Didja miss me? 😉
Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at a decade defined by its extremes. Rap versus grunge; mullets versus pixies; Saved by the Bell versus NYPD Blue – the 1990s had it all, and then some. Every other week I’ll be reminiscing about some facet of the 1990s, potentially drowning in some ill-forgotten nostalgia despite my best efforts otherwise. Serving as inspiration is an utterly ridiculous but nonetheless intriguing list created by Huffington Post — 1990 Things from the 90s to End the Nostalgia Once and for All – and I’ll be using a random number generator to pick each week’s “topic.” So don’t have a cow, man, if I ask you to talk to the hand while take this sweet ride through the 90s. Word to your mother.
Week 8: HuffPost list #1472 – World Wide Web
In general, and despite the near-entirety of this very blog, I am bad at remembering things. With any one of these list items, or any items on any given nostalgia-based list, I can’t say that all subjects strike an immediate chord. Sometime it takes my brain a few minutes to process and subsequently spew forth any useful memories. That is not the case here. Upon seeing these three little words…
…one thing and one thing only jumps forth with particular clarity.
Because that’s the year when I was first introduced to the World Wide Web.
Now, I’ll be perfectly honest in admitting that I don’t recall exactly when in 1996 this happened. I do know for a fact that I was in my junior year at college and the introduction occurred in one of my school’s computer labs. It was through one of my history classes, I believe, that we were directed over the course of a week to meet in the computer lab to learn about this thing called the “Internet,” which one of my professor’s described as an “electronic encyclopedia.” Hm.
While there was probably more to the week than just learning about “search engines” and “email,” those two topics remain the most prominent in my mind, probably because they were what we were all expected to use the most. Which was true. That year every student was issued a brand-spankin’ new email address, and the activity took off like wildfire! Well…um…a very small and contained wildfire. Like, a campfire, maybe. A safely surrounded campfire, like…a fireplace. That was…slowly…smoldering.
Alright, alright. So at my little state school, email wasn’t an immediate hit. But that was because most people, on or off campus, didn’t have PCs in their living quarters. As medieval as it might sound, if you really wanted to send someone an email circa 1996, you had to seek out a PC elsewhere, like in a computer lab, or, if you had a nice enough professor (like I did), a school office. In the beginning, as it were, my personal use of this school-based email system was mostly relegated to setting up plans with folks outside of school. And then breaking those plans in long-winded essays about life and love and listlessness. Because college.
Of course, the coolest of the cool set up “instant messaging” accounts, which mostly bypassed the need for explanatory essays when one just wasn’t feeling up to hanging out, but was still quite useful for other things, like breaking up on the fly or sending salacious missives.
With email established as yet another way to bother someone, only more quietly, the other useful feature of the “Internet” that was all the rage, at least in terms of doing school work, was its search engines. I quite specifically remember sitting at my big beige PC with a mouse the size of my current cellphone scrolling through the home pages of Northern Light, Alta Vista, and Yahoo, all of which had just about the longest “urls” (yet another thing to commit to memory) imaginable. Northern Light was, for whatever reason, deemed the most “academic,” and we were therefore directed to use it to research an upcoming history assignment. I could not for the life of me tell you what the assignment was, but what really got my goat was figuring out how to cite web pages. There was nothing in Turabian or the Chicago Manual of Style about citing this newfangled technology. And, y’know…if you thought we could just “look it up,” I can assure you that “how to cite web pages” was not among the 500,000 available results.
But hey, you know what was? Porn. And sports. But not grammatical rules.
While my school made a valiant attempt to teach us “The Internet” over the course of a week, using it regularly would not be a thing for me for some time to come. It was only an okay source for research; scouring books and periodicals remained my favorite pastime. It was fine for sending the occasional message; using a phone was just so much quicker. It was great for anonymous shitposting on random forums about fuckall, or laughing at all the “hunky singles” ready for an “easy fuck” (omg, now I wish I had look for an 1990s porn site, because they were perfectly hilarious!); it still had a ways go in terms of formulating a legitimate bond, with me, anyway. Once I set off on my own and obtained what I needed to be all technologically savvy and stuff — my own PC, a decent dial-up connection, and, most importantly, time — I eventually created my own Internet-life. I live with the growing realization that I’m almost to a point where I’ve lived half my life with the Internet and half without it, and…well, I don’t know what that means. Except that I’m on the back half of feeling old. And that I don’t miss having to remember urls with a million characters.