It was in the late ’80s, and I worked in Silicon Valley as an applications programmer. I wrote Fortran applications for an image processing system running on a VAX minicomputer, and I was training to work on Sun UNIX workstations. Home computers were toys in those days, for game players and hobbyists.
My old colleagues from Pittsburgh, John and Diane, had just moved to Walnut Creek and my wife and I were visiting their new home across the bay. They had a home computer, and it was hooked up to the phone lines, so I asked for a demo.
They had access to DARPANET, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which allowed them to transfer files, including mail, directly from computer to computer, cross-country, all over the phone. It was like magic, we normally sent data and code to other sites on 9″ tapes, via the US Mail. I had heard about this, but I had always thought it was just for hi-priority spook stuff, super security defense and intelligence traffic, not routine data transfers.
John showed me an ordinary email he was sending from his home machine to his mainframe at work. I thought it was neat, and I could see the military applications, but I couldn’t see what possible use it would be for business or personal communications. After all, if you were in that much of a hurry, why not just pick up the telephone? And let’s face it; who would want a computer in his house?
I dismissed it as a kind of CB radio for geeks. Nothing would ever come of it.