In 1998 I still thought the whole internet was the list of links on the Yahoo! homepage. There wasn’t much there for eight-year-old me, no original Animorphs content, no swordfights, so mostly I just logged on to listen to the sound of the modem connecting. That muddy and somehow organic sequence scratched the exact region of my brain that facial tics were always reaching for. The introductory warbles, the single piercing tone, the annnng, the AAAAAH, the weeoweeoowuh into the explosion of white noise. It sounded absurd—my family liked to laugh at it—but you also felt that a real struggle was going on, and it was a relief to hear it resolve.
I only recently learned that this sound wasn’t some byproduct of a connection happening deep inside the computer, but the conversation itself: two 56k modems talking over phone lines, a medium designed a century earlier to carry only the slim range of frequencies (300 – 3,300 Hz) needed for the human voice. We laughed and imitated the sounds, but it was our own vocal ranges the modems were made to imitate as they set parameters and negotiated rates of transfer. And that rush of noise wasn’t a symbol of success or the end of the dialogue. It was what throughput sounded like. It was the web.