Blame #Sting for Online Shopping

Shopping season is here, and more people are using their tablets and smartphones to pick up a little holiday cheer without having to interact with actual flesh-and-blood humans in real life.

Online shopping is a habit much older than most would expect, however. Cyber Monday might have become a “holiday” roughly five years ago, but the first online sale took place in 1994, when New Hampshire resident Dan Kohn sold a copy of Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales album for $12.48 to a friend in Philadelphia, Fast Company reports. The transaction took place using encryption technology which, according to the New York Times, couldn’t have been reviewed or picked up by the US’ National Security Administration even if the NSA had wanted to.

Kohn, who was a 21-year-old entrepreneur at the time, operated a website called NetMarket back in ’94. NetMarket “required that customers download a special browser that ran only on Unix in order to conduct secure transactions,” Peter Lewis wrote in the New York Times the day after the fateful sale. Philip Zimmerman, who created the PGP encryption Kohn used on his site, said the sale was “an important step in pioneering this work, but later on we’ll probably see more exciting things in the way of digital cash…a combination of cryptographic protocols that behave the way real dollars behave but are untraceable.”

Of course, like all good Internet tales, there’s some dispute over whether this was the REAL first online sale: Pizza Hut began taking orders online in August 1994 and there’s tell of an elderly woman who used a Videotex to order groceries from her local store in 1984, but her purchases were delivered by hand and she used cash to pay for them.

Now Cyber Monday is a $3 billion hive of activity and sales, a convenient way to get people to shop when they’re supposed to be at work and a significant part of the $83 billion holiday shopping season. Overall, eMarketer, a research firm, suggests people will spend an estimated $1.672 trillion online in 2015, 7.3% of total global retail sales. We can almost buy anything at all with a few clicks of our keyboards and screens, for just about anyone, without having to put on pants.

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