My Personal History of the Internet
I’m not old. I have all my teeth, except the one I broke when I was running down the stairs and landed on my face (that hurt). I’m not a child either. In some other world during a different time, I would be considered an ancient woman on my death bed. It’s relative.
You are reading this because I remember the pre-internet world in my east-European corner of the earth. This is interesting to you because when you see an old discman or a sony walkman, you cannot conceive what they were used for. Their names sound funny: what has it got to do with a man walking?
Maybe you’re reading this because you remember the feeling you got when you managed to guilt, plead, and beg your parents into getting your own very personal phone in your very own room. Now your brother or sister had to pick up the phone and suppress their breath to ease drop on you instead of sitting next to you in the living room while you were talking with your friends. Far out.
I consider this a great treasure and I am really happy to be able to experience it. If this generation of people gets to be old, I mean really old, like a hundred or over, we ‘ll be like the last tribes in the Amazon or the last living lady from the 1800s, a living monument to a passed world.
I tend to be really dramatic. Just like the dial-up connection dance of uncertainty. Will it connect or not? You never really knew.
I remember when the first Croatian blogging platform came to town. I was 14 and everybody started writing like crazy. Twitter never gained enough traction here, but blogging was like the first social network we had. Right after I wrote this sentence, I realize that there was no Twitter at that time. Maybe MySpace. I had one public blog, and one private, and I collaborated on even more. When that first platform got a serious competitor, I migrated there as well. The number of blogs I was running grew.
I knew how to code in HTML, a knowledge now forgotten. My first blog looked better back then than now when I can pick and choose between free Wordpress templates.
We were still kids that used to hang for hours on their cord phones until we put them in the corner and let dust settle over. We were kids.
When something new appeared, we migrated our asses, and we had a profile on everything.
Just like kids on Snapchat and whatever else comes along these days.
One day, I woke up and decided my work wasn’t good enough even if the blog platforms used to put me on their front page. It wasn’t enough, or maybe it was too much. I simultaneously wanted to be exposed and invisible. I get up that day and delete all of my blogs.
In hindsight, this was such a bad idea. I had an audience because of being good and for being an early adopter. I think I did it because I grew to an age of reason on an Internet where you were anonymous, and when everybody started to connect their online and real life, exposing real names and so on, it didn’t suit me as well. Some of the fun went missing. It wasn’t as smart as when it started out.
Before blogging, I had a Geocities website before I knew what I would use it for. I still can’t remember. It was probably a scrapbook curation of sorts, the things I liked and the things I didn’t, and there was probably a call to action to visit me in one of my other aliases. Back then, ppl used to make websites in Word.
“Ppl” means “people”.
When I got into my first chatroom, a kid talks to me. “ASL,” they’d ask, and I had no idea what this was. “Age, sex, location.” Woah, we have secret code words, I thought to myself. Nobody knew who you were on the Internet back then. You could be a dog. Ppl would chat as “user01” and didn’t care. It didn’t all have a purpose, it was long before life-coaches stepped onto the stage, before everyone was a mini-star, and we weren’t competing over who has a better life. We were watching “Hackers” with Angelina Jolie and Y2k was a thing.
My geocities website was more of a “Look at me, I exist!” than anything with a real purpose. I gloriously exist in pixel art and random pictures I found online and use as avatars for a fantasy construct of the person I supposedly am.
Later on, I had a forum hosted for free on Proboards. I round up kids I never met or seen, like Brazilian, Russian, American kids to go there, make profiles and play RPG with me.
When I was 12, I wrote dozens of stories for Fanfiction.net, and beyond having a computer with Win98 without a working internet connection, that is the only place where I remember my age. It’s all very much in a fog. On the Internet, you had no name unless the one you gave yourself, and it didn’t matter if you were a kid. Growing up in a culture that was hostile against its youth, going online was an escape.
An escape through a dial-up access network connection. It was almost like, you turn this thing on, and you have to wait, like you’re in a bus, you have to wait to travel. And it charged you money per second of time.
I was in high school when Google Chat first came out, my best friend and I couldn’t get off of it. We were typing each other everything that happened, every single thought we had and it was so far out, the fact that we could communicate so much for free, it was a great feeling for us to be in constant touch. The channel made us feel closer and it was a means to itself.
I heard mobile operators recently crying over users who want free communication messaging. They say that someone has to pay for the network and when they won’t be able to turn a profit, our mobile network will die because they won’t be upgrading it and we will have free services with no way to use them.
That sounds like old people talk to me.
We will always communicate and find innovative ways to do it. It has been our constant desire since the invention of the telegram, since we sat in circles around fire or traveled beyond the known. When mobile phone operators go down, we will have already migrated to something oozing of newness and maybe we will communicate even more than we do today, with the same zest my best friend and I did back when Google Chat was the next best thing after we got tired of ICQ.
I don’t know how I had time for school next to all this shit.
About ten or more years later (I told you I’m not very young either), I kinda ended up at a Creative Writing Center’s website that wanted to host me as a writer, a real one. So, I start blogging again. I get fan mail. I give myself a promotion to official columnist. I get my first copycat. I realize, I’m not half bad at this thing.
It always starts as something else. Technology, inspiration, audience, it’s never clear on the first try: will this work, is it good enough, is this worth my time? Maybe it will, I don’t know and yes. Will it change my life? The Internet surely has changed all of our lives.
My lesson from it?
Don’t let perfectionism kill whatever you’re working on.
Don’t check social media when you’re talking to people in person: practice presence since you’re only playing this once. Put yourself in front of eyeballs like I’m trying to do now. Take your kids into the woods so they get a chance to get out of the box. Let yourself be a dog.
Marija Solarevic is a European writer working in various narrative media and storytelling genre. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org to drop a line or two.