It’s Thanksgiving, which means you are using the internet to avoid talking to that uncle who really wants to give you his thoughts on the status of America and the aunt who doesn’t understand why you are still single. The internet may be our savior now, but remember when it used to suck?
I grew up in a small town that didn’t have AOL or anything, but when we were 13 or so we found a dial-up number for a national internet service. It was entirely text-based, so for two years I learned the internet through FTP, Telnet, Usenet, and occasional trips to the web using the text-only browser Lynx. I actually think this was a good way to start using the internet, because it actually taught you the foundations of how the internet actually operates.
I used the service almost entirely to download guitar tabs from OLGA, the online guitar archive that was sued out of existence ten years ago.
— Tim Burke
I was not an especially tech-savvy teen. I chatted on AIM (name: fuzzybluemonster, for no particular reason), had a Myspace, and occasionally Asked Jeeves. But I don’t remember it factoring heavily enough in my social life for any particularly embarrassing situations to arise. That said, there is one especially anachronistic detail I remember from early interneting.
My sister and I shared our first computer, which sat on an incredibly flimsy computer desk in our shared attic space. For some reason, despite access to a computer and the internet within arms reach, my sister and I used to write things—passwords we needed to remember for one, but also “embarrassing” details about each other—on the desk itself. We’d snoop each other’s chats and then doodle “Emelye <3s [redacted]” in Sharpie on the chipping plastic plywood. I can’t remember if this threatening half-measure was because we wanted to avoid Mutually Assured Destruction or because we really couldn’t think of a better way to publicize the information. But I’m sincerely relieved to have made it through high school without Twitter.
— Hannah Keyser
Some Greek kid at school in 1998 figured out how to download porn video when we were just looking mainly at dirty images on Netscape using Infoseek image search. He found some .mpeg called “Dinner” featuring some dinner orgy. So we’re all crowded around this tiny window with this dinner orgy, and we’re like AWESOME. Real big moment. Now when I hear the word “dinner” I think about some stupid Euro orgy video.
— Drew Magary
I was a kid when AOL became popular, and I spent as much time as possible in chatrooms and instant messaging with my friends and cousins. It was dial up, of course, so I’d always give my mom absolute hell when she’d have to use the phone and I’d get kicked off. My first screen name was Linzfroghop13, because I aspired to be 13 for some reason. Another was rbldngrl, because I loved roller blading to my local park.
My internet addiction started immediately with AOL, and it became a serious issue between me and my parents throughout my teenage years. I wasn’t doing anything bad on the internet, they just thought (and rightfully so) that I was spending too much time on the computer. This was back in the day when laptops required internet cards, and sometimes when they went out to dinner they would take the internet card with them.
Anyway, I was addicted to the social drama that played out on various forums throughout my teenage years. I was not a popular kid, but I wanted very badly to fit in. (Looking back now, I see that I stood no chance in hell of fitting in.)
First it was AOL/AIM, where the drama played out through away messages. Next it was probably Xanga, where I blogged about my feelings about music and books and life, but my girlfriends and I still had the nasty tendency for drama, and would publish and then soon delete really nasty blog posts about each other. I dabbled in Livejournal because it was a good home for the clinically depressed, but Myspace became the driving force in my online social lives.
In high school, my friends and I would spend our weekend nights in each other’s basements, taking turns logging in to check our Myspaces. That was what we did for fun. We didn’t drink, we didn’t party. We just surfed the net. There was a message board function on Myspace, and I remember some of my girlfriends publishing cruel things about each other. One girl, who was very popular, had a little more weight on her, and a girl she was feuding with publicly called her “Buddha” on those Myspace bulletins. It was all very mean and very bad and I regret giving Myspace Tom some of the best years of my life.
But the bulk of my time online as a teen was spent just reading stuff and having long conversations with individual friends. I don’t know what I was reading—it wasn’t the Atlantic or anything, but I was a curious child and I asked Jeeves anything that popped into my head.
As it turns out, all of this was just training for me to eventually join Twitter and have a job writing online. Try taking away my internet card now, suckers.
— Lindsey Adler
We got AOL somewhere around 1993 or so, and I have a few distinct memories:
- My brothers and I were each allowed to be on the internet for a total of two hours a week. I don’t know if this was the AOL plan we had or just a restriction my parents put on us.
- Somewhere in my AOL profile (I think AOL had profiles?) I wrote something about R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, which was misinterpreted by some people to mean that I was R.L. Stine, and so for a little while I got fan emails for R.L. Stine.
- A little bit later, I was really into the game Slingo, which was a very dumb and basic version of bingo. One day I faked being sick and stayed home from school, probably in third grade, just so I could play Slingo.
— Kevin Draper
My earliest memory of the internet is not having it. This was the late 1990s, everything was dial up, and day-to-day life was still done in the physical world. In my nice, upper-middle-class high school, on top of the divisions already made by cars (did you have one, and was it a nice one?), clothes (preferably with designer logos on them), in came AIM. Even if you had internet access, there was no point if you didn’t have AOL because that was the chat service everyone (who mattered) was on. The closest thing I had was free internet access for an hour during my business class, which I used to set up a hotmail account for college applications and print out random sayings for my bedroom wall.
But I didn’t have AIM (or a car, or designer clothes), which was all that mattered. I frittered away my teen years sulking at the nearby mall, washing away my pain with Orange Julius and going over in my head the never-ending list of things I did not have, including AIM. I got it during my freshman year of college, cycled through several screen names (that, in retrospect, all sound like stripper names), and in good time moved on to Gchat. I still think about all that sulking though, usually while reading a story about bad tweets, and find myself feeling incredibly grateful that I did not have the internet then—leaving the main evidence of my bad decisions on Polaroids shoved in the back of a closet.
— Diana Moskovitz
Please feel free to share your stories of early internet usage in the comments.