July 12, 2006 12:17 PM PDT

Satire: Recently unearthed e-mail reveals what life was like in 1995

In an effort to add some levity to your daily dose of technology news, CNET News.com has teamed with humorists at The Onion. We hope that you enjoy the diversion.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.--A 1995 e-mail extracted from the hard drive of a recently unearthed Compaq desktop PC offers a tantalizing glimpse into the day-to-day life of a primitive Internet society, said the archaeologists responsible for its discovery.

"We're very excited by this find, because only by understanding our e-mail past can we hope to understand our e-mail present and future," said Northwestern University archaeology professor Lane Caspari, who has been leading the dig through the equipment storage area of a Knoxville-area credit union since late April, on Tuesday. "The discovery also sheds new light on the 1990s--an era we know very little about."

The Onion

Written by a "scully666@compuserve.com" and addressed to a "makincopeez@prodigy.net," the writer expresses the ancient equivalent of boredom, asks the receiver about his or her status in their primeval office environment, then refers to the act of sending the e-mail itself.

"Nothing going on," begins the e-mail. "What's up with you? Are you going to Mike's b-day thing on Friday? I'm thinking about it. I might go, but I'm not sure yet."

The e-mail continues, "Let me know if you get this e-mail twice. I'm still trying to learn the system. I think the managers know when we're on the Net, so I'll stay away from the web surfing and check my e-mail only once a day."

The e-mail is signed only "K." It contains no subject line.

"It shows that these forgotten people of the '90s had many of the same concerns as modern man, such as b-days, and slow periods at work," Caspari said. "The presence of the archaic slang verbalization 'what's up' appears to indicate that they cared about the immediate welfare of others in their closely knit community, much as we do today."

But the artifact reveals differences as well. According to Caspari, the find indicates that people from that era spoke a much earlier form of e-mail language alien to our own, employing the full spellings of most words, and lacking the versatility and advanced expression of smiley-face or frowny-face emoticons.

Researchers were hoping that "Untitled 1995," as they've dubbed it, would help fill-in the long-sought missing link between the ancient e-mail world and the modern era. The Compaq's hard drive crashed shortly after the discovery, a more thorough study of the early writing is impossible. Only a paper copy of the e-mail remains.

"It was heartbreaking to see that hard drive die, but there was a certain tragic poetry to it, as well," Caspari said. "Few have ever had the privilege of receiving, first-hand, a beacon from our distant past, calling out to us across the sea of time."

Neither e-mail address is active any longer, but their names may provide clues to long-forgotten events or important rulers of the time.

"Scully666' was likely a figure from these people's pantheon of god-figures," Caspari said. "'Makincopeez' is a reference lost to the ages."

Only four known e-mails predate this one, including a 1992 ASCII drawing of Star Trek's Mr. Spock, found by a group of Indian laborers salvaging precious metals from computer hardware in a Mumbai dump in 2004.

Caspari said it was "extraordinary" that the early e-mailers showed an awareness of the importance of their new tool.

"This clearly points to a reverence for the technology, but also an intense anxiety about a power they could not have understood," Caspari said. "It's safe to assume that 1995 was a terrifying and confusing time, and they must have struggled to make sense of it all."

While much work remains before researchers can hope to illuminate the secrets of the ancient and mysterious period of the late '90s, they say the discovery itself is an important milestone in understanding human history.

"Listening to the whir of the disc drive and watching the blink of the cursor, we glimpsed, for a moment, life through a completely different set of eyes," Caspari said. "But, in the end, we realized have more in common with our shadowy ancestors than we might like to think."

© 2006 The Onion. All rights reserved.

See more CNET content tagged:
discovery, era, emoticon, e-mail, Compaq Computer Corp.

12 comments

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Cute.
I have well over 100 e-mails from 1990. How much do I hear for
this priceless trove?
Posted by the Otter (247 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It would be nice...
If articles like this would be marked as satire in the RSS feed. This is not something I care to read. If I wanted to read stuff from theonion I would go to theonion. Just my opinion.

--
Steve - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://tail-f.net/" target="_newWindow">http://tail-f.net/</a>
Posted by YourM0m (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Geez
Geez, the title is hint enough. It is satire in itself.
Posted by JoeF2 (1306 comments )
Link Flag
We intended to call it out as satire...
We intended for the RSS headline to go out prefixed with
"Satire:", but for whatever reason, our publishing system didn't
pick that up. We're looking to correct that problem (possibly an
ID-10-T error on my part, possibly a publishing system error) so
it won't happen again. Thanks for the feedback.
Posted by aclottmann (18 comments )
Link Flag
Ha, more primitive than you think....
...in 1995, Compuserve email addresses were strings of numbers separated by a period and Prodigy users were an semi-random series of letters and numbers. Of the large online services, the only ones that had 'names' for you email address were America Online and EWorld :)
Posted by disoculated (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
don't forget
that email from prodigy was prodgy.com not .net That came later when prodigy went the way of the dodo after y2k. .net came when prodigy wanted to be an isp.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Link Flag
Ha, more primitive than you think....
...in 1995, Compuserve email addresses were strings of numbers separated by a period and Prodigy users were an semi-random series of letters and numbers. Of the large online services, the only ones that had 'names' for you email address were America Online and EWorld :)
Posted by disoculated (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
don't forget
that email from prodigy was prodgy.com not .net That came later when prodigy went the way of the dodo after y2k. .net came when prodigy wanted to be an isp.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Link Flag
i feel the same way..
whenever I am unfortunate enough to use windows..
Posted by Jesus#2 (127 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i feel the same way..
whenever I am unfortunate enough to use windows..
Posted by Jesus#2 (127 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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