Happy birthday, World Wide Web.

Of course I remember how we met. You were four; I was, well, older.

I’d already been living in Japan for a couple of years, and what I needed more than almost anything was a link to the outside world. I know we consider Japan as a world tech leader, but the reality is a bit more complicated. At work, four teachers with our desks butted up against and facing each other shared a single black rotary phone. In the old Japanese-style house I was renting, was one of those antique phones, too, except that mine was unable to make international calls. Phoning home meant stocking up on ¥1000 (about US$8 then) phone cards and walking to the nearest train station for access to a “green phone.” And talking very quickly. International calls cost about $1.30 per minute then. Television options were limited to local broadcast only; no cable or satellite. I was struggling with learning how to use a portable Japanese language word processor I'd picked up.

This was 1993. Then, several things happened.

A computer had been donated to the school, a Mac Classic. Then, computers were generally refrigerator-sized things in the “computer room.” No one knew what to do with the Mac, so it ended up on the desk of the foreigner who was always asking about computers. (You’re a teacher…why would you want a computer?) I was still all MS-DOS at that time (What’s a mouse?), but was grateful for the opportunity, and the Mac friendliness almost compensated for its Japanese operating system, System 6.07J. Then, and for most of its life, it served mostly as a word processor, though I know I spent a lot of time in Excel on it, too.

On my trip back to the US that year, in conversation after conversation, I kept hearing about this new internet and something called email. I kept asking and tried to absorb what I could.

When I got back to Japan I started asking people about how one got connected to this internet. Of course, most folks weren't familiar with the net, and I ended up trying to explain what little I knew about it. If they thought I was strange before (and, of course, they did…I was a foreigner), this made me certifiable. Blank stares, every time. I explored on my own, picking up Mac and “internet” magazines, and spending hours trying to translate them.

I found a used PowerBook 180 and a US Robotics modem. Around $2000, I think. (It still boots.) Managed to get an AOL account. Mosaic on a 3 1/2" floppy included with one of the magazines. Hard-wired the modem to the ancient telephone line junction box. Had my first encounter with modem strings. Then, the goofy gurgly crashy modem overture, and before long, the day’s front page of the Chicago Tribune on velvety gray scale screen of the 180. Tears of joy.

Nothing has been the same since.