This morning I was perusing the annual Mindset List, published by Beloit College every year about their incoming freshman class. I got tripped up by number 6: "Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds."
90s Nostalgia: The word "baud"
The 28.8k baud modem was released in 1994, and it cost a small fortune.
The list is constructed to make people feel old. It is about life from the perspective of an 18 year old, who (for this list) would have been born in 1994. So I can already tell you, some old person wrote this list, because what 18 year old has even a passing familiarity with bits, bytes, OR bauds? But of the three, "baud" is surely the most unfamiliar to this year's college freshmen.
Now it is true that the word "baud" got thrown around a lot in the mid 90s. But unless this year's college freshmen were connecting to AOL when they were toddlers, they would never have noticed. "Baud" was the measure of the day, in a way that really has no direct contemporary counterpart. The closest comparison I can think of is iPad and iPhone generations.
Every single person who wanted to get online in the 90s had to have a modem. And modems came in only one flavor at a time. The faster the modem, the faster you were able to download your newsgroup postings or clunky, chunky bitmaps supposedly of nude celebrities. (I was recently talking to a friend who reminisced about how obsessed everyone was with these celebrity nudes, and how clumsily inept they look today.)
At the dawn of the 90s, modem speeds had already broken the four-digit barrier, making the leap from 9600 baud to 14.4k baud in 1991. The 28.8k baud modem was released in 1994, and it cost a small fortune. Two years later the 33.6k baud modem was released at the bleeding edge, and the price of the 28.8k modem dropped to a reasonable level.
The 56k modem came out at the end of the 90s, in 1998. By that point high-speed internet (in the form of DSL, cable, and ISDN) was already making strong inroads into American homes. In 2004, when this year's freshmen were 10, basically you were either talking about high speed megabits per second (MBPS) or you just had "dial-up." Everyone on dial-up was at the same speed (56k) and no one talked bauds anymore.
To this year's college freshmen, a "modem" is the thing that your cable internet passes through. Network cards have been the currency of the internet since they were very young, and one-upsmanship based on baud rates is an experience relegated to us old people.