tamagotchi over dial-up (1997)

Tamagotchi was released in the US in 1997. It was a pink, egg-shaped device with a 32x16 pixel display and three buttons. The display showed a tiny digital pet. The buttons provided the pet with food, recreation, and medicine. If you neglected the pet for too long, it would get sick. This was designed to teach Japanese children responsibility. Everyone in my elementary school was desperate to own one.

Tamagotchi had a website, and the landing page featured a cartoon drawing of a Tamagotchi. I think it may have been flying a UFO.

At the time, my family had a dial-up connection, which would emit an otherworldly screech of static and was excruciatingly slow. My sister and I would navigate to the page and wait for the several kilobytes of image data to download. The image would render top-to-bottom, in segments. Minutes later, when completed, it occupied maybe a square inch of the screen. We thought this was fantastic.

One weekend, for reasons I don’t remember or possibly never knew, our dad took us to the office where he worked. My siblings and I drew pictures on the whiteboard in his cubicle. One of his coworkers had a desk filled with Star Trek model ships, which my dad warned us not to touch. There was no one else in the building.

At some point, we must have gotten bored and been given access to a computer to keep us occupied. So we opened a browser and loaded the Tamagotchi website.

The Tamagotchi image appeared, almost instantly.

How was it so fast? I wondered.

I learned later that the office had a DSL connection, with around one hundred times more bandwidth than dial-up. Within a few years, we would enjoy the same speed at home. Today, residential internet in the Bay Area is at least an order of magnitude faster still.

To experience DSL in the 90s was to glimpse the future. I never forgot that feeling.1

  1. On the other hand, neither of my siblings recalls this event. ↩︎