Nearly twenty years ago I started communicating online. Yes, you read right. The crazy thing about that is, my connection depended on the free 30 days trial CDs companies sent to my parents in the mail.
Late at night, while my parents were sleeping, I’d plug a phone line into my Windows 3.1 computer, insert the AOL, Prodigy, Netzero or whatever free sample CD I had not already used, and anxiously awaited connection.
For me, the Internet represented a place to connect with people that I would never meet in person. It was my lifeline when high school wasn’t as friendly as I would have liked it be. It was my safe haven when I needed to talk.
At 1 am in the morning, I could fire up my ICQ, (15708764), and mIrc and find anyone I wanted to talk to. At that time it typically meant other teenagers in South Africa or Malaysia, but I didn’t mind… Besides, it gave me the opportunity to figure out where Malaysia was.
By the time I went to college, the Internet was beginning to change. AOL users and their obnoxious buddy lists were popping up everywhere. Now the Internet was becoming a popularity contest of who could have the most connections and the cutest emoticons.
Geocities also began to emerge, (and I have to admit- I had one) but they generally were half- completed gaudy waste of internet space filled with shiny graphics and self proclamations of awesomeness. It was a novel idea at first, but I hardly found any real connections off of them.
Except for one.
As I navigated myself through the rapidly changing Internet of the late 90’s, I managed to make my first blogging connection with a fellow teen from Germany. I guess you could call it an online pen pal, if there is even such a thing anymore. He found interest in my geocities page, which I actually put words on rather than shiny sparkly graphics, and left a complimentary message in my guestbook.
We continued to chat via email for a couple of years until he was accepted to a transfer program at the University of Georgia, and I, conveniently living in South Carolina, chickened out on meeting him.
Thinking back on the situation, I don’t think I was ready to make that connection from the anonymity of the Internet to the very real aspect of life. I didn’t even have my photo online until ten years later.
Now, all of that is gone. The Internet is an extension of real life. We don’t trust people who aren’t online. When you meet someone, or are about to meet someone, you Google them. If they don’t show up in a search, they’re creepy and have something to hide.
Anonymous online chats have been replaced by video chats. Personal websites are now monetized blogs. Chat rooms are used by businesses for virtual employees. We don’t share words for the sake of sharing them anymore. Our Internet is now a tool of our everyday lives rather than an experience to escape from our everyday lives.
It’s just not what it used to be.