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Once upon a time I helped save the world

Once upon a time I helped save the world

24 September 2018

Sonya Weiser

Let's go for another trip down memory lane, this time through the 1990s, the decade when the World Wide Web first started to change our lives.

The first ever browser for the internet was released in 1990 and was called the World Wide Web (WWW). It's name was later changed to Nexus to avoid confusion, as WWW became the ubiquitous term we use for all of the internet. Having a way to browse through internet sites opened up a whole new world and we soon got addicted to surfing the net.

We fell in love with mobile phones in the 1990s, as they grew ever smaller and faster. Remember the Nokia 6160 we had at the end of the 1990s? Ah snake, such fun. Remember when we used telephones to talk to each other? That started to go out of fashion in December 1992 when the first SMS text message was sent.  The message that precipitated billions of very sore thumbs was a simple "MERRY CHRISTMAS".

In the mid-1990s the PalmPilot was released, a hand-held gadget that quickly became popular with business people to make appointments, store contacts and send messages. This was a precursor to the idea of smartphones that combine all those useful organisation functions with a phone. The early Smartphones of the 1990s were prohibitively expensive for most of us and were mainly used by business people. The first ever smartphone was the Simon Personal Communicator, created by IBM more than 15 years before Apple released the iPhone.

In 1994 Amazon was founded to sell books online. At the time no one would have guessed that Amazon would become one of the world leaders in innovation, evolving from humble beginnings as an online bookstore into having a major role in killing off bricks and mortar retailers and creating Alexa, an artificial intelligence gadget that's invaded our homes.

In 1998 Google was founded. The Google algorithm was a big breakthrough and the Google search engine was famous for presenting much more relevant information in search results. It's another example of a technology service becoming so ubiquitous it's name has become a verb; ‘to Google' something is to search the internet for an answer.

My children were born in the 1990s, and being a techie family we of course enjoyed getting into the digital toys. All the cool kids had a Tamagotchi, but those poor digital pets were often sadly neglected. And we had hours of fun with the Sony PlayStation, which was originally released in 1994, with Crash Bandicoot.

Having a young family unfortunately also opened my eyes to how male-dominated and patriarchal our technology industry can be. I found it impossible to find part-time work as a software developer while my children were infants. I had to take what I could, which was contract work as a technical writer, creating user manuals. Although the pay wasn't as good, it was great fun and gave me my first taste of talking with people about how they use computer systems and writing about technology.

By 1999 I had returned to being employed in a technical capacity, at WorkCover Corporation (which is now Return to Work SA). I was part of the world-wide team of quiet achievers that saved the world from the Y2K / Millennium bug. We ensured that planes didn't fall out of the sky, banks all stayed operational and the world didn't come to a grinding halt when the year ticked over from '99 to '00. Yes, we quiet and unassuming geeks are world-saving heroes!

Y2K bug

Here's a few sources to explore if you want to read more about the history I've briefly mentioned here:

Sonya Weiser

Sonya Weiser

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