Throwback Thursday: Just 20 years later, UT’s computers of 1994 now seem like long-forgotten artifacts

Reeana Keenen

Most UT undergraduates are members of the technology-driven, plugged-in generation of Millennials, but just 20 years ago, the Internet was still in its infancy. 

On Aug. 29, 1994, The Daily Texan published a story detailing the exciting new features of the UTnet system, a network of more than 10,000 computers on campus that allowed students to connect to the Internet, play games and join chat rooms.

Computers on campus were few and far between in 1994, and access to the Internet was even harder to come by. Some students had to stand in long lines just to have access to a computer for even a short amount of time. 

“When due dates rolled around people queued up for computers like camped-out wristband seekers,” the article said.

The Texan reporter who wrote the article was excited and optimistic about the possibilities the new UTnet system offered students in terms of communication and accessibility. 

“That’s all well and good, but what can you do with [a UTnet] account?” the article said. “The answer is: a heck of a lot. … Probably the most popular feature is e-mail, or electronic mail. It is just like sending a letter to someone via the Post Office, except it is much faster.”

In the age of Dropbox and Google Docs, where students can simultaneously work on group projects, chat with their group members and probably squeeze in a few social media updates along the way, today’s students might wonder in amusement at the idea that email — something that is seemingly vital to the daily functions of a college student — was a relatively unexplored frontier at UT in 1994. 

The article encouraged students to get out and take advantage of UT’s access to the Internet, despite any qualms they might have had concerning the new medium. 

“The Internet is a tremendous resource,” the article said. “Don’t be afraid to explore and ask questions. … The technical lingo can be daunting, but also can be overcome. Don’t let this, like so many other opportunities you will have at the University, pass you by.” 

Indeed, the Internet, and especially the advent of Google, has tremendously changed the way college students interact, work and research. The phrase, “Just Google it,” has become commonplace, pound signs have been replaced with hashtags and the word “selfie” has become so prominent that it earned itself a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary. 

Although students could use the UTnet system from their dorms or off-campus housing, it was hardly as accessible as the University’s Wi-Fi system is now, and they didn’t have Apple MacBooks to tote around campus and shove into their backpacks at will. A picture that ran beside the article was captioned, “Dinosaurs like these [computers] were still used by certain University departments up until recently. The University is steadily replacing these artifacts with newer machines.” Just below this picture there was another one showcasing the new computers, which would be considered well past dinosaur status and well on their way into fossil territory in 2014.

Twenty years ago, computers on campus were in such high demand that upperclassmen resorted to pranks to keep others from trying to use the computers. 

“Legend has it that in the early days of the Computation Center, some hooligan played off technological fears by placing a sign in the ground above the building saying, ‘Danger! 10,000 ohms,’” the article said. “This was a source of great amusement to the physics-literate.”