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BT, DT…got this butt ugly t-shirt


Okay, so in the comments, I mentioned that I lurked on the internet for my first two years, but I had a Good Reason. Which I then left hanging like some huge hangy thing, As If You Cared. Well, back up…here it comes.

I got online in the mid-Eighties. “Online” then meant one of the big services: Compu$erve, Prodigy, GEnie. I tried them all, one after the other. I joined more than one service that claimed to be the first real Internet Service Provider (and they’re all telling the truth, depending on how much of the internet you have to provide for it to count). Portal Communications has a good claim, and they were my ISP for years.

Anyhow, we represented the first “civilian” wave of internet users and the academics, scientists and military types who were already there were not at all happy to see us coming.

So Portal made us read a bunch of posts before we were allowed access to Usenet. Mostly netiquette FAQs and stuff, but one document was extraordinary. I wish I had a copy. I don’t remember the details, but the gist was, “hey! You! Peasant! You’re not wanted here! We were forced to let you in. Keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself or we’ll kick you out with all your smelly friends, roll up the drawbridge and then you personally will have ruined everything for everybody.”

Scared the hell out of me. I was still at the stage where I believed I could hit a wrong key combination and my monitor would explode or I’d totally break the internet or something. I kept my mouth shut for two whole years. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was looking at, at first. Usenet didn’t seem all that different from Fidonet, which allowed local bulletin boards to hook up to each other all over the world. Except netizens were real tight-asses back then. Yeah, says Weasel, “on topic” this, Poindexter.

Two events made me realize the size and potential of what I was looking at. There was a terrible drought in the Midwest and a woman posted that rabbits had come out of the fields and nibbled her sheets on the washing line to get at the moisture. The power and homeliness of that image — as opposed to all the meteorological blah-blah-blah on the TV news — stuck in my head. And then in August 1991 the attempted coup in Moscow was “live blogged” by someone looking out his window onto Red Square.

“Hm,” I thinks to myself, “this is like some kind of…international network, or something.”

“You know,” I say, thoughtfully scratching my bonce, “these people are like…citizen journalists, or something.”

Then the Web happened in 1990, and the Eternal September happened in 1993 and the party moved on. But the principle remains the same.

June 14, 2007 — 5:24 pm
Comments: 26