Happy New Year, everybody! Hope you all had a fabulous first day of 2013. I’m feeling much better, so my appetite is slowly returning. So, I was chatting with a friend over brunch and we started talking about the how much the Internet’s changed over the years. “You know what, Laura?” I said, a lightbulb going off in my head. “You just gave me something to write about on the blog! The Internet’s changed, Laura, yes. But it’s changed us too!” Laura laughed and shook her head at my futile attempt at profundity and went back to her almond-crusted french toast, but after a moment she looked up, frowning. “You know what? You’re right. Who knows who we would’ve become if not for the Internet?” Rather than muse about the might-have-beens, I started thinking about the past, and how the Internet has played a part in shaping who I am. What better place to talk about the Internet than on a blog? The faux-profundity continues!
The World Wide Web sure has changed, hasn’t it? When I first gained access to the Internet as an awkward tween, the web felt like a new frontier, a new world to discover. I was a big video game nerd at the time (and still am, though I prefer the term “geek” now) and spent countless hours surfing for cheats and guides to my favorite games, becoming enamored with the amazing digital pixel art people used on their websites, chatting with friends – and strangers – on AOL Instant Messenger, long before it was referenced as “AIM.” I created a homepage using Homestead, tried unsuccessfully to be part of a Webring (anyone remember those?) which I think is now only used for businesses, and I became friends with a ton of people from all over the world who liked video games and anime and all that niche stuff.
I’d like to say that it was a simpler, more innocent time, but we all know that’s not true. I was reasonably smart and didn’t give out personal information like my address or school to people, but I was probably talking to some shady characters. The one that sticks out the most was MilleniumCutie99, who first told me her name was Michelle and then Shirley, making some elaborate excuse for the name change. We talked so much it was like she’d become one of my close friends, but there were so many sketchy details and questions that by the time I got to high school I all but assumed Shirley/Michelle was either a 50-year-old man or a tween girl with full-blown borderline personality disorder (and histrionic, and just plain crazy). On the flip side, I talked a lot with a girl from my middle school, Ashley, who had recently moved to Pennsylvania and felt like I’d made a real connection. I haven’t spoken to her in ten years.
Parents always try to preserve their kids’ innocence for as long as possible, and they should. But once we had modems (remember 56k?!) it became impossible for parents to shield their kids from the rest of the world. I first realized I was gay while I was surfing the web (and you can probably guess how I came to that realization). I also learned what clinical depression was, thanks to a girl I talked to from AOL Instant Messenger who was a big fan of Sailor Moon (hey, I’m gay, don’t judge). She told me that she was diagnosed with clinical depression and she was worried that it’d be too much for her to handle. We lost touch. I didn’t quite know what she meant until I became depressed myself years later.
Things are so different nowadays. Between Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social sites out there, everyone knows everything about everybody. Online dating’s the norm (although there’s nothing normal about most of those sites). I was definitely changed by the Internet, and as I’ve grown up it’s played different roles in my life. Its newest role is that of an outlet for me to get my thoughts out there and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
By the way, as a little post-script to munch on, here’s a link that I found too fascinating not to share.