A Modem, is it a gadget or not? Well today we accept it as a normal piece of hardware that is part of the computer and not really an add-on, but back in the early-90s it was just that to many people.
Developed in the 50s for the military and commercially in the 60s by AT&T it finally reached a speed 14.4 Kbps by the late-80s - exciting stuff.
I had just sent my youngest son off to university and bought my first serious computer, a Gateway with a Pentium P75 processor. In comparison, the TRS 80 and Tandy Colour Computer were just toys - this was computing at the top level and at the time Gateway only made one computer faster - the powerhouse P90, No hyper threading, no dual core chips, just 75Mhz of pure speed.
I used it in the business mainly for its ability to do stock control costing and number crunching and towards the end reservations and customer's invoices. It cost a fraction of the price of the Tandy Model 2 that I sold all those years ago.
Anyway, my wife was keen to use the computer and asked for a MODEM for her birthday. She had heard about the Internet and a new thing called emailing. One birthday later and we had to endure plenty of confused looking faces and questions from many of her friends and mine as well.
High street computer stores, such as PC World were only just arriving on the "high street" so you had to be cunning about where you got your kit from. I remember a leading broadsheet paper, being forward thinking for a change, was running a series on computers in the home, and a modem was one of the offers it carried at the time. The speed, a rip roaring 28.8 Kbps. Slow, compared to the latest broadband offering of 24Mbps, but broadband wasn't even a twinke in the eye of BT at that time, well not commercially for consumers.
It arrived by post complete with cables, power supply and instructions with the boast of being “easy to install” and so with a new phone extension in place I started to install it. Well after a could few hours, there was no - I'll just check for new drivers on the Internet then, I had learned how to install, uninstall, make connections, use the control panel, and just about everything that the modem could offer, but sill no connection to the web or email.
In desperation or pity, not really sure which, the technician at the end of the phone actually offered to come and look at it at home [unlikely to see companies doing that now - Ed].
So what did I surf to in my first online steps, it was still early days for the internet, no eBay, no Amazon and certainly no Pocket-lint, so it was to newsgroups and bulletin boards to talk with other likeminded people.
Today my computer has two modems. One is a modest 56kbs for the fax and the other is a broadband modem for me to connect to the Internet at 2.4Mbps - a far cry from the 28kbps a decade ago. The wireless network is on its way, but that's a story for another day.