Do you remember your first encounter with the internet? I can’t. I’ve been around computers since I was 7 years old. I remember our first computer, a Tandy 286 in fact. My mom bought it so she could use it to write her thesis for her masters. I think my brother and I spent more time on it than she did. I remember MS-DOS commands to make my games run. I remember playing Tetris for hours on end. I remember the big floppy disks… the ones that were ACTUALLY floppy. My mom says we were the only ones on the block with a computer. We were like the only kids with the pool. Except it was a computer. And everyone wanted to play on it.
Fast forward a few years to when computers were no longer cool. They were standard. There was a new cool. It was this thing you could use to open things that weren’t on your computer. You could search for information without putting Encarta’s CD-ROM into the drive. The new cool was the internet. We weren’t the cool kids on the block anymore. We still had our Tandy 286. Yep. I was a 14 year old kid with a Tandy 286. And no internet connection.
Down the block a ways lived my best friend. You know what she had? A newer computer. And the internet. I spent a lot of time over there. I spent a lot of time on the internet. Hours at a time as a matter of fact. I remember clicking the little icon, clicking ‘connect’, listening to the switches and beeps and other weird noises the modem made whenever I was connecting. I didn’t spend much time surfing the web. In those days, there wasn’t a whole lot to look at. I did, however, spend endless hours in chat rooms. I would spew out lyrics in capital letters of my favourite bands, and feel special when I was the only one who knew them and somebody else responded “whoa, that’s really deep…” (Superman’s Dead by Our Lady Peace had the best effect).
My first “boyfriend” was a boy I chatted with from Sweden. His name was Jukka. He send me cyber roses for Valentine’s Day, emailed me whenever he could, wrote me letters when he was at his vacation house in Finland with his family and no access to the internet. It’s from him that I first learnt that you could even burn CDs. He sent me two CDs full of his favourite songs. Mostly Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister and other related bands. I still have the discs in my CD collection. He built his own guitar and was building his own boat. I never met him, but I remember his email address like it was my first phone number.
My first webpage was created using geocities. It was still online up until a year or two ago. I had a web counter and a guest book. It was filled with quotes from my favourite songs, pictures of my favourite bands and links to their websites. If I remember correctly, the bands were the likes of The Offspring, Bush (then Bush X… Gavin Rossdale was so very hot), and Matthew Good Band. My second attempt at a website was something similar, but I was also very into writing poetry, so there was a lot of that online as well. The 2nd website had a scrolling news bar (I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. This was in the late ’90s. If you have a scrolling news bar today and you’re not a news site, please… for the love of all things on the internet, take it down) and bouncing rhinos that followed your mouse cursor all around the page. At the very top of the page was a quote from my friend Sean. He wanted to “Sober up our troubled little world.” (I actually tried to quote that in an English essay in my first year of university, citing my website as the source. I received a confused comment back from my prof). You could navigate to all the pages. I took the time to ensure that. But I also had a different background on every single page. I thought it looked cool. I was 15, what did I know about web design? Hell, it was 1997, what did anyone know about web design? Flashy ‘new’ animated gifs were one of the coolest things you could put on your site after bouncing rhinos.
I remember when my brother got a new computer in university. That meant that I got the ‘hand me down’, which was perfectly fine because it was leaps and bounds ahead of the Tandy 286. His first summer home, he had this program that would let him connect to the University of Alberta’s internet for free. We lived in Millet, Alberta at the time. It’s not long distance to call from Millet to Edmonton, so essentially, we had free dial up. All I needed were his University of Alberta student login and password. I had free internet. It was great. By this time, I was in grade 10 or 11. The hottest thing was ICQ. I do believe my ICQ nickname was ‘Peachykins’… a nickname from my 2nd internet boyfriend from Manitoba (in my defence he was actually really cute. At least the picture he sent was cute. His name was Trevor and he was a couple of years older than I was. I never met him either).
I kept my ICQ account going even after MSN Messenger became the new fad. In fact, the ‘find a random user’ feature of ICQ can be attributed to being the reason I’m in Calgary.
Lister Hall (the residence I lived in during my first two years in university) was the first time I encountered a true ‘network’. All of the computers in Henday Hall were networked together. There were so many pirated movies and TV shows to watch… I grabbed ‘The Mexican’ and ‘Down to You’ for my own collection, as well as two episodes of the Simpsons, the one with the medicinal marijuana and the one behind the laughter. I couldn’t quote most episodes or catch the references to save my life, but if you need a word for word account of either of those two specific shows, I’m your gal.
I downloaded pirated music. I remember when they were trying to be all threatening about protecting copyrights.. and I downloaded the music anyway. I wrote a paper for an English class about Napster. My position was that music should be free. I wanted to sample it before I bought it. If it was an artist I actually enjoyed, then I’d go out and buy the CD to support the artist. I figured there were a lot more people like me in that respect than there were people that would settle for the lower quality free stuff. After Napster was shutdown I switched to eDonkey. I made the mistake of leaving eDonkey running one day. My internet connection was cut off. I received a letter from the University of Alberta asking me to go visit their security services before they would turn it back on. What they told me was that the rate of upload of files from my computer to the internet exceeded the traffic of what most of the rest of the University was doing at that particular moment. Personally, I think they were full of shit and just trying to scare me a bit, but I had to promise not to use eDonkey or any other file sharing programs any more. I did. They turned my internet back on. I continued to use eDonkey, but made sure not to leave it running when I wasn’t in my room, and to limit the rate and number of uploads I was allowing in the settings.
I spent years, yes years, on Lavalife after my friend Colleen convinced me to sign up and give it a try. There was more than a fair share of guys just looking to get laid… and if you wouldn’t meet off line, well, they’d settle for cyber sex. They were pretty easy to spot. And thankfully, incredibly easy to get rid of. I also met quite a few good people here, even dated a couple of them (offline, by then I had decided that Sweden and even Manitoba were just a bit far away… SOME human interaction seemed necessary).
Today, I’ve built my life around the web, from connecting with friends and family to creating my news sources to building my career out of it. I’ve been at it for 14 years and it comes as easily as breathing. I remember a time without it, but I can’t pinpoint the exact time it first made it’s way into my life. And I hope never to pinpoint the day where it makes it’s exit.