©2017 by James Hewlett.

  • James Hewlett

Talking ‘Bout My (Internet) Generation


My generation is unique.

That’s a stupid sentence, every generation is unique, but specifically mine is unique in the fact that we grew up at the dawn of the Internet.

I was born in eighty seven and the earliest incarnations of internet were just starting to be used by militaries. It didn’t start becoming commercially used until the mid to late nineties.

I remember watching wrestling pay-per-views and they would be advertising, “AOL Keyword WWF” and gimmicky arcades would occasionally have a PC or two in a corner that you could pay to access the mythical World Wide Web.

By ninety seven or ninety eight I remember being able to log on to the dial up modem in my dads office and then when my mum and I moved in with Paul I got my own PC in my room and probably by the end of the century I had access to the internet in private.

It took a little while for broadband to become available where we lived so we weren’t exactly early adopters but as soon as the lines were installed we got it. The increased speed wasn’t the selling point, it was the ability of having multiple connections. Imagine that today. Look around the room you are in, just that room, I would put money on there being at least two or three devices that are connected right now. Shit, my lightbulbs are connected to the internet!

So what were we doing at early teenagers at the dawn of the millennium suddenly connected to the whole world?

Same thing as usual; playing games, making stupid jokes and trying to talk to the opposite sex.

Social networking is about as common a term now as there is and most people use multiple different services every day. It has massive benefits, but also comes with a whole slew of downsides and can be pretty toxic at times.

Some people love it and live by it, hell, they live off of it. Without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the others I’m too old to know or care about, they wouldn’t have careers.

Other people blame it for all of their life and the worlds problems, cut themselves off, run away to a foreign country and look down and judge anyone who still partakes... but I digress.

I tend to fall safely in the middle. I use Twitter, I really enjoy Reddit and I’ll look at Facebook but I don’t interact with it all that much. I’m quite old fashioned even having this blog. Sure, some of my posts here are disposable nonsense but I try to put a bit more effort into my writing here as opposed to a brief sentence or two on Facebook. But I also don’t hold it against anyone who enjoys any of these platforms.

Back in the Wild West of the early two thousands though different forms of social media would spring up and die off seemingly overnight. Chat clients were the biggest thing and for a lot of us, the centre of our social landscape. The predominant one in the US was AIM but over here we used MSN messenger more. Getting someone’s MSN name was more important than getting their number. You’d get home from school, fire that up and be talking to your friends for the rest of the night.

There was also early forms of website based social media that would eventually all fall to facebooks dominance. I met a few friends one of those that predated even MySpace but I couldn’t remember the name of it to save my life.

A more niche place people would socialise and interact were in text based games such as MUD’s or Multi User Dungeons.

The one my friends played and I got involved with was the Discworld MUD. I’d read a couple of Terry Pratchett’s books at the time but I wasn’t a die hard Discworld fan by any means. This was just what my friends were doing so I got involved too.

It must look like staring at The Matrix code to an outsider. A black screen with mostly white text with occasional smatterings of coloured font. But just like Tank said in that movie, after a while you don’t even see the code. You learn what all the abbreviations are and pretty soon you’re sat around a table at the back of the Broken Drum pub in Ahnk Morpork and you know exactly how many times you have to enter the command to walk south before you have to turn west for a couple of rooms before you’re at the door for the thieves guild looking for work.

We spent hours on end in that game without ever really doing anything. It’s hard to describe if you never played anything like it before but at the time it was awesome.

Another huge way people would interact online was in forums.

Sure, these still exist and are used by people daily but it feels like now it is a lot more a case of… “I have a problem with X what do I do?” With a thread full of answers with people suggesting, “Have you tried Y?”

Helpful, sure, but not social.

I used to frequent a bunch of forums, anything you were into had its place. I was all over the Barenaked Ladies fan forum, I lurked and occasionally posted on theforce.net’s Star Wars lit message boards, thanks to a friend I signed up to a music forum and would often get free gig tickets in exchange for handing out a few flyers, friendly debates over Lost theories would happen all over the place and later on I made some lasting friendships on the forum for the Metrobuzz podcast.

A lot of these places still exist and I’m sure the TFN’s lit forum still has a healthy amount of discussion, but I have no interest in checking as I bet the quality posts are buried amongst negativity and complaining. I’ll cherish the memory of my time on those platforms though.

I met a lot of people online in those days and would spend hours, days talking to them. Real, genuine friendships were made and more often than not you’d never even meet these people.

But sometimes you would. Internet dating sites have been a thing forever but we were still kids and I didn’t know anyone who used them. Ours was a more traditional way of meeting people, somehow you’d get someone’s MSN contact and start talking, sometimes you’d hit it off and decide to meet. I met my first two girlfriends that way and I would expect that’s pretty common for my generation.

I also met people online and then later in the real world from places far and wide. I’d consider myself as having friends I could happily go for a beer with in Canada, various places of the USA, Australia and Spain based on friendships started on social platforms, forums and on twitter.

I met someone I consider to be one of my closest friends on some MySpace/Facebook precursor and Sam is pretty much my oldest friend I have regular contact with at this point after fifteen plus years of friendship.

Older generations had to learn it as a skill or refused and got left behind.

Younger always had it, innately know how to use it and wouldn’t be able to cope without it.

We helped shape it and evolved with it and because of it.

So if you’re of my generation, the older millennials, and you start thinking that the internet is just full of awful people remember that, while it is, there are also some amazing people out there too.

If you’re older, it can be very confusing, trust me, even my generation are starting to get lost with everything new that goes on online, but it’s a really great tool that you can still get a lot of.

And if you’re younger.... you’re weird and you scare me. Have fun, but don’t be a dick.

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