Earth Offline: What If We’d Stopped at AOL?


I sometimes wonder what life might have been like if personal computers hadn’t progressed much farther than the giant boxes from the early 90s and if AOL was the height of our Internet sophistication. I call this alternate future “Earth Offline” and it actually wasn’t all that bad.


Book Stores

Remember book stores? I know that I’d have still been going to the book store all the time… probably the comic book store too, every once in a while… not for the comics so much as the occasional “nerd conversation”. Back in the day the comic book store was one of the only safe places for nerds to meet up and be nerdy, in between the long waits for the occasional sci-fi convention.


Telephone Calls

Remember when it wasn’t an intrusion to call people? When they were actually glad to talk to you since it was the only way for them to find out the latest news about their social network? Imagine flirting with girls where you could hear their voice instead of their well-composed replies? I still have a few people that I feel safe calling on a fairly regular basis, but in a world with only AOL I daresay we’d all talk on the phone more often. Several of you, my friends, have absolutely terrible telephone skills. Ask me, I’ll tell you. And hey! Long distance is CHEAPER now than it ever was… why aren’t we using the shit out of this stuff??



Instead of making websites I might have finally found room to build that Z-scale model railroad I always dreamed about. I know a lot of you play these immersive video games and spend hours upon hours in-game, making things and killing people. What if you were stuck with King’s Quest? I daresay we’d see a lot more of you at the hobby store and going to concerts, spending time out there in the real world making things and doing things. What were your favorite hobbies?


Friends & Dating

I’d have definitely been much less worldly (a rusty what??) and without a place to share my written thoughts my natural shyness might have controlled my life. Would I know as many people as I do now? Hard to say, but my first guess is probably not. How many of you who started off as acquaintances would have been converted into friends in the pre-Internet days? Not many, unless we had some organization or activity in common. You know, like work, or sports leagues or church groups.



Remember the luxury of reading a newspaper? The feeling that you were slowly conquering the day’s news, page by page? From the advertisements to the editorials, it felt like you were participating in the Grown-Up World – especially if you were reading the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Of course I think my political views would be far less enlightened than they are these days, but then I probably wouldn’t be aware of the vitriol that exists on both sides of the spectrum, since I would have never seen the vicious anonymous rants that litter the comments sections of many websites these days. As a result I think that I and many of my fellow Earth Offliners of all political stripes would be more able to carry forth discourse without going nuclear.



In the Earth Offline scenario I’d still be subscribed to at least 4 or 5 magazines. Remember magazines? Such excitement there’d be when the new issue landed in your mailbox. Genuine “I can’t believe it’s here” excitement. The smell of the ink, the thickness of the pages, the glossy finish of the paper. It was dead sexy, and I’m just talking about Popular Science and Omni. What were your favorite magazines?



“The Empire Strikes Back” is worth 12 dozen of the dazzlingly-effected sci-fi movies they slop to us every year… and they made that with models that people glued together. Without the effects the actors could act and the directors could direct, instead of spending so much time with a little man walking around sticking flags in the dirt saying “this is the mecha-beast”. Acting! It happened, it was glorious.


Nudie Books

I’d probably still have a shelf full of Playboys and Penthouse magazines (where did I put the ones I had back in the 90s?). Back then women had real boobs and real lips and real eyebrows and miles and miles of pubic hair, and we liked it. As a growing boy I spent at least 3 weeks of my life in the bathroom studying a brunette woman in a garter belt in the Sears Christmas catalog. Screw the Star Wars figures, I wanted to figure out how the mechanics of her garter belt worked. Instead of pictures of girls with five hands up their bottoms and their floppy bits arrayed like a satellite dish, we had to use our imaginations. (I cede points to our current version of Earth though, as I’m a fan of satellite communications)


What parts of Earth Offline do you miss?






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