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Mourning the modem

According to the latest bunch of government statistics, 94.1% of Brits connect to the internet via broadband – and the percentage of dial-up modem users has dropped below 5%. That means to all intents and purposes, dial-up is dead. Which in some respects is a shame.

Don’t get me wrong. Dial-up was desperately slow, horrifically expensive and hopelessly unreliable, and today’s net users would be flabbergasted by our excitement when modems went from 14.4kbps to 28.8, and then upwards to the dizzy peaks of 56kbps – so photos of naked people loaded almost immediately, and you could download an MP3 in about a week.

Of course, broadband is miles better. But there’s one thing missing.

Broadband doesn’t boing.

I loved the crackles and boings as my modem laboriously dialled my ISP, negotiated a connection and finally shut up. It was the equivalent of the HBO “waaaah” at the start of The Wire, or the “Previously” intro to NYPD Blue: a sound that told you something interesting was going to happen. And no matter how many times you went online and nothing interesting happened whatsoever, the boings never stopped having that effect.

For all its joys, broadband is just there, like a light switch. Dial-up was an adventure.

4 replies on “Mourning the modem”

First thing I did with any modem was mute it. I hated listening to that noise.

However, a very similar noise was made by a ZX Spectrum loading a game, and I do think modern games are missing that element of anticipation while loading that you’re talking about. It used to take 5 minutes! To load 48kB!

I have to use dial-up modems at work (not for internet, thank Dawkins – for legacy comms stuff) and so I get to experience the ‘boing’. Some people are utter wankers about the noise – from the way they behave when I have to dial up a few times you’d think I was forcing them to listen to Duffy. The 56k modem now lives under a desk, with a cushion over it.

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