Flashback Friday: Surfer Grrrls

It was 1997. The Internet was a much different place. No Amazon, no YouTube, no Google, no iTunes. The most common way of connecting to the Internet was dial-up, with a top speed of 33.6 kbps. No USB ports, Blu-Ray drives, smartphones, or Bluetooth. Graphical browsers were only three years old. The mp3 format did not exist; neither did the word “blogger.”

My family had a subscription to America Online, and I spent most of my time there playing around in their privately-owned space. I knew very little about computers and rarely ventured into the Internet itself; when I did, I used AOL’s proprietary browser.

I first found this book (actually published in 1996) in the school library. The pink cover stood out from all the other tech books on display. Surfer Grrrls by Laurel Gilbert and Crystal Kile

But it was what was inside that changed my life.

It wasn’t just an introduction to basics of running a computer and surfing the Internet. The authors took the time to write a history of computing and the development of the Internet. Not only did they explain how the Internet worked on a physical level, but they also gave a brief guided tour of Internet culture. They interviewed women who ran listservs and their own websites. They showed me that women had a place in this new world. Or as they put it, they were “putting the women back in computer science history.”

Inside one chapter, there was even a series of merit badges, intended to guide the reader from newbie to someone with an established web presence. I dutifully checked off every requirement. It didn’t happen overnight, but I did it.

This book opened up new worlds for me. In a sense, the authors were my first mentors. They encouraged me to go out and explore and to teach others to come along.

So thank you, Laura Gilbert and Crystal Kile. Without your book, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

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