The year was 1998. It was my first year in Kenya and I was teaching 7th grade science, HS Physical Science, Auto Mechanics and Computer Applications. I was also working on the tech team. We had a dial-up connection to Nairobi that was used exclusively for email. Yes you could access the Internet via a dial up connection as well, but the speed would be extremely slow (9600 bps on a good day) and the typical phone call to Nairobi was disconnected every 5 minutes. Even our mail server connection was constantly getting bumped offline and having to re-dial the main server in Nairobi.
The Internet was not fast where my wife and I had come from in Kentucky, especially compared to today’s speeds that are approaching 100Mbs for residential connections (much faster where fiber exists), but at least it you could keep a persistent connection. Yes moving to Kenya was a tough transition, especially for a techie. I remember teachers driving to a little Internet cafe in Nairobi and downloading copies of websites. I did it myself several times. We’d download a whole site (and as many linked pages as were possible using a web crawler app) and then upload it to a local web server on campus back in Kijabe, Kenya. We’d then talk kids through this sort of surreal experience of the “fake Internet”. Lots of the links on the home page worked but anything beyond a one layer deep was typically broken.
Imagine yourself browsing the web tonight. You do a quick search for “tech conferences in Africa”. An appealing list of upcoming events pop up in the results. You click on the top hit, but it takes you nowhere. Instead you get an error reporting that “This browser supports only one level of hyperlinks”. Frustrated you click <back> and search for “error: this browser supports only one level of hyperlinks” hoping, of course, to find a solution. The third hit looks appealing, “SOLVED!: This browser supports only one level of hyperlinks ERROR”. You click optimistically on that link, but of course that dreaded error comes back! It all sounds like a bad dream because we are so accustomed to the power of the link.
The power of the link. It’s a simple power, but it’s what makes the web so amazing. Without it, you are alone on an island. (Okay maybe stranded on an island with some other people) It’s a power we are all accustomed to; those of you who are reading this blog at least. Today it’s hard to imagine being able to do my job without all those hyperlinks working! But not only do I have thousands of answers at my fingertips, but I have the power of ideas at my fingertips too. In the beginning it was answers/information we were all excited about finding. Reading the news. Finding a lost instruction manual online. Things like that. But now we are realizing the real power of the link. The power that keeps growing with every click. It’s the sharing of ideas. It’s the limitless learning. Powers like those are powers of connection. And human connections are still fundamental to the way we live. It’s just as true today as it was back in Kenya and before the world wide web. So go on, click something and connect yourself to ideas, to people, to the world.