Ahhhh, the early internet. Nothing evokes so nostalgic feelings in me as memories of the burgeoning days of mass Internet adoption. That’s probably partly because of my age – I was then in a very feverish, impressionable phase of my youth – and also because of the time when the late Empire atmosphere was strong before the fall in the Anglo-Imperial core – but it’s undeniable that the Internet was a wild place in the late ’90s, relatively free from the oppressive, all-consuming corporate control it lives under today, with niche interests, a hundredfold options, and a ramshackle but fun architecture galore. Before the monopolists stomped onto the scene and locked everything in their open-air prisons filled with infinite scrolling treadmills and illusions of choice, there was real Finding choice on the internet – with all the unpredictability, naivety and gonzo zigs that went with it. Twitter users recently reflected on this innocent time of opportunity when comedian Justin McElroy posted the following prompt:
Please share your memories of how great the internet was in the 90’s so younger people can appreciate what they were missing
— Justin “Hoops” McElroy (@JustinMcElroy) February 22, 2022
The answers were a flood of feelings:
To see a photo you had to wait half an hour as it leisurely unfolded into three parts top to bottom. This could be weirdly hilarious depending on the photo
— Emily Nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) February 22, 2022
When my mom answered the phone, I was disconnected from my AOL vampire roleplay chat rooms, and all the other creatures of the night politely pretended I had been kidnapped by Inquisition agents until I could log back on.
— Biggest Fish, Smallest Pond (@DesertLeviathan) February 22, 2022
Kids today don’t know anything about the Mario Twins
They look so goddamn the same person, I bet you say to them, “You want an ice cream cone?” both say yes. How the hell? pic.twitter.com/y4liewhOLI
— SlothMama (@CaseyExplosion) February 22, 2022
It’s all written in the ancient scrolls pic.twitter.com/I9w6wwZg17
— Patrick 🌆 Hogan (@phogan) February 22, 2022
This WinAmp skin that made me feel like the coolest guy ever. pic.twitter.com/IN8C4nupPu
— Ryan (@HruzaRD) February 22, 2022
There was a waving at a cat page where you could click a button, and a big hand in a guy’s house would wave his cat back and forth if his cat happened to be in the room looking at the hand. This wasn’t a webcam and definitely not a video, just some old example pics.
— Waffle Cut (@Wafflecut) February 22, 2022
I used to bike to the library to use their text-only internet so I could ask chat rooms about their favorite Simpsons moments. I once got a message from a “HornyGirl69” asking if I’d cybered before and I immediately left the library thinking I was going to be arrested.
— Dan Ryckert (@DanRyckert) February 22, 2022
The never-ending struggle of having to end an intense IRC conversation so your dad can use the phone
— se smith (@sesmith) February 22, 2022
“At ZomboCom you can do anything… anything at all… the only limit is yourself.”
— Ryan (@rysimmons) February 22, 2022
Functions that were not part of the MUxx server itself. So you had to program these in-game objects to do these everyday things and it was difficult. I loved doing that. I had admin access on many servers because I wrote their messaging system.
— steef (@steefenstein) February 22, 2022
I remember thinking around 1996, “One day you’re going to be able to connect to the internet and find out what time movies are showing that day so you don’t have to call and wait for them all to be read out” and then it happened and I thought we had reached the end of the story.
— Seth Cotlar (@SethCotlar) February 23, 2022
Customize your IM sounds and play .wavs in AOL chat rooms. The heart leap when your crush logged on. Choose the absolute least subtle text for your away message.
– Elisa and everything after (@ElisaRockDoc) February 22, 2022
… “What you have to do is take the weekend and search the whole internet and then you can remove it from your system.”
— Roman Mars (@romanmars) February 22, 2022
Before there was YouTube, there was Flash video.
All members of my household still regularly say “hokay. So.” and “I’m tired” in everyday conversation.
— Resigned with bravery (@vixy) February 22, 2022
During my Animorphs phase, I used the internet to search for “morphing” JPEGs, which I also printed out and kept in carefully organized 3-ring binders, and it was only in hindsight that I realized I was spending my middle school years with some hyper-specific ones Fetish Websites
— Claire Hummel (@shoomlah) February 22, 2022
Being super cool because you learned enough HTML to embed a midi player on your geocities site for your niche fandom (mine were catz/dogz modding/sharing and dragons of pern rp😂). I was so proud of my midi collection
Rp in general in aol chat rooms
— ✨fen✨ (@manicgremlin) February 22, 2022
In the early 2000’s I became addicted to something called The Palace Visual Chat. It was essentially a set of low res discount trapper keeper jpegs that your pixel avatar would sit over and you could yell “A/S/L!!”. to each other. It was the only metaverse I will ever need. pic.twitter.com/E3Tebh2H8P
— Nicholas Kole (@FromHappyRock) February 22, 2022
I was an editor at a site called iVillage and we had to redesign the site because they wanted to start using video clips. I laughed out loud and said, “What idiot would watch videos on the internet?”
— hayley krischer (@hayleykrischer) February 23, 2022
I had a conversation with a friend who remarked that she can no longer watch a 2 hour movie but can watch 45 unconnected autoplay YouTube videos because it’s so effortless. The algorithm will now do that for you. You don’t even WANT the content – you just GET the content. 2/2
— Tommy Millar (@TotoMimoTweets) February 23, 2022
My best friend and I didn’t know the Neopets forums weren’t private messages, so we started conversations there and made new ones whenever someone who wasn’t us tried to add something
— ✨Kat✨ (@thebakkat) February 22, 2022
It took 20 minutes dial-up to download a song to Napster, so you guessed it [System of a Down-Zelda song (real).mp3] forever
— Huell Angel’s Thesis (@Oda_CM) February 22, 2022
Also, every Geocities page would replace your mouse cursor, have a badly tiled background, play the worst midi version of a popular song, have an 80% chance of “under construction” GIFs, and have a web ring at the bottom
— Kidney stones of Jordan (@jordanclock) February 22, 2022
Call your friends and moody song lyrics on your AIM profiles. Lyrics by Avril Lavigne pic.twitter.com/bl46sK003B
— the one ☝ ☝ ☝ (@theamberwocky) February 22, 2022
Every story here happened on a monitor that looked like this. It had four buttons: power, brightness up, brightness down, and magnetic color burst. It weighed 85 pounds. pic.twitter.com/PiBHHB614N
— Austin Abrams (@austinabrams) February 22, 2022
You have logged in and logged out. Online time was limited and you were excited to see other people signing up through AIM. When that special someone called in, your heart skipped a beat. It was fantastic.
— Marc Deschamps (@Marcdachamp) February 22, 2022
The best screensaver ever pic.twitter.com/aCtu2Cp5em
— OK Violating tribal jurisdiction for 113 years (@Rightturn_only) February 22, 2022
The AOL homepage had an area called “Chat Rooms” where you could chat with a group of strangers. Like TV shows. pic.twitter.com/nZH3uEaQjU
— Cassie Grace (@cgbilyeu) February 22, 2022
I spent six months of my childhood playing a horrible browser-based virtual pet game, and the only proof it even exists is this single screenshot from an Angelfire site pic.twitter.com/jSX26s1Ww1
— Tom (@bigg05) February 22, 2022
In high school, I used Geocities to create my own website for my art, but instead of paying money to expand my storage space or the number of pages I could create, I just kept signing up for Geocities under different e-mail addresses. Registered email addresses and lined up the whole site with it way lol
— Adri (@AdriOfTheDead) February 22, 2022
I learned how to spoof the “From” field in an email based on an early Telnet prompt and I emailed my best friend “[email protected]” that just said “farts”
— Eli Cash rules everything around me (@SproBeforeBros) February 22, 2022
You would start the computer and in the time from pressing the power button to using it, you could change your clothes and go to the bathroom. And then, while it took the dial-in to do its thing, you could grab a nice little snack.
— I can’t believe we share genetic material (@skerger) February 22, 2022
I emailed the Dilbert guy and asked if we could add Dilbert to my school newspaper. He emailed me back and said no, so I ignored him and put the comics in the school paper anyway, knowing he’d never find out
— Scruggs (@SSJ_Scruggs) February 22, 2022
They only had to deal with the topics they were looking for. Even the big hubs were organized by topic. There were no trends or paid search results in your face.
There was a lot more quirky/obscure personal interest and fewer people using it for sales or politics.
Text documents remained.
— Mysidia ☆ Zodiak Connoisseur (@MeowsticMix) February 22, 2022
I love the small business opportunity now and self starters, I hate that everything on the internet feels like it’s done in hopes of profit. I miss when people just posted weird shit to get published and it wasn’t all that curated.
— bifurious so so depressed (@Bifuriousghost) February 22, 2022
Korn had a chat room in the palace called Korn Korner where everyone had cool avatars and talked about Korn. pic.twitter.com/JoksObZ5uN
— Herr na (@eNTyDF) February 22, 2022
Websites with unique and colorful designs pic.twitter.com/vH4U3rXpX3
— N3ON//F0X | communication open! (@n3on_f0x_Art) February 22, 2022
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