An Ode to the former web

Written by  on July 21, 2018

Depending on where you’ve gone on the internet the past couple of years, you might have encountered this image:

For me, that actually does seem to have validity. Older people who have been online since its inception in the early 90s also have their own opinions, eg. “Eternal September”. Think back for a moment, when was the last time you randomly browsed a site other than a social media site (also include Reddit into this also)?

Okay, now don’t count news sites. At most, you probably visit only a few sites when browsing, most of which are related to social media or a large corporation such as Amazon or Google. Maybe also a news site or two.

A poster on Reddit which I screenshotted several years ago (around 2013) summarizes it perfectly:

Reddit post about internet history of the previous decade

Personally for me, I’ve had an internet connection of some sort since 1999.  I recall joining forums as a kid in the 2002-2003 time frame which linked me with tons of like minded people, you could come across websites that people generated, although some were on Geocities (I was one with a Geocities site) where people spent time crafting up informative and educational content, jokes, entertainment or some made their own computer programs or games.

Earliest thing I can remember was playing some browser based games that took a while for each page to load due to my family’s dial up connection back in the day. I wished I could remember the name of it, although like most things back then, it probably was either absorbed into a larger company or they just shut down.

When I really started spending time online was the day I had enough  money saved up to buy my own modem. My parents had two phone lines in the house, one of which was for my dad’s job. If he did something work related, I was forced to disconnect and I’d go do something else. We also had just moved to a new place and I was enrolled in a high school where I did not fit in like I used to.  My younger self was slightly more of an outdoor person, I’d go camping with friends, sometimes in the dead of winter just to see if we could tolerate sub zero temperatures. When we moved, I started dealing with depression due to various things happening in the new school I moved to, I didn’t have friends, and most people despised me. It took until my senior year and when I finally was walking away from that place for that to change.

I was a fan of the cartoon “Ed, Edd, n Eddy” in middle and high school, as it reminded me of my old friendships before my family moved. One of the first independent things I ended up doing was finding fan sites related to it. There were several, and lots of places wrote fan fiction related to the show. I joined in with those, making my own Geocities site and publishing several I made myself. I kind of considered publishing those here again in the future, however reading a few the last time I looked, made me incredibly embarrassed. I also did Star Trek fan fiction and was a part of fan sites related to it also.

Some time passed and I spread out to other things, such as games and other topics. My computer was a fairly old machine so I never had a chance to play a lot of the top of the line games. I started with a 486DX2 with 32MB of ram running Windows 3.11 in 2000 and then upgraded to a Pentium 233 with 64MB of ram  running Windows 98 in 2002. Trying to figure out ways to make money as a younger teenager I decided to start reading up on how to fix machines. I routinely reinstalled Windows on my computer, saving my files on ZIP disks back then as I got a drive and a pile of diskettes for free. I eventually found my way to computer forums and finally found places to fit in. I could remember having tons of browser windows open, posting and reading posts from various forums.

I eventually made enough money to build myself a new desktop, a Pentium 4 with 512MB of ram and a top of the line graphics card. Because Windows XP required activation, I didn’t want to bother pirating it over dialup so I managed to get a copy of Windows 2000 on CD for free (I actually got it from a dumpster dive). I used that machine until I bought a laptop in college since I was always traveling. During that time, I joined forums, IRC networks and played games with likeminded people. There was one forum I was a part of for well over 10 years until certain actions caused me to part ways. I found my first girlfriend via forums back during then, and she only lived 45 minutes from me. I still remember when I finally met her in person for the first time and the fun we had that evening hanging out. I ran small websites and forums with some people and generally had a place to withdraw from when I had issues with my school life. I generally think that the internet in that form kept me from doing something insanely stupid or possibly ending my own life due to depression I was dealing with.

What’s this have to do with the present day internet? A lot of things. The internet as a whole is not like it was in the 90’s, or even the 00’s.  With everything centralized, and everyone using their real names, there’s no longer any escapism that used to be there. You can’t have a conversation that’s questionable and can make you think as easily anymore. People can track you down and haunt you for any action you make now. Not as many people actually create content anymore, it’s all consumed. Discussion is controlled now only through a handful of people. Although ads are significantly less annoying, everything tracks you and datamines you for their profit.

The internet was tamed and colonized.  And that’s a sad thing.