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11 Internet-Related Plots from '90s TV Shows

Back when I was running up $500 Prodigy bills on my parents’ dime, the World Wide Web was perfect plot fodder for television shows. What was cutting edge at the time seems clunkier than Zack Morris’ cell phone today, so fire up that old modem and enjoy the dated technology of your favorite '90s shows.

1. Home Improvement, “Reality Bytes,” 1994

The Plot: Using old love letters Tim wrote to Jill, Randy virtually hits on a 25-year-old woman he met online. The kicker? She thinks he’s a 32-year-old, Ferrari-driving dermatologist. But then she shows up at his house, awwww snap.
Lesson Learned: Always show up to a stranger’s house unannounced when you’ve only ever met online. That could never end badly.
Words of Wisdom: “We’ve been sending love letters back and forth through this singles bulletin board on the computer.”

“Well, that’s the beauty of this. She’s never going to find out. She lives in St. Louis.”

Oh, Randy. Don’t know you know that on sitcoms, they always find out?

Bonus: The sweet ‘90s fashions of JTT may inspire nostalgia for the days when you thought overalls were the height of fashion. Watch the whole episode here.

2. Roseanne, “Construction Junction,” 1996

The Plot: Jackie gets a new computer and becomes addicted to America Online within minutes, which is actually what happened to everyone back in the '90s.
Lesson Learned: Internet addiction was a problem even when all we had to obsess over were Geocities pages and Jaleel White fan chats.
Words of Wisdom: “That magic box sings and talks and plays music. It’s kind of like Grandma after her second Manhattan.”

Jackie: “Aren’t these supposed to give out some sort of a death ray?”
David: “Not unless you push control-alt-death ray.”

Jackie: “Not now, David, I’m learning useful things. I’m growing as a person.”
David: “You’re in the Urkel chat room!”

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I Robot, You Jane,” 1997


The Plot: Willow meets an awesome guy online. Too bad he’s a demon that was summoned when she scanned the text of an ancient book into the computer.
Lesson Learned: If a guy you met online gets too pushy about meeting you, he likely just wants your help in controlling the universe.
Words of Wisdom: “Right, I mean, we read about this all the time. People meet on the net, they get together, they talk, have dinner, a show—horrible axe murder.”

“Is there a way to find out exactly where a letter— an e-letter—came from? I mean, the actual location of the computer?”

4. Friends, “The One with Barry and Mindy’s Wedding,” 1996

The Plot: Chandler finds the perfect woman online. Surprise! It’s Janice, because of course it is.

Lesson Learned: Thanks to the Internet, that one annoying person you go out of your way to avoid will always find you. And hey, this was even before Facebook.

Words of Wisdom:
Phoebe: “What does she mean by ‘hh’?”
Chandler: “It means we’re holding hands.”

The clip isn’t from this particular episode, but the capabilities of Chandler’s new computer are truly amazing.

5. The X-Files, “2Shy,” 1995


The Plot: Mulder and Scully think a serial killer is finding his victims by paying attention to some lonely hearts stereotypes in chat rooms.
Lesson Learned: Pretty much anyone you meet online is an ancient supernatural being with an AOL addiction. They haunted chat rooms in the ‘90s, but now they’re mostly over at 4chan.
Words of Wisdom: “You’re more than a monster. You didn’t just feed on their bodies; you fed on their minds.”

6. Ghostwriter, “Who is Max Mouse?” 1993-1994

The Plot: In this four-episode case, a hacker wreaks havoc on the Hurston School’s mainframe, causing fire alarms, changing grades, and even leaving threatening messages like, “Our principal, Ms. Kelly, is dead!” Adults can’t seem to figure out how to catch this cyber-crook, but Ghostwriter can!
Lesson Learned: When you don’t know how to do something on the Interwebs, check with someone younger than you.
Words of Wisdom: “Now, a hacker is someone who tries to sneak into someone else’s computer system.”

“A modem is like ... it’s like a telephone for computers. Computers with modems can talk to each other.”

Bonus: Check out a young Julia Stiles as Erica, one of the hacker suspects.

7. Are You Afraid of the Dark?, “The Tale of the Virtual Pets,” 1999


The Plot: A Luddite tween named Kate has to save her friends from being body-snatched by aliens living online and in Tamagotchi-like pets.
Lesson learned: Any game that requires you to keep up with it in real or semi-real time will steal your brain. See: World of Warcraft, the Sims, Animal Crossing.
Words of Wisdom: “I don’t know what ‘upload’ means and I don’t care.”

8. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, "To Thine Old Self Be Blue...and Gold," 1995

The Plot: In what was clearly one of the best Internet plots of the mid-90s, Carlton ("Hershey's Kiss") and Hillary ("Brown Sugar") use a matchmaking site and end up on a blind date with one another. Geoffrey knows what’s up but doesn’t bother to tell either of them. Hilarity ensues.
Lesson Learned: In addition to making sure you’re aware of any sibling presence on the romance chat lines you frequent, maybe check with your parents to make sure there are no long-lost brothers or sisters you could accidentally end up dating. Because apparently that sometimes happens.
Words of Wisdom: “This romance chat line on the Internet happens to be a great way to meet the babes.”

9. The Simpsons, “Das Bus,” 1998

The Plot: After finding out that Flanders has his own religious hook rug store online, Homer launches his own dot-com, Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net.

Lesson Learned: If you build a successful online enterprise, Bill Gates will destroy it.

Words of Wisdom: “Oh, they have the Internet on computers now!”

“I'm interested in upgrading my 28.8 kilobaud internet connection to a 1.5 megabit fiber optic T1 line. Will you be able to provide an IP router that's compatible with my token ring ethernet LAN configuration?”

10. Home Improvement, “What You See is What You Get,” 1994

The Plot: While Jill is researching an article about women who get plastic surgery because their husbands want them to, she discovers that Tim might be one of those husbands.
Lesson Learned: Use Photoshop for good, not evil.
Words of Wisdom: “I even have this computer program that shows you how you can change your appearance.”

11. The Net TV series, 1998

The Plot: Computer expert Angela Bennett accidentally receives an email about the inner workings of an identity-stealing terrorist organization. When they find out she knows about their devious plans, they steal her identity and give her a new one, which happens to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Luckily, an unidentified informant named “The Sorcerer” (Tim Curry) helps her stay a step ahead of the baddies.
Lessons Learned: Nobody is safe from identity theft. Also, in times of need, Tim Curry will always come to your rescue. (This is not an Internet-related lesson, just a life lesson in general.)

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Big Questions
What Could the Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean for Internet Users?
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What could the repeal of net neutrality mean for the average American internet user?

Zouhair Belkoura:

The imminent repeal of net neutrality could have implications for Americans beyond the Internet’s stratification, increased costs to consumers, and hindered access to content for all. Net neutrality’s repeal is a threat to the Internet’s democracy—the greatest information equalizer of our time.

With net neutrality’s repeal, ISPs could be selective about the content and pricing packages they make available. Portugal is a good example of what a country looks like without net neutrality

What people may not realize is that a repeal of net neutrality would also give ISPs the ability to throttle people’s Internet traffic. Customers won’t likely have visibility into what traffic is being throttled, and it could substantially slow down people’s Internet connections.

What happens when this type of friction is introduced to the system? The Internet—the greatest collective trove of information in the world—could gradually be starved. People who experience slower Internet speeds may get frustrated and stop seeking out their favorite sites. People may also lose the ability to make choices about the content they want to see and the knowledge they seek.

Inflated pricing, less access to knowledge, and slower connections aren’t the only impact a net neutrality repeal might have. People’s personal privacy and corporations’ security may suffer, too. Many people use virtual private networks to protect their privacy. VPNs keep people’s Internet browsing activities invisible to their ISPs and others who may track them. They also help them obscure their location and encrypt online transactions to keep personal data secure. When people have the privacy that VPNs afford, they can access information freely without worrying about being watched, judged, or having their browsing activity bought and sold by third-party advertisers.

Virtual private networks are also a vital tool for businesses that want to keep their company data private and secure. Employees are often required by their employers to connect to a VPN whenever they are offsite and working remotely.

Even the best VPNs can slow down individuals' Internet connections, because they create an encrypted tunnel to protect and secure personal data. If people want to protect their personal privacy or company’s security with a VPN [they] also must contend with ISP throttling; it’s conceivable that net neutrality’s repeal could undermine people’s freedom to protect their online safety. It could also render the protection a VPN offers to individuals and companies obsolete.

Speed has always been a defining characteristic of the Internet’s accessibility and its power. Net neutrality’s repeal promises to subvert this trait. It would compromise both people's and companies’ ability to secure their personal data and keep their browsing and purchasing activities private. When people don’t have privacy, they can’t feel safe. When they don’t feel safe, they can’t live freely. That’s not a world anyone, let alone Americans, want to live in.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
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Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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