Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reflections on Half a Life Spent Online

Ugh. Today was frustrating for a few irritating reasons and it resulted in me not doing as well spending-wise, so I'm choosing to focus in a different direction.

I found this TED talk by Frank Warren, creator of PostSecret - a staple of my Internet reading back in the early 2000s.

I'd forgotten how his site, along with 1000 journals meant so much to me in those early days of blogging and online discovery. I think I was just starting to get my head around the power of being able to connect with so many people, people I had never met, people from countries I would likely never visit.

I love projects like these; just when I think everything collective that's been done has been done, I'm reminded that there are endless ways to connect with people - just ask Ze Frank. It's the same reason I love the idea of geocaching or yarn-bombing. In a world that's becoming ever smaller, there's still such a divide between us all. Movements like these remind me that there's still something awesome to be discovered, even as an adult. Maybe especially as an adult. As a kid, everything's still possible.

I've been on the Internet in some fashion or another since 1997 or so. I remember the familiar sound of the modem pinging, the infuriating sound of my mother picking up the phone mid-dial, the nights chatting on local IRC channels until 5 in the morning, the emergence of trolls and cliques. I remember using Altavista and text-based browsers and being disappointed when a band or celebrity you liked had no web presence at all. It seemed manageable for a while, then. Like you really could participate in all the online forums you wanted to. Like you could finally shut down your computer at night and say "well, that's it. I've seen the Internet now." 

Of course even then it was somewhat overwhelming. In that first summer online I probably spent close to 6 or 7 hours every day on the Internet, sometimes having to sneak upstairs to bed minutes before my father got up for work. I was both fearful and delighted by the idea of an online life living parallel to my offline one though I realize now I was probably too young to really grasp that the things I said and did online had real-life consequences. Even if the majority of the people I interacted with were from my own city, I still had trouble connecting with people behind the screen. It's something I'm very aware of now that the Internet is a part of every day life. And yes, I appreciate the irony of being more mindful and considerate to international strangers than those that could easily contact me by my full name in my own city, but all I can say is that they didn't seem real then. Now they do. I don't know why that is. Especially since probably 40% of people on the Internet are just robo-accounts sent to make our collective penises larger.

And I remind myself that even then, in those early days, there were already the naysayers, the proto-hipsters saying "this place used to be cool, now it's full of AOL poseurs". Everything had already been done, even before Google Doodles and Reddit, and videobloggers who weren't what they seemed, and Strongbad emails, and live-tweeted Arab Springs. You were always a moment away from being a forgotten meme, even if memes hadn't been invented yet.

And maybe that's why I'm so warmed by people like Frank Warren and Ze Frank and the Vlogbrothers and everybody else who is trying to build a team in this overwhelmingly huge arena. They aren't looking for gurus that are "in before viral", they're building communities that participate and listen and enjoy what's possible. And that's a wonderful thing, maybe the best thing the Internet can be used for. 

Well, that and grumpy cat


  1. I remember when the only three companies were Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL. I had prodigy and the screen was black and you did have to wait forever. Sometimes, in the middle of the conversation, the line would go dead and you would have to redial and hope that person was still there. Scary to think that those were the "safe" good old days.
    I love what you shared here today. I had never seen PostSecret and although I had heard about 1000journals, I had never seen it. It is always inspiring when people are doing something different. It is always great when they are not scamming or fooling anybody.
    I choose not to think about the bad stuff on the internet. I share stuff that I would tell anyone anyway. Maybe that is the secret. If you have a big one send it to Frank Warren and the rest of the stuff you can post yourself.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank *you* for sharing! I love reminiscing about the "old days" (not sure whether they were all "good" or not ;) on the Internet. I used to dial up with our local Freenet and telnet to it when I was away from my computer. I think I was actually more technologically savvy back then because not everything was intuitive. Now I get frustrated when things aren't obvious right away.

      I applaud you trying to shove out the bad stuff on the Internet - I agree. Life will always have its trolls and scammers, but I choose to believe they're not the majority. There's so much potential for good and I agree that that's where I try to focus. Though sometimes that positive nature can manifest itself as taking something hurtful or cruel and turning it into something beautiful, which is another way the Internet can really bring out the best in people.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  2. STRONGBAD! burninating the countryside, burninating the people!

    1. Every time I had to write a paper in university, I always considered just submitting this instead: