Over a million developers have joined DZone.

Going Viral Before the Internet

DZone's Guide to

Going Viral Before the Internet

John Vester steps into the pre-internet world and talks about things that went viral without the benefit of the connected technology we have today.

· Agile Zone ·
Free Resource

Adopting a DevOps practice starts with understanding where you are in the implementation journey. Download the DevOps Transformation Roadmap. Brought to you in partnership with Techtown.

The internet (referred to as the World Wide Web back in the day) started to gain momentum in the mid-1990s. I remember working in South Florida at the time at what was then the second largest fast-food corporation in the world. Life was good as I began to explore this new world built solely on technology. 

Fast-forward to today, a world where the internet has transformed from simple, static pages to responsive applications and services fulfilling just about every need known to mankind. We've certainly come a long way in a little over twenty years.

With this cool technology available in the palm of our hands, the concept of going viral has become a household term. Performing a Google search, I was able to quickly locate the 10 most viral videos on YouTube, the most viral images on Imgur, and the most viral memes, too.

In a recent discussion with some colleagues, we realized that the idea of going viral definitely existed prior to the existence of the internet, but none of us in the conversation understand how this happened. Here are a few examples.

The Atari Cartridge

Image title

When I was a kid, the most-prized gift was an Atari (2600) console. For the first time, I could buy a game and play it as much as I wanted without having to put a quarter into a slot, like I had to when playing games at an arcade. While the graphics were not as good (yet), it was still an awesome experience being able to play games at home on my own television set.

If you fall into this category, there is probably one thing you did (that we all did) when the game did not start up. You would shut off the Atari, pull the game cartridge out, blow into the conduits that connected into the Atari, return the game into the Atari console, and try to power up the console again. If it didn't work, the process was often repeated several times before taking a break on playing the system.

The crazy thing is, these steps were not listed in the manual, nor were they recommended by anyone at Atari. Somehow, everyone just knew to do it. The process of (incorrectly) trying to self-fix a non-working game cartridge went viral.

Polaroid Instant Pictures

Image title

During this same time, the Polaroid company introduced their Instant Camera product line. This was a very cool idea at the time. Instead of taking pictures and sending the film to a developer to be printed, the photo immediately slid out of the front of the camera. Within a few minutes, the photo would appear before your eyes. This, too, was just awesome!

It didn't take long before the idea of shaking the photo (to give it more air?) became an action that went viral. It was even made into at least one song lyric ("Hey Ya" by Outkast).

The funny thing here is that shaking the photo or pushing more air over the photo area did not make a difference with the development process. However, the action went viral and most did it anyway. 

Eddie and the Cruisers

Image title

I remember one summer vacation back in the 1980s, flipping through the channels until I saw the movie "Eddie and the Cruisers" on the HBO cable station. I had not heard of the movie at all and eventually gave it a viewing. Unlike most programming on HBO at the time, this was a movie that (I am 99% certain) first appeared on HBO. There wasn't a lot of marketing around it, either.

It turns out, everyone gave the movie a viewing (some watching it several times). The main song from the movie, "On the Dark Side," went viral and I remember everyone talking about it when school resumed later that summer. Everyone with a piano was playing the opening piano riff as much as possible.

Later, the people behind the film released a sequel in the late 1980's. The sequel, "Eddie Lives," actually debuted in movie theaters, but wasn't near as great as the first. However, this all happened because the original movie went viral, unexpectedly.

That "S" Image Thing

Image title

Finally, there was this "S" image thing that a coworker brought up to me. He tried to draw it, but didn't really come close as shown in the attached image. However, as I showed this to others, they all remember drawing it at school.

The crazy thing is, no one really knew where this "S" image thing came from. It went viral simply at the hands of creative students around the world. The source is still not known on the "S" image and it is kind of fun to read the suggestions that have been put forth on the internet.


While the idea of going viral has become a household term because of the internet's implementation of the idea, things have gone viral for decades before the internet gained its popularity. It would be cool to see how the pre-internet viral items rank in those top 10 viral lists noted above.

What items do you remember going viral before the mid-1990s? Where do you think that "S" image thing came from?

Take Agile to the next level with DevOps. Learn practical tools and techniques in the three-day DevOps Implementation Boot Camp. Brought to you in partnership with Techtown.

viral content ,agile ,internet

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

{{ parent.title || parent.header.title}}

{{ parent.tldr }}

{{ parent.urlSource.name }}