I miss “internet 1.0” – as opposed to “internet 2.0” which itself is a term that’s fallen out of use. That’s how out of date I am. I might as well be talking about “the information super-highway” and “surfing the web”.
But I do. I miss my online experience from the late ’90s, early 2000s. Back then I used to post on Usenet newsgroups hang out in IRC chatrooms. Occasionally I’d engage on new-fangled “web forums” but to be honest that already felt like a backwards step. But I’m not here to talk about how much better the tech was – I can make a case in some respects but even if I’m right, so what?, the rest of the world moved on.
What I do recall is that I was more engaged. I was interacting with people. I made online friends that turned into offline ones. I took part in interesting debates about important topics (Could Spike be redeemed without a soul? (hint: no – don’t @ me as we never said back then!)), and I just generally hung out online and had a fun time.
At some point that stopped. And I can’t help noticing that it coincided with a greater adoption of the internet. Which then turned into everyone’s online. I don’t know if this accounts for any of it but there was a certain barrier to entry that meant that even if you were in the say, Buffy TV newsgroup, nothing techie per se, you could assume people had a level of tech awareness to be able to get there. Not even that, but you had a subset of people for good or bad. So you all had something in common – you were online.
It’s odd to point this out now but in 1998 if you were discussing religion or politics on a web forum then you were doing so somewhere where most people interested in the same topics weren’t at.
But I don’t know if that’s it. I don’t honestly know why I was able to connect and engage back then and I singularly fail to do so now. Partly it’s lack of success. I guess I suck at self-promotion. My Twitter account has double-digit number of followers, Facebook friends are barely more and I all but abandoned this blog because I’d never managed to extend its reach beyond a couple of people I knew in real life anyway. As I once said it would be as efficient to email them instead.
But I think there was another reason too. I got more “shy”. I became less and less comfortable with any kind of confrontation so I tended not to engage in discussions where there might even be a mild disagreement. I self-censored before posting or tweeting or whatever. And my offline life was becoming less social too. So I feel like I had no store of anecdotes or lived experience to share. I became more and more a consumer of online culture.
And now I feel like I’ve completely fallen behind. Online culture is not its own distinct thing. There are online cultures plural sure. And maybe this is just me getting old but I find that a lot of times I miss the references or don’t get the slang. I used to know what LOL meant when no-one else did and what emoticons were when they were made of punctuation. Now I read tweets and half the time have no idea what they refer to. I can tell they are jokes – there’s a rhythm right? – but whoosh, over my head. And you can’t ask someone to explain a joke can you?
But I miss feeling part of a community.