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“When checking the system this morning, I noticed your account logged in for over 20 hours,” begins a December 1998 email from the president of my dial-up Internet service provider (ISP) at the time. “Our service is unlimited, but we ask that you actually be using the connection while logged in.”

Today, when it seems like everyone is online 24/7 through smartphones and broadband, I’d be weird if I wasn’t online for 20 hours straight. But 1998 in Raleigh, North Carolina, was different. In an age of copper telephone lines and dial-up modems, Internet access wasn’t usually an always-on situation for a home user in the US. Each occupied telephone line meant another ISP customer couldn’t use it—and no one could call you, either.

But I’m getting ahead of myself—why do I have an email from 1998?

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