2000: The World Wide Web of TV

Hammad Ali
Published : 13 Sept 2015, 08:40 PM
Updated : 13 Sept 2015, 08:40 PM

In an episode of the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Indian-American astrophysicist Rajesh Kuthrapalli is seen on Skype with his parents in New Delhi, while his friends are in the background in Sheldon and Leonard's apartment.

Raj's parents cut the conversation short because Doogie Howser is on the telly. This prompts Howard Wolowitz to remark on how that show has been off the air for more than a decade.

Like in any good comedy show, this bit of humour has a significant element of truth.

Those of us who were in high school in the mid- to late-90s will remember how Star World, or any of the other English TV channels in Bangladesh, was constantly showing reruns of the first few seasons of Friends and Frasier. These shows were actually nearing their end in North America and for the rest of the world.

There were a bunch of other shows that were being launched on television channels here, while they had either been on air for years in the US, or even cancelled due to poor network ratings.

This was in a time when access to the Internet was called the World Wide Web, browsing was called web-surfing, and everyone used dial-up modems which dropped the line at phone calls.

Memories of dial-up are etched in our minds. The computer made the funny chirps and beeps and took forever to connect, and just a little longer to download an image file displayed on a website.

Peer-to-peer downloads or streaming were out of the question.

I know it is hard to imagine that such a time ever existed in this post-millennial age. BTRC records roughly an incomprehensible 51 million internet users in 2015. But my memories take me to 1998, just a few years before Google even existed (I know, this dates me).

With the beginning of the millennium, internet options in the country improved slightly. A growing number of us said farewell to dial-up and entered the vaunted world of broadband. In hindsight, what passed for broadband last decade was not much to be hyped about. But in those early days of the 2000s, it made one unbelievably cool to have broadband at home.

Names like KaZaa, Limewire, and BitTorrent file-sharing and P2P clients started trending, and finally downloading one's favourite movies, TV shows, and music albums was a trend. We were no longer at the mercy of the television channels.

Globalisation of information access meant that we knew what new shows people were watching and downloaded the latest seasons and episodes right onto our computers.

The notion of piracy was not really a factor in Bangladesh at the time. Markets foreign film and television industries capitalised upon did not include Bangladesh, and to this day, streaming services still have no business with us in our part of South Asia.

Nevertheless, broadband was often only marginally better than dial-up, suffered from substantial downtime, and most importantly, cost a prohibitively greater sum than what people were used to paying for dial-up.

Our parents' generation did not understand nor appreciate the need for broadband at twice the cost when the dial-up internet was "just fine", and since we weren't earning incomes then, we were reliant on them.

Only a lucky few in a circle of friends would have the elixir of broadband. These people were usually expected to share their blessing with others in the form of prayers of download requests. Friends would provide you a download list, and then come over to copy them off each other.

Not to date me back further, this was even before the portability of hard drives or USBs.

Copying something from another person's computer required actually opening up the computer and hooking up one's own hard drive, while making sure the computer still booted up from the owner's hard drive.

One can imagine how much we had to want a TV show by the lengths we were willing to go for them! I'm sure almost everyone who was a teenager back in the day has stories of either opening up their own computer for someone else, or having to carefully transport their hard drive to a friend's place for the goods.

When Smallville was all the rage circa 2002, some of us actually bought blank CDs and commissioned a friend to download and burn a copy for all of us!

Let us not forget the most painful part – downloads usually took an excruciatingly long time. Sometimes by the time the latest episode of a show downloaded, a newer episode was already out. A lot of us preferred to wait it out and watch once the season was over.

Imagine watching Game of Thrones like that! Thankfully though, the internet was not as widespread back then and there was still no social network to speak of, so one did not perennially live in fear of spoilers!

Today, dial-up internet is not around anymore. This writer has gone from dial-up to broadband to WiMAX and finally fiber optic internet. We have reached a time where even the fair usage limit of 30GB imposed by some ISPs feels draconian, and today's teenagers will hardly believe that once even 300MB seemed like a good deal.

Today, there is less than an hour gap between the mention of a film's name and watching it on our tablets. We watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones at nearly the same time as it is aired worldwide.

Our hard drives are often overflowing with video. We are always on our smartphones up to date with the latest trending video on YouTube.

To be honest though, this writer sometimes misses the satisfaction of seeing "download complete" after a gruelling ten days of waiting.