Watch: Sending an email in 1984 was ridiculously complicated

21 Mar 2016

It’s probably a given that email has progressed quite a bit in 30 years, but how convoluted the process of sending an email was in 1984 has to be seen to be believed.

The very concept of sending an email in 1984 was seen as a very niche tool used by ‘nerds’ only really seen in TV shows like Tomorrow’s World or, in the case of this piece, Thames TV’s Database show.

One of the show’s reporters takes us through a step-by-step process of connecting to the internet, which throughout is described as an ‘extremely simple process’.

After the modem is connected to the phone line it was a case of taking the physical phone and dialling a particular number to get connected to Micronet, which looks like the Teletext pages many of us would remember from our TVs.

There’s even the painfully awkward moment of watching the host wait for the dot matrix printer to print out a test email in what was then, no doubt, record time.

Sending an international email was even worse

However, this pales in comparison to ‘sending an international email’ in the same year, which, frankly, baffled this journalist as to how anyone thought this was a good use of a telephone.

In this video, Database’s Tony Bastable was attempting to show how to send an email on the move internationally and, with hilarious results, shows him struggling to do it as he didn’t have enough change for the train’s payphone.

As you’ll see, portable modems in the 1980s actually required you to physically squeeze a phone’s handset into a silicon case that looks like a set of portable speakers.

Clearly showing how times have changed, Bastable is shown trying to connect with his bank account using the modem and, despite saying he’s not going to reveal his 10-digit bank account number, he is shown typing each number key slowly in plain view of the camera.

So, it’s safe to say, these videos remind us of how easy we have it now, as well as revealing to us poor Bastable’s account number.

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Texas Instruments CC-40 laptop image via Blake Patterson/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic