Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thoughts about the internet

So, before I begin, I just have to say that I know I'm not the first person who ever used the internet. Scott is always quick to remind me that he has far more internet early adopter cred than I do, and it's true; he was already accessing the internet around the time I was born (hello!) & when I say all the things I'm about to say, it sounds to him like it does when kids today talk about 'kinda' remembering Windows 2000. How cute/annoying! I know. I get it. But I still have a story I'd like to tell, because my resurgence in this new blogging landscape has had me thinking a lot about it lately.

a screenshot of my very first website (spring 1998)
You may recall that ast December, on the final day of Radvent, I wrote about teaching myself HTML/CSS in 1998 (at age 15) to out-compete with a friend for the affections of my first love. Yeah, that's all totally true, and it sounds hilarious now, but hey, it resulted in me teaching myself how to make websites, so it was all worth it! Plus, it's the best thing I got out of that relationship by far (I'll spare you the details, but it was dramatic).

But let me get back to the point (and to 1998). The internet was a very different place in the late 90s (check out this awesome article, Jurassic Web, which is about the web in 1996).  I often miss the way things were back then: it really was a relatively empty place, and much more "wild west". You could be as anonymous as you wanted to be, and it was difficult to "out" people's real identities (except via IP tracking). Things weren't really regulated, the world hadn't tuned in to the internet's importance yet, and warez sites actually worked (!), among many other things.

At the beginning of my more than half-decade long obsession with web design, I fell in (somehow) with a group of (mostly) teenage girls (a few boys were there, too) on the internet. These girls were also obsessed with web design, writing, and spending all of their free time online. Thinking back on it now, it still amazes me that this community existed. It's typically referred to as the "teen domain scene" of the late 1990s (you can read other accounts here, here/here & here).

Last Dance (my online journal) (January 2000)
Here's how things generally worked: we all had websites that we'd coded ourselves (in Notepad, and viewed in Netscape...hahaha, not even joking about Netscape), and we either owned our own domain names or were "hosted" by those who did. Hosting was a major popularity contest. Each domain, depending on the typical teenage criteria, was assigned a degree of "cool" or "not cool," and somehow "cool kids" imposed this hierarchy on everyone else. The coolest domains had UBBs (powered by Ultimate Bulletin Board), and if you thought the hosting system was a popularity contest? The UBBs were worse--but really, the way people treat each other online is worse now. Back then, at least we (usually) asked for it: you could submit your web design skills to be shredded by the "cool kids" on many boards...and so many people did it, including me. Masochism, but then again, we were spending our teen years glued to our computers (& our modems), so ... we were kind of on the fringe of society anyway. Or ahead of our time? 

Last Dance v. 7 (1999/2000)
There were exclusive domains, exclusive webrings, "cliques," message boards.  Domains & boards had rivals & allies (oh, how we hated the girls at snuggles.net). A few other well known sites: lylas.net, plastique.org, rainy.net & mesmerized.org. Oh, and the cornerstone of most personal websites was the presence of an online journal. This was before "blogger" was even a thing, even before "weblog" (at least in its functional form). The key to having a popular online journal was similar to now: be able to write well, write honestly and have an interesting life full of emotional drama/instability. For teenage girls, this is easy, and we used the internet as our personal diaries.

I remember sitting at my computer every night (every night) with so many Notepad files open on my desktop, I could hardly run Paint Shop Pro at the same time (do you even know what that is? Photoshop was almost as difficult to pirate back then, sadly, but PSP wasn't), let alone play my excessively poor quality pirated mp3s (my computer had a 2GB hard drive anyway, so I had a very finite number of mp3s at any given time, and there were regular deletions to make room for new ones).

Last Dance (February 2000)
Anyway. I'd type my journal entries in notepad (in html) & upload them every day, pretty much without fail. If nothing else, it was an incredible way to hone my writing skills, as well as my already well-developed ability to overanalyze every aspect of my life & tendency to overshare.

The most amazing part of all of this? Unless I specifically (and forcefully) made it so, none of my real life friends ever visited my corner of the internet. I was brutally, completely honest in my online journal. I used real full names always, names that were absolutely searchable on Alta Vista (hahaha, remember Alta Vista? Oh shit, Alta Vista still exists?!), and no one to this day has ever come to me and said they read it, or said anything at the time, unless I'd specifically led them there. Even then, none of them were regular visitors, even my best friends. Can you imagine that happening now? It would never ever happen now.

This was a really special time. It was a time when the web had few rules, and as such design was intensely creative, in the sense that code standards didn't exist & it felt more like "what can I make happen?" rather than "what am I allowed to do?" It was an art, a form of always-evolving creative expression and didn't feel like a science, or a business. I definitely am one of those people who found solace on the internet at an early age due to social anxiety, and not fitting in, and it seemed that most other heavy internet users at the time fell into the same category (something else no longer true at all).

Last Dance (2001)
I met true friends online then who are still actual, true friends today (hey there Karen, Suzen, Heather, Leah, Rachel, Shae, Louise & Melanie, in particular). Some of them I actually ended up living with after running away to SF in July 2000; others I've still never met in person, but we keep in better touch than most of my local friends. I have zero doubt in the validity of these friendships; a couple of weeks ago while reading Alt Summit posts from some mommy bloggers I follow, I was shocked to hear that there is still a stigma or discomforted weirdness associated with meeting people on the internet, and that most people don't literally do it all the time now. That really surprised me. It has been such a part of my life for so long; normal.

Anyway....to wrap up this story a bit: as the years passed, the internet changed rapidly. By the time I was 20, in 2002, I'd already pursued a professional path in web development, which yielded huge amounts of money at fancy companies during the tail end of the dot-com boom.
This afternoon, this afternoon of the day of days.
I, in this mood where the earthly kingdom was beautiful in spite of life's cruel bite, left home for some hours and took CalTrain and BART over to Oakland just to thwart cabin fever. Sometimes we all forget that the world itself is paradise, and there has been much of late to encourage that amnesia.
Along a roadside I saw an unwound cassette tape, its brown lines shimmying in the sun - sound converted to light. I felt a warm wind's gust on the Oakland BART platform. I suddenly wanted to be home, to be with my family, my friends.
— Microserfs, Douglas Coupland
(It really was like that)

Unfortunately, the boom fizzled within a year of my arrival in the bay area. I was 19 and went back to school, which was the right thing anyway. I had lost most of my desire to code for fun after a year of doing it for money, and the rapidly expanding internet meant that my days of brutally honest online journalling were coming to an end. I thought I had to learn my lessons the hard way, but when I think about it now, I'm just eternally grateful that I didn't come of age in the era of YouTube & Myspace. I would have gotten in sooooo much trouble, and the consequences are so much worse now! I went through my insane teenage years in public, but it was a very desolate public. It was awesome.

I was out of the blogging world for many years. As I've returned to it, I've come to realize just how much it has changed. The idea of blogs & online journals as sources of revenue, of blog sponsorships and BlogHer conferences and political clout and pseudo-legitimate journalism is so alien to me, and given my history, seems a bit antithetical to what a blog should be. But then again, I've been following Heather (dooce) since she was fired for what she wrote on her blog, and she blazed this blog 2.0 trail. I guess it's the massive machine that bothers me; the huge corporate sponsorships, sponsored blog posts ... it just feels like corporations are taking advantage of people. Maybe I just hate corporations. I mean, I do strongly dislike corporations ... who knows. There's just something that doesn't sit right with me!

These were the days. Except for, you know, this:
1. poor font choice; 2. FRAMES! 3. high school <3



This may be the most personally important blog entry I've written in this blog. Please let me know that you read this, and offer your opinions/memories if you so desire. & thanks for reading! 

7 comments:

  1. I'm so impressed that you learned coding so young! I just recently took an actual "class" on CSS/XHTML and it was the first time I'd learned anything other than what I'd picked up on the job--I can't imagine how much I would have customized shit when I was younger if I'd known how to do that, because I was totally INTO the internet when I was younger too. And, like you, I am SOOOOOOO glad Youtube and Myspace didn't exist when I was in high school. Livejournal was bad enough. The blogosphere is a new world now; it's not just people confessing any more, people are getting PAAAAAID for it. And it still kind of blows me away; I don't know which part more, the fact that people are essentially able to be PAID WRITERS for just talking trash about their lives, or that they're getting paid AT ALL to keep a diary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To me it just feels like companies are taking advantage of moms in particular, and playing in to the popularity contest that is being female and having female friends and being a mother. I particularly feel weird when I see mommy blogger's popularity waning & then see them get pregnant / miscarry & suddenly they're popular again. It just sounds like a dangerous game, you know?

      And YES livejournal was bad enough. 2001-2004, total LJ Whore here.

      Delete
  2. This was fun to read, as was the Slate article. So many words/terms I hadn't thought about in years: ICQ, WinAmp, Geocities. Good times.

    Some of us still LJ, you know. You're always welcome to come back. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LJ turned into a negative influence for me. I'm not sure I want to go back! I do miss the academic/book-oriented conversations that people like us used to have. You were always my very favorite writer on LJ. <3

      Delete
  3. I've done a few sponsored posts but they've only been with companies I actually like. I've been approached by companies that have nothing to do with my readership - or me for that matter, so I don't even entertain the possibility of doing a post on their behalf.

    I agree about companies using mums but a lot of the 'professional' bloggers take classes either in business or marketing and pay members of staff to write their posts/do their dirty work. Which to me seems mad but well it's their job, to be a blogger. And I suppose they're cashing in on it while the going is good. I'm not opposed to that myself but I do think what will happen when blogging moves on, when people don't want to read blogs any more? How will these people survive? Or will they move onto something else, as successful people do?

    I think the professional blogs have a knock-on effect on those trying to emulate the success of a pro. They think 'right this person has done it, so I can too.' Um...not always so.

    I realise this only covers a little bit of your post, but it sparked up some interesting thoughts ;).

    I had a Geocities website. Hello Kitty gifs all inclusive. I'm not ashamed to say my teen years were spent building websites and LJing my problems away :D. I wasn't ugly, fat or a loser. Just socially introverted and got on better with people behind computer screens in my teen years.

    I met a lot of good friends (whom I'm still very close to) through the internet and started meeting people in 2003 - generally someone 'IRL' knew most of the people I met, but a lot of the time I took a gamble with it. I'd probably die if my son ever did this, but by the time he's 17 things will have massively changed ;). I don't think meeting people from the internet is such a big deal anymore at all, in fact I really love it :).


    I enjoyed reading this post, brought back some fond memories :D.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES! Geoshitties! ;)

      Thank you so much for commenting, Cara.

      I have thought about what I might do someday when and if this blog becomes popular. Would I ever accept sponsored posts? Would that make me a hypocrite? And yeah, I do agree with you that this can't last forever. Marketing moves on to the next big thing along with the wind, and these bloggers who are literally supporting their families on their blogging income better know that, because it seems like a scary risk to take. What comes up, must come down. Thanks for making me think of this, because I hadn't really thought about that particular angle!

      I think about this post, and "the old days" and about how some people my age literally never read blogs until 3 years ago or last year (how could that be!?) every time I post on this blog. I know that life is different now and I'm personally glad to be 29 and have the freedom NOT to post the intimate details of my life online. IE: so glad not to be a teenager anymore, ha!

      Delete
    2. Yes I am glad that Facebook was not around when I was in high school - the shame! I literally couldn't have handled it! And wow...my parents would be able to snoop on me so much easier. I think I would have had to have 2 profiles ;).

      My family only started reading blogs (mine, incidentally) about 2 years ago. I also used to blog on Myspace and my husband (then my best friend) knew all this stuff about me. I learned back then to keep certain details off the blog and reserve those moments for myself, privately ;). I wish others would follow suit with that ;).

      Delete

 
site design by designer blogs