Zoom in 1988?

Are you tired of Zoom yet? Sure, we all did teleconferencing before 2020 started, but it’s a fair bet that you’ve done ten times more of it in the last six months than you did in the last six years combined. It’s become part of our culture. Heck, it’s become our culture. (That’s right, I said Heck!) It’s become the main way we communicate with anyone lately, as we go from our little home bubbles to our work bubbles and rarely see or touch anyone else.

What if we’d all had Zoom in 1988? Back then, there was no internet. The World Wide Web was three years away from being invented. The computers of the day were less powerful than an average smartwatch. The tradeoffs would have been mindboggling.

Don’t believe me?

YouTube user “Squirrel Monkey” imagined an alternate universe where Zoom existed in the 1980s. Then they created a training video on how you would actually use it, complete with fake screen captures and the kind of distortion you’d get from a 30-year-old VHS tape.

How this would have worked

I gotta hand it to this person, they really nailed it. You’d need a separate device to do the work, you’d need to literally mail them a photo to use for your profile since no one had a scanner and digital cameras hadn’t been invented yet.

Which is, of course, why something like this actually wasn’t invented. Yes, there were online services back then and they did sort of work like this. There was an external modem that often looked like this:

I’m not kidding, I think I actually had this exact thing. The phone sat in it and the device made sounds that the phone could hear in order to communicate. I know, it sounds ridiculous, right? With this system you could reliably communicate up to .001 megabits per second which was incredibly fast.

With that kind of connection you could, if you were patient, connect to an online service which wouldn’t let you do much of anything. And of course the phone was tied up and you were potentially paying per-minute charges.

Makes you a little bit gladder about Zoom

Because, yeah, Zoom is a pain. It’s a pain watching everyone try to connect and there’s always the one person who can’t figure it out. It’s no substitute for being there, and being able to look around the room and really understand what your coworkers are thinking and feeling. But, it’s sure better in 2020 than it would have been in 1988. And that just might make you a little bit more grateful that it exists in the first place.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.