Going Twilight: A Treatise on the Modern Internet
Part One: in which we discover a map to Narnia
Going dark is slang for the sudden termination of communication. In the military, the term is also used to describe a scenario in which communication appears to have ceased, but in reality has just moved from a public communication channel, where it could be monitored, to a private communication channel that prevents eavesdropping.
It is midnight on the east coast and that means it is officially October 2016 in at least some part of the nation. Regardless of your political stance it seems we are a nation at dire straights, horrible odds, and with a bit of a tough time ahead of us. The next president regardless of electoral outcome will be faced with task of “uniting” a nation that has been completely torn apart by differences of political opinion ranging from racial profiling to cartoon frogs.
While political prediction and analysis is one of my favorite hobbies, in this piece I hope to avoid partisan arguments about candidates. There are already thousands of articles out there covering the merits of each candidate and the moral imperative that they be voted for or against. While in the bounds of this article here we will concern ourselves only with the state of the internet and the once-wild prairies we digital cowboy-poets were reared upon.
If we hold fast to this point of view, and limit ourselves to a likely evolution of the ‘net based on a dark vision of recent history, it really may not matter who wins. Certain trends seem to continue in spite of political outcomes or promises. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. It is a common problem in my writing.
…the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. -Senator Ted Stevens
How we arrived at this point may not be as important right now as just reminding ourselves where we started. It occurs to me that many people currently “online” only got here in the past decade or so. Some of them are young and were raised with the web, others our elders who have figured out the new platforms to varying degrees of success.
In 1995 I was 16 and a half years old. I lived in a large but unusually rough and tumble northern city, large enough to have alternative newspapers and a punk scene… kids with skateboards and drugs and sometimes firearms.
Ranging into “TMI” territory here but I am pretty queer, at this point in my life I identify as trans/radiqueer but during the 1990s those terms were not available. To a 16 year old in 1995 it seemed that there were three options: transexual, transvestite, and cross-dresser. That was it. The messages I received from the media were ten-hundred percent “transphobic” in modern language.
The overall message in the media was that if you were questioning your gender you’d better stop. Or in lieu of stopping — and this is important later — find a partner who digs that you are a weirdo and keeps your secret. Keep your freaky at home and hope you never get busted.
When you are trying to learn more about your own gender identity and you are 16 and it is 1995 what are your options? You are too young for the gay club, and that is a bit of a diversion if you are just trying to understand yourself. Go to the library (in 1995) and search the catalog for the handful of keywords you know: transvestite, transsexual, cross-dresser…. Library search results are going to fall into the following categories: psychology texts that are over your level, outdated sex manuals, and restricted-access books sourced from lord knows what. I mean, the town library is typically not the place you research anything “sexy”.
And in the 1990s, transgender identity was relegated to “keep it hidden in the bedroom”, thus relegating it a subset of sexuality, not a subset of identity. This complicates further the ability of one to learn about it in the 1990s.
Enter the Internet
We find ourselves right on the border of “too much information” once again, so let me say that the internet in 1995 was a search box just like the one at the library except instead of returning cryptic, medicalized responses to gender questions it returned thousands of other gender variant individuals being poofters together.
I can’t really express how empowering it was. Today I am who I am because the internet enabled me to reach out to a secret esoteric community that told me “hey dude you are OK and actually we are everywhere”. I am digressing but I believe the internet gave birth to the trans movement. It could not have happened without it — before the net came along we were a disconnected group of “perverts”, members of support groups, or closeted with fortunately caring partners but still forced to reduce our very identities to fetish. Not to harp on it, but the totality of “western” society used to beat us to death. Transpeople are nothing new, we just finally were given an instrument with which to collectivize and stand up for our right to exist.
And the internet was that instrument.
…but not just any internet.
the wild-wild-west internet. the frontier.
The internet of the 1990s just required a dialup provider. There was no real tracking and almost no capability to implement it. You dialed into the thing and then you could browse whatever you wanted (assuming you were not on AOL). The community was yours to reach out to and most importantly there was no reason for you to maintain your “real” identity. On the internet no one knows you are a dog. Likewise, in 1995 no one knew your sex or gender online unless you told them. Individuals communicating en masse without visual social cues for the first time on that scale. Kinda freaky when you think about it.
I could get lost here with the details. I may already have. If you got this far I commend you.
I think what I am trying to tell you is that the anonymity that the early internet provided was a key ingredient to a revolution I am party to.
I think what I am trying to tell you is that that anonymity is now gone.
I think what I am trying to tell you is that the ‘net is been reengineered into a surveillance device. Cable TV with a 1984 camera. A horrible security machine.
And we are about to hand that machine to one of several very untrustworthy people.
to be continued in part two