Screech-Honk-Static = “You’ve Got Mail!”: Early Memories of Dial-Up Internet at TMH
By Michelle A. Krowl, TMH alumnae and board member
A July 2022 Library of Congress blog shared answers people gave to the question, “What is your earliest memory of the internet?” Obviously, memories differed depending on when the respondent first accessed the internet and the technology they used to do so. But one response, “AOL & Dial-up noise,” not only resonated with me, but it also took me back to my time at Thompson-Markward Hall. With nice synchronicity, this memory of a now largely-obsolete technology coincided with an upgrade to the TMH Wi-Fi network that will allow residents to be more connected than ever before.
When I last lived at TMH in the mid-1990s, access to email and the internet were still relatively new for many of us. And America Online (AOL) dominated the market in providing online access at home. The floppy disks and CDs with AOL software to load on home computers were everywhere! But, after loading the software, using AOL still required a landline telephone for the modem to dial up the local number for an actual connection. Thus, the landline telephone in my room at TMH was my lifeline to online connectivity.
(If you have never heard a dial-up modem sound, or it has been a while, you may want to listen to it here for the full experience.)
But the dial-up modem made a terrible racket while calling and connecting to the local AOL number. It screeched, honked, and made loud static noises before finally connecting, and then (hopefully) announcing, “You’ve Got Mail!” The noise was annoying enough during the day, but I distinctly remember times when I had to log on to AOL late at night. So as to not wake up and annoy my neighbors, I had to pile pillows on top of my laptop to try to muffle the sound.
In those days, a basic AOL subscription (yes, you had to pay for internet service!) only allowed users a handful of “free” online hours a month before additional hourly fees started to kick in while checking email and surfing the web. You could compose emails offline and put them in a queue to send automatically when next connected, and could likewise automatically download waiting messages to read offline. Email and internet connectivity in my TMH room was always a game of preplanning to “beat the clock” and avoid extra charges.
Nevertheless, the relatively new world of email and the internet kept me connected with friends in different parts of the country. And it was still a lot cheaper than long-distance calls on the landline phones, given that few people then had mobile phones or phones with unlimited calling plans.
How things have changed since the mid-1990s! In most TMH rooms the landline phone now might just be a shadow on the wall where it used to hang. Today, connecting to the internet, email, and social media platforms is usually silent and instantaneous through a variety of electronic devices. No noise-muffling pillows or telephone cords to modems required! Now, we leave our web browsers open all day, without concern of incurring hourly charges.
And thanks to the recent Wi-Fi upgrade at TMH, staying connected has never been easier or more reliable!
Thompson-Markward Hall (TMH) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the academic and professional success of young women. Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., TMH offers safe, affordable, and convenient housing for women working, attending school, or interning in our nation’s capital. Included in the room and board rates are utilities, free high-speed Wi-Fi, breakfast and dinner, and a diverse, welcoming community. Visit our website to learn more about our accommodations or to submit an application today to start enjoying all of the benefits of living at TMH!