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​How to Send an Email in 1984

”It’s very simple, really.”
Rachel Pick
New York, US

We love to complain about the amount of email we receive, and maybe the problem is that it's just too easy to send an email now—a few taps on a smartphone is all it takes. But back in 1984, it required some serious dedication.

This local TV relic from the UK shows just how much more complicated it was to send an email thirty-two years ago, using the Prestel system.

The segment originally aired on Thames TV program Database, which was aimed at early computer geeks and tech enthusiasts, and seems unironically awesome. According to IMDB, the show actually broadcast software that could be recorded onto a personal machine over the final credits. (This is included at the end of the YouTube video, but is a terrible screeching you may want to avoid.)

Microcomputer user Julian Green shows how a Prestel (short for "press telephone") user had to dial up the main Prestel system in order to connect, which he does with a rotary telephone. The early IP he uses is Micronet 800, which charmingly offers a "letters page" where users can write publicly to the provider and its other users.

Julian and his wife Pat explain that they don't wholly own their microcomputer, but share it with several other people. This makes sense, as being an early home computer user was not cheap. The cost of owning a page in Prestel's database cost the equivalent of roughly £16,000 per year.

Watch the clip for a step-by-step explainer, and keep an eye out for when Julian logs on—this could be a historical instance of someone using "1234" as their password.