular culture, an outlet for teen ennui, some of the longest Rick-rolling practical jokes, and every so often, a showcase for genuine talent. It also contains hours of amazing found footage, a veritable smorgasbord of geeky trivia.
Once relegated to 8mm and Betamax collections of devotees, these artifacts of ancient newscasts, commercials and home movies are now available to anyone with a broadband connection, and provide an always-amusing, often startling picture of how we used to be.
In this way, YouTube, a relative fetus on the Internet’s 40-year plus timeline (depending on who you ask) offers a multi-tiered story of the medium that made it famous. The recent popularity of a 1981 TV news report about the Internet is just the tip of the iceberg. Here it is in all its feathered-hair glory, along with four other videos that manage to be spooky, entertaining and educational.
Oh newspapers, you never had a chance
One overly-simplified definition of good art is that it works and entertains on many levels. By those lights, "1981 primitive Internet report on KRON" is a Warhol print hanging from a Picasso statue, filmed by Werner Herzog while Britney Spears and Danger Mouse perform in the background.
Mr. Richard Halloran, the early-adopting senior citizen featured in this newscast, is labeled simply, "Owns home computer." He demonstrates how he obtains his morning paper by plugging the handset of his fabulous red rotary dial into telephone couplers for dial-up that costs a whopping $5 an hour. (That’s more than AOL!)
Mr. Halloran then proceeds to make himself Recording Industry Association of American Enemy No. 1 by pointing out that not only can you see the newspaper on the screen but, "optionally, we can copy it."
Meanwhile, the San Francisco Examiner’s David Cole explains that the newspaper isn’t in this tele-paper experiment "to make money." Well that's a relief, Poindexter, 'cause you're staring down the business end of a loaded gun.
Vision of the ‘future’ that makes you nostalgic for the past
According to this late-'60s Philco-Ford Corp. documentary titled "1999 A.D," the future will be a technological boon for misogyny. In the world of tomorrow, women will be able to use computers — but not credit cards.
Here we see Wifey, in all her shellacked bouffant glory, scanning wares on what looks like library microfiche as she takes part in "fingertip shopping." And sister, it ain’t Bluefly.
"What the wife selects on her console," says the narrator, "the husband will pay for on his counterpart console."
Cut to exasperated Hubby shaking his head as he reviews Wifey's bill on one of his three identical "console" screens on the other side of the house. And can you blame him? Clearly, Wifey should be more careful with money and not be such a Suzy Spendthrift. That's why the man needs to control the e-checkbook. Also, because he has the math skills.
Early community about helping, not flaming
Once upon a time in 1993, a computer nerd had a very sweet vision about how the Internet could be a method for helping disabled people work — rather than what it’s become — a method of helping disabled people, and everyone else, find porn.
Cut to a spare room in in the home of T.K. Kang, the Bulletin Board System (BBS) systems operator and star of the video. Jamming himself into the confined area filled with giant modems and green-screened monitors cased institutional beige plastic, Mr. Kang explains how online community will change the world.
"T.K. says that his wife does not approve of his spending so much time in front of the computer," explains the narrator. "Perhaps a not unreasonable response." If you think that’s bad Mrs. Kang, just wait until T.K. discovers World of Warcraft.
Attack of the killer computer virus
Why, with today’s intuitive software, it wouldn’t take much much skill to mash footage from this overly-dramatic news 1988 news report on a computer virus into a first class zombie film would be proud to produce. "It arrived at MIT in the middle of the night," the TV reporter intones cryptically. "The students were safe … but their computers weren’t."
In contrast to the report's apocalyptic overtones, the bemused, bespectacled and mustached MIT nerds seem excited, almost thrilled at the challenge.
"We believe it was intended to spread more slowly than it did so it wouldn’t be noticed as quickly," says one particularly interesting MIT specimen, explaining how the computer virus wasn’t nearly as "insidious" as it could’ve been … 28 days later!
The culprit? Matthew Broderick? One professor speculates a student … and an "A" student at that. Forrealz, guy? More like some kid in a basement who wanted to see if he could make something replicate. Kudos, kid in a basement. The future belongs to you.
We close with "Three Rules of the Internet," an enchanting NOT SAFE FOR WORK ditty by Jonathan Mann, that’s part of a project in which he wrote a song a day for a month.
Since this song and video were specifically created for and about the Internet, it’s hardly found footage. But Mann does a fine job of breaking it all down for those of you who fell asleep in class.
Please note, this video is charming, sweet, and contains a couple of words that, while are not gratuitous and fit the work, might be something you’d rather your co-workers didn’t hear.