Lawyers and Computers 25 Years Ago

I recently looked at a book on my shelf called “The Internet Handbook for Canadian Lawyers” published in 1996. It’s rather amusing to look at it from today’s lens and see how much has changed in the last 25 years. It explains in detail topics that at the time were cutting edge, but today are second nature to children, or are long obsolete.

Section headings include: “What Exactly is the Internet?”, “Can the Internet do Something for my Practice?”, “Finding Good Stuff with Archie”, “The Mother Protocol – TCP/IP”, “Using Encryption Programs to Stop Snoopers”, and “Navigating Gopherspace”.

It says uses of the internet for your law practice include:

  • “Regardless of what you may have heard, it’s not forbidden to advertise on the Net.”
  • Communicating with clients and colleagues.
  • Stay current with breaking news and to do research.

A section on privacy doesn’t mention any private sector privacy legislation – because there wasn’t any then.

It includes the following stats:

  • Number of Canadian law firms with a website – 75. Today it would be, well, pretty much all of them.
  • Number of websites worldwide – 27,000. Today’s number is over a billion.

For service providers, they say: “You might already know the major Online Service Providers (OSPs) by name and reputation: CompuServe, GEnie, Prodigy, America Online and Delphi are the largest.” Does anyone even remember any of those?

For search engines they include Lycos, Alta Vista, WWW Worm (in hindsight naming a search engine with a name that now sounds like malware was not a great idea), and Infoseek. Again, does anyone remember any of those?

In today’s world where the pandemic has made our use of video conferencing as routine as on the Jetsons, and Zoom has become a verb, it seems quaint to read that: “The spread of video conferencing is restrained primarily by high start-up costs and the lack of any international standard, as there is for fax technology.” Indeed, I recall about the same time when I was at Canada Trust that it was a big deal to go into the dedicated video conference room with tapered tables and have a meeting between people in the London room and in its equivalent room in the Toronto office.

On a page titled “Cost Considerations for the Dedicated Connection” it says: “Assuming you already have computers, your hardware needs are basically down to a server and router.” It goes on to advise that for a dedicated connection (as opposed to dial up) you need a $2000 router, and a $10,000 100 Mghz pentium server with “a few gigabytes of hard disk storage”. Also needed is a 128 Kbps ISDN phone line at $800 to $1200 per month, and an $800 set up fee – which will take 2 months to set up.

To put that in perspective, a typical desktop or laptop computer today (or even your phone) is about 200 times faster, for a fifth or a tenth of the price. A typical hard drive is not a hard drive at all but solid state memory with 500 or 1000 gigabytes. The CRTC suggests minimum broadband speeds of 50 Mbps – which is about 500 times faster than 128 Kbps. It is not unusual for our home internet connection to be 100 or 200 Mbps. And while we whine about how much we pay for internet access, it certainly isn’t $1200 per month.

Speaking about modem speeds, they comment that “Your life on the Net can be made a lot less frustrating if you can get a respectively fast modem, preferably one working at 28.8 Kbps.” Downloading a photograph at that speed “should take only a few minutes”. When talking about web pages it says “Your page should be lean enough to download within 30 seconds…”. Can you imagine anyone not moving on if a page – even one heavily loaded with graphics – takes more than a couple of seconds to load?

I wonder how we will look back at 2021 technology in 2046? Implants with a brain-computer interface for $99.95?

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