20 years ago, the thriller taught audiences to fear this scary thing called "the Internet"

Credit: Everett Collection

On July 28, 1995, the Sandra Bullock thriller The Net hit theaters and taught audiences across the country to fear this scary thing called the Internet.

Considering that 20 years ago many Americans still weren’t accustomed to using the Internet, The Net came across as one of the most technophobic mainstream movies since The Terminator.

Here are five things The Net taught us about digital technology that still hold up today – and five more that maybe don’t.

Be careful about what information you share online.

While on vacation, Angela (Sandra Bullock) meets Jack (Jeremy Northam), who is seemingly a catch. When Angela realizes he’s actually a hit man out to kill her, he explains how he was able to charm her so quickly: She’d said in a public chat room what she was looking for in a guy, and he was lurking, taking down her every word.

This is an extreme example of the “Be careful what you share online” rule, of course, but 20 years later it’s still one all of us seem to have trouble following.

And don’t simply upload your entire life to the Internet.

In one scene, Angela lays out the conspiracy against her to her shrink (Dennis Miller). “They knew, they knew everything about me. They knew. They knew what I ate, they knew what I drank, they knew what movies that I watch, they knew where I was from, they knew what cigarettes I used to smoke, and everything they did, they must have watched on the Internet, watched my credit cards. Our whole lives are on the computer.”

As this Wired piece notes, she’s basically just describing how Facebook works today. Womp womp.

Ordering pizza online is one of the best things ever.

You’ve been working all day in your cluttered but hip Los Angeles home. You haven’t spoken to a soul all day. Why bother to call in for a pizza when you can simply visit Pizza.net and order one using the World Wide Web? The website doesn’t function like any did back in 1995 – and more on that in a moment – but The Net foretold the coming of the Domino’s Pizza Tracker by nearly two decades.

Meet your neighbors.

The weird thing about The Net is that if Angela weren’t such a homebody, she wouldn’t have been in danger. Her only human contacts, aside from a few scattered friends who quickly get bumped off and her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother, are people she interacted with online. She’d never introduced herself to her neighbors, and that simply made it all the easier to erase her real-life existence.

Lesson learned: Go outside. Say hi to people. Maybe join a book club. Just don’t live exclusively online.

There are dangers to having computerized medical systems.

Of all the “technology is bad!” scare tactics in The Net, the one that should spook viewers the most is the means by which Miller’s character gets killed off. He is allergic to penicillin, but the bad guys muck with his medical files so that he’s given exactly that instead of his regular prescription. Soon enough, he’s in the hospital, where the records get mucked with a second time. He’s given the wrong treatment and subsequently kicks the bucket.

Today that could actually happen, though more likely as a result of data input error than malicious intent. Let’s all just hope that doesn’t ever happen to anyone we know. Fingers crossed.

Sandra Bullock’s Changing Looks!

And here’s what The Net maybe didn’t get quite right.

Everything you do on a computer doesn’t actually make a noise.

Have you ever noticed that Hollywood tends to depict computers as constantly making noise? Every blink of the cursor makes an audible “dink” sound effect that would probably drive users crazy in real life, but the characters using these beeping noise boxes don’t seem to mind. It’s an example of Hollywood Operating System, the same computer set-up that also makes all error messages show up in giant, red letters.

Sure, it’s just Hollywood’s way of putting more drama in the scene of someone sitting in front of a monitor, clicking away, but thank goodness it never caught on in real life.

Chat rooms don’t automatically speak everything out loud in horrifying computer voices.

This is probably an extension of the Hollywood Operating System weirdness, but did you notice now how weird it is that Angela’s chat room reads everything out loud? Could you imagine if your computer automatically read every IM and Facebook comment out loud? One shudders at the thought.

Viruses don’t generally look like that.

The movie kicks off with Angela playing Wolfenstein 3D – which, by the way, would have been old even when The Net first came out – until the program breaks into what looks like a series of Photoshop filters that melt away the graphics. That’s not typically what computer viruses look like, and besides, wouldn’t that be a bug in the game’s software as opposed to a computer virus? Just saying.

And websites didn’t look like that in 1995.

One dedicated soul has created a collage of every website glimpsed in The Net. You may think they look a little dated, but the passage of time has probably dulled your memory as to what websites looked like in the age of dial-up Internet. They were hardly this colorful or busy.

For comparison’s sake, check out the 1996 homepages for AOL.com, WhiteHouse.gov and maybe best of all PizzaHut.com, a full year after Angela accessed the gloriously rendered Pizza.net.

Not that we’re calling anyone out. See what People.com looked in 1998.

It’s pronounced "MOH-dem."

Sandra Bullock is so good at getting you to root for her that you will probably overlook the fact that she’s the only computer expert in 1995 who can’t quite nail the pronunciation of the word “modem.” Fast-forward to the 47-second mark to hear her say “Where can I hook up my modem?” but pronounce that last word to rhyme with “bottom.”

But no worries, Sandy. Hardly any viewers in 1995 would have known what a modem was, much less how to pronounce the word.