Upgrades and Broken Promises.
By Kimboak Benham
2002. A year on the heels of 2001.
If said about any other time in history, mentioning such a subsequent fact, of one year coming after another wouldn’t mean much. But with the memory of the previous year’s World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks still fresh in the minds of the people, and the dust from the fallen towers so to with still unsettled. One cannot start a telling of a simultaneously occurring story without first making mention of the setting and the atmosphere of the time in which it took place. In 2002, as begins this tale, the air smelled of revenge.
Like the dust from the fallen towers, still unsettled in the mind, I, at the age of 41 — too old to be new and too young to be done — found a new outlet and resource. I found the internet.
Inquisitively in step with many others, I too heeded the call of the man who’d mysteriously failed at the ballot box two years earlier in Florida, Al Gore, and joined the ranks of an ever increasing number of Americans voyaging around the internet via their computer, browser, and telephone modems. For many of us the World Wide Web became a home inside of our homes. A getaway just a few feet away. This new thing Gore had referenced (what he’d called the information superhighway) welcomed us. In doing so it proved to be all that it was said to be, and more. It was a real new place: a real new space. Weird, but in a good way.
It was seductive.
No sooner than I’d joined — after moving money from my account to one belonging to a darling of Wall Street— I became entangled in it’s webbing. Hooked. The more enmeshed in the web I became the stronger the hold it had on me.
Could it have been designed by wizards? Did Gore know such people?
The more I used it the more I wanted to use it. And the more it used me. Then came the flash of genius. I learned that the giant sucking sound (similar to what Ross Perot had warned us a about, a decade earlier, when he too had had Presidential ambitions) was not just the sound of money, much needed for other things — like food, leaving my pocket; it was the swooshing sound made by my brain as it was leaving my body. The internet started thinking for me. Cooing me. I was losing my mind and paying dearly to do it. It was like a tug of war, me at wits with the machine. As Sherlock Holmes would say, aptly, “the game was afoot”.
Soon, trumpets of war would sound.
Once on the highway, I wasn’t leaving. There was no doubt about that. Not even if I had wanted to exit, I couldn’t. I’d become obsessed. Addicted.
Technology will not be denied.
Everything was bright and sparkly and right at my fingertips, some of which I’d heard mention of on the evening news. There were chat rooms (Talk City), and the promise of interactive TV, (My first internet service was through WebTV ), and there was an ad with a link to an “Internet Dating Service” (Match-dot-Com). That will never fly, I’d thought.
Being what I would later learn was a newbie, new to the online world, new to the internet, I decided to take the dating service on a trial run, a free trial run — then they wanted money. Money I didn’t have. This too I learned; not all things on the net are as free as advertised. My curiosity was squelched before it’d had a chance to roam.
Maybe the internet wizards weren’t as smart as I’d first thought? Playing people for dumb isn’t a good business practice.
Never-the-less I went on. Continuing my quest to know more. Finally I found the magic button. It read, simply, “Discussions”. What’s that? Click, enter. A magical site map appeared. And from that moment forward the information super highway traffic light burned perpetually green. No looking back now, I was going places.
On the way to my destiny, many doors were opened. Some informed the passersby that they were open to all; others said “do not disturb” membership only. None of these would be mates would become my first.
As I continued on, moving about with zest — too active to gather moss, I became somewhat dismayed by the amount of childishness being displayed by supposedly grown folks. Separating the good stuff from the junk, I quickly learned how best to identify and discard these non-suitors. Chat rooms weren’t for me. Then it happened. Turning a proverbial corner I caught a whiff of something powerful, my nostrils flared. I inhaled. It was the inviting odor of a think tank, or something somewhat like it. I looked and there it was, open to all whom would dare its course, a curious fork in the road. A road less traveled. I took it.
At one place along this road (aptly named The Other Road), which became my first online mate, I found myself discussing philosophy.
With time the learning came quicker.
Being snowed under by an avalanche of knowledge didn’t stop me, it taught me to ski the information super highway. On the course I learned new names and of new things, and new things about old thinking. I learned of secret societies, of their beginnings, and of their reasons for seclusion. I learned of the lunar men’s club. By then, for certain, I’d become caught up. And were soon considering the lucidity and/or insanity of scholarly and historically revered thinkers of times gone by — and asking questions of myself. Am I more likable to heralded thinkers like Kant and Nietzsche than not? Am I, a self professed autodidactic, a fit inclusion? Surely they jest. The better question is do they belong.
With philosophy group discussions being very dependent on good questions, I felt mine were just as much appropriate and topic worthy as any. Though no one could pose questions more fantastic than the group’s administrator (The Janitor). Some questions so well posed, thoughts exited the mind of responding members as though they were lubricated. As though they were painlessly extracted. I wanted to become that good. To make people go “mmm” with ease, and smile so pleasingly one would think they’d just finish a very satisfying round of love making. What a wonderful experience.
“What’s the difference between hope and a carrot on a stick?” Easy now.
Another thing I learned about the internet, while on the other road, was that, like a sword, the net has two edges. It is a great filter for asking questions, and it never fails to leave the questioners questioning themselves. As a discerning cyber traveler you come to accept without question the impossibility, necessity, and value of self examination.
Who’s got next?
Upon entrance of the next door, I felt as though I’d entered deep space. Beheld, I did, a group partaken of the ethereal. In short time I’d learned to festoon myself with the necessary intellectual robes common to the place and make well an attempt to hobnob with these, the brightest of beings. Well, at the least I tried. To some I were the alien. Trying my best to fit my thoughts through pin holes. Regardless, I made my self at home and took her for a second mate.
For breakfast we engaged our thoughts around, about and through: the cosmos; dark matter; and event horizons. For dinner we’d pretend to weed out the dunces and munch on about techno-gizmos, the theory of relativity, and perhaps neutrinos. In actuality such cerebral considerations proved better at weeding out the unhealthy egos than it did the dunces. After the weeds were pulled, I, an autodidact, remained. Like a pro, I’d survived the onslaught of scientific jargon and empirical hogwash. Have you ever been hazed by geeks?
Then I came upon what I was hoping to find all along, an online cultural home. There be black folks other than me on the internet.
Just around the bend.
Preceded by a glance, a stare, and a smile, upon its sighting, I exhaled. There it was. The signage read, “Social Set One”. Our own little corner of the world.
African-Americans from coast to coast, border to border and shore to shore; young and old, the highly educated and the high school drop outs; geeks and housewives, city and country, gathered together sharing laughs and insights. This new place felt especially good. For sure, in here there would be an instant understanding, an acknowledgement of commonality born of a unique experience.
Say it loud.
We fast talked and we jive talked. We riddled and joked. Of activism and work, of God and sex, of Nay-Nay and Pookie, of the struggle and hope, we openly spoke. Freedom rang, and reverberated-rated.
Then came the trolls.
Fittingly my first encounter with a troll had to be in a cultural group? Slash, slash, slash and burn! Pent up hate unleashed. Mightily the trolls tried to disturb our peace. They for sure kept the administrator busy, but we, for the most part, continued on as though they were just fleas to be scratched, we armed ourselves with repellent and kept right on. Yes we did.
Then came a notice. Rumors ran rampant. Upgrades — the most dreaded of things — were coming to WebTV. Rumor had it that our beloved discussion boards were to be discontinued. We, having learned from prior upgrades, knew that if rumor deign them to be, you could bet that the supposedly new upgrades weren’t to be worth the cost of the packaging they came in. For real y’all, I laughed out loud. Some upgrades just can’t be trusted to be as advertised. Do we look like dummies? (Don’t answer that.)
Soon we were tossed out with the old. In just a few years, along with the technological platform upon which we stood, we’d become outdated. Our platform was no longer adequate. Internet TV was dead, tossed on the technological scrapheap of history. (Until Smart TV’s would show up in showrooms a decade later. Netflix anyone?) Our primitive stepping stone to the information super highway had by then become of little use to us online interactive actors, if we couldn’t post and reply, what good was it? No good. The time came, and soon our handy tech was shoved aside and replaced by a brand new digital pup. Join the fiber-optic movement, call your cable company. We now provide internet services!
Analog was on it’s death bed. Long reign all digital everything, even cameras!
Group hug. Goodbye. Scatter. Some of my friends moved on to Yahoo, others to AOL. I moved to Black Voices, which itself had been gobbled up by AOL and eventually shut down. That’s the way of the internet.
After canning my old tech (tossing it in a large cardboard box reserved for junk), I bought a brand new Hewlett Packard PC. It came with all the bells and whistles, an unheard of amount of memory for the time, 4GB. (along with the obligatory, monitor, printer and overpriced ink cartridges I was out of about $1,500). A pricey set up. Good for the 3D digital art I’d soon be rendering, but too much if just for the purpose of surfing the internet.
I unboxed and connected it all. Plugged in the cable modem, CPU, monitor, and printer. And just like that my internet surfing speed went from 56 kbps, using the old tech, to 300 kbps, and as much as 1 mbps, using cable. Oh boy! Now, this is exciting. Though my set up cost an arm and a leg (Wall Street investors smiled), having the latest tech, I couldn’t deny, was exciting. Using digital video players would no longer be a problem. No longer would the stream be as broken, playing for just two seconds and then freezing for ten, while it continued to buffer. No longer would I have to wait 15 minutes for a 1 minute video to load.
The year was 2006, the month was the first.
As time and technology marched on, and the unexpected War in the wrong place, in Iraq, disturbed people, I moved on, again, as well. I discovered new web sites. I wrote more post. I read more replies. I left more comments, and I made new acquaintances.
It is now late spring 2019, and the month is June. It has now been 18 years since I first sojourned online. (Long enough for those born in 2001 to grow up, graduate high school, join the military, and be shipped off to the Middle East. No telling how long we will continue to have a presence there). And I’m still here online. Still making new acquaintances, still sharing opinions, still writing about whatever, whenever I feel like it.
I refer to this story as a netmoir because it covers — though just the basics — the most vital aspects of my online history and the continued development of the internet as a means of education and communication. Of my experiences using the internet beginning in 2002, against a backdrop of the nations most pressing concerns of the day, on through much more(particularly 2006) and then some until today (2019).
When I started writing this thing, this netmoir thing, the plan was for me to share my insights and opinions, formed over the span of my internet life up and until now, about what makes for good interactive discourse and what doesn’t, and why that is. Part of my plan called for me to compare internet fame, or admiration, with successful players in any number of other pursuits where an audience may gather, and a person may like or dislike the offerings therein, like a movie theater; concert hall; or sports arena. For that reason my working title was, “Netmoir: Fan Club”, subtitled, “You and I, and the Internet”.
This writing though, like is habit with me when writing without use of an outline, morphed into something else. It didn’t go as intended. The words that came, came. Instead of being an article about internet fame, and/or admiration, and the how’s and why’s of it, it became an adventure of the mind, almost a travel journal, the telling of a personal quest. An outtake from a memoir. The more I wrote the more it turned toward the personal and away from the suggestive and/or advisory.
I still may write, How to become a Success on the Internet, but this, as it turns out, isn’t that.
To be continued, maybe.
Where did the internet wizards go?
Come Dorothy. Come Toto! To the storm shelter.