A recent Slashdot article reminded me of my first attempts at trying to communicate with the outside world via computer. Growing up, I lived in a relatively remote area with no one I could talk to about computers or swap tips and programs with. But I learned as much as I could through magazines and books and eventually I learned that it was possible (with the right equipment) to connect your computer to a phone line and have it "talk" to another computer.
It wasn't until we got a Packard Hell 16MHz 386 that I was able to try this out for myself. It happened to come with a 2400 bps modem pre-installed. And if you know me, you'd know that there was no way I was going to let that thing go unplayed with. One boring day, I ran a long phone line over to the computer, plugged it in, and used HyperTerminal (or something like it) to connect to a BBS on the other side of the state. I can't remember exactly how I got the number, but on this BBS I found that you could download programs, leave messages on the electronic forums, play games, and even talk with people in real time. I was floored. I had to share it with someone.
Me: Mom! I'm talking to someone on the computer!
Mom: What? How?
Me: I connected it to the phone line and dialed up someone else's computer. Now I'm talking to them.
Mom: Oh cool!
Mom: Wait, is that long distance?
In my area, pretty much every phone call was long distance and it wasn't cheap. Although we had a CompuServe account for some time, it wasn't until our local phone company added a local dial-up number for Internet access that I was able to spend huge amounts of time online.
Now, a mere 15-20 years later, it's rare to not have instant and constant access to the largest computer network in the world. I can't even imagine what kind of access the next couple of decades will bring.