Ghosts from my first internet

by Steve

I first properly immersed myself in the internet and its myriad delights and horrors in 2000. I’d dabbled a bit for a few years before then, but 2000 was the first year I had a proper internet-ready PC at home and could spend time on the great adventure of, ahem, “surfing the net”.

So, just 14-odd years on, I’m not sure this counts as nostalgia, but I’ve seen a few things this week that took me back to that time.

First, someone tweeted a link to the video above. I hadn’t seen it for years, and thought I’d probably never see it again. I remember years ago watching it over and over, generally with a lot of buffering going on. I think a friend had passed on the link via a long-lost chat programme, MSN Messenger, or similar probably. At the time I thought it was both the weirdest and funniest thing ever. It still makes me both smile and creep out a little.

I think the power and appeal of it at the time was it was completely anonymous. The internet was full of daft, inexplicable stuff. Now I can just Google it and find all about the creator. He is still in his twenties, apparently. There goes the mystery.

I then came across this site of old GeoCities pages. GeoCities sites were everywhere back then, as probably the most accessible and easy (and definitely cheapest) way of getting a site of your own on the internet.

These sites were often poorly made, poorly written, rarely updated, but there were a few gems out there too. It gave the internet a very homespun, amateur and ultimately democratic air. Now, anyone can make a vaguely professional looking site. Everyone is corporate. There is no craft, no folk-arty-feel to websites, for better or worse. Well, maybe there is, but when a site looks amateurish now it seems like a rather self-conscious, even ironic, decision on the part of the author, as opposed to being the only option they have.

I then got an email from Delphi Forums. I spent an inordinate amount of time in the early 2000s on various Delphi Forums discussing the merits of various forms of pro wrestling. It was obviously a complete waste of time, yet it felt incredibly exciting and invigorating to be able to connect with people across the world on whatever esoteric subject you could imagine.

A few years later I was on a course for work hearing about this new “Web 2.0” thing. It was pretty inspiring and led me towards several future career decisions, but for all the fanfare it didn’t feel that new. The internet had always been social and about having a go yourself. That was always the best bit.

I suppose we all curate our own internet experience, but it made me think that my initial internet activity was far odder, anarchic and amateurish (in the best possible senses of the words) than what passes before me now. It’s all a little sanitised in 2014.