## Thursday, March 2, 2017

### How did we know things before the internet?

Last night re-reading ch. 5 of Shapiro's Thinking of Mathematics, preparing for this morning's seminar, I realized that my students might not actually be familiar with the import of his example of Fermat's Theorem.

I remember very distinctly the progress of Wiles's presentation and the final published proof. It is a vivid memory, in that I followed the development day by day, catching the excitement as people suddenly started speculating, is he going to prove that I think he's going to prove? And then he did! This centuries-old "theorem" had finally become a theorem! It was amazing, and the process was a definitive moment in my scientific upbringing.

I thought back on these memories last night, and tried to triangulate exactly when it happened. My edition of Shapiro's book was published in 2000, and I figured it had to have been not too much before that, '97 or '98. (But in retrospect, writing this now, even '98 would've been rather early for me to have been so interested in the result; that was the year I took my first logic class, and prior to that I was still very much a math-phobe). Then I did the math and realized that there was a very good chance that not only would my students not know about the importance of Wiles's proof, but that they might not even have been born. #waytomakemefeelold.

Earlier this evening I decided to find out exactly when Wiles's proof was, and looked it up, only to find that the presentation was in 1994, and the proof in 1995.

Nineteen Ninety-Four. NINETY-FOUR. I was TWELVE.

But relative chronology and whether I feel old or young isn't the point of this post. The point of this post is that if Wiles's proof happened in '94-'95, I have no idea how I knew anything about it. Part of the reason I assumed it had to be '97 or '98 was that surely I followed the progress of it via the internet. Surely. But...in 1994, we didn't have internet at home. We didn't own a TV. (Well, we did. But it was stored in the basement, unplugged.) We didn't subscribe to any newspapers, and I lived in a small town in central Wisconsin so I'm pretty sure I didn't hear about it over the radio.

This is mystifying. How on earth did I know things before the internet? And isn't it weird that I remember distinctly the process of receiving this information, but not the means by which I received it?