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1. The Information Superhighway.

Circa de 1994 the phenomenon of the Internet began to seep through the porous subconscious of more traditional media, especially the TV news and opinion magazines like Newsweek & Time. Out of nowhere, the phrase “Information Superhighway” entered the national lexicon like so many other irritating memes, from “Where's the Beef” a decade earlier and “Waaaaazzzzzzaaaaap” a decade later. Information Superhighway, Internet….telnet? Gopher? FTP? BBS? What the hell was all this crap, and would any normal person ever need to know, or ever even care? Traditional media were fellating themselves over this mysterious, shiny, Brave New World that promised to make communication (and especially news communication) so much faster and more accessible. The reality was that in 1993, '94 '95, '96, not that many people had internet access. They lacked appropriate equipment, services, and knowhow. Those who did get online were a pretty select community, and began to form some of the social rules for the invading hordes that would soon follow. All caps is rude. Smileys are dumb, but sometimes useful. Righteous indignation is troll-chow (thank you ) Of course there were trolls, there were flame-wars, and some people archived the hell that was raised in different newsgroups, mailing lists, BBSes, and even text-based chats. Of course, even if your ignominy was preserved, back in those days, you had a better chance of your asshattery fading into obscurity, since there was no such thing as Googling “LJ Drama.”

Or course a lot of us reading about and hearing about the Internet from the sidelines were intensely curious. I'd been into computers since I was about 8 and our school got its Commodore 64. Our teachers didn't know how to work the thing, and were frankly afraid to mess with it, for fear of breaking it. They weren't really that happy to let us kids mess with it, either, but mess some of us did. I discovered little things about BASIC programming from the back of the big kids math books, and discovered that you could load an educational game programmed in BASIC into the machine's wee little RAM, take out the disk, then plunge into the code and customize the game, without breaking anything, or at least without breaking it permanently. Soon, the artithmatic Space Invader game would tell you you were a “toilet head” when you got an answer wrong, and by changing the variable for the number of missiles you got to a “0”, it would just count down backward, and give you an infinite number of missiles. I dicked around with the ASCII graphics, to change the look of the spaceships, the backgrounds, the protagonists. A little man with a ballcap made out of D_ became a cowboy with a hat like _M_ It was all extremely minor hacking, but I was pretty impressed with myself. When we had a field-trip “career day” thing, where we toured offices, and grownups asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, I brashly told people that I wanted to be a “computer hacker.” Sadly, I had a lot of trouble with math as a kid, and my dreams of “hackerdom” were shot down coldly by a bastard of a teacher who told me that since I was so lousy at math, I didn't have a ghost of a chance of getting into work in the computer field when I grew up. Because it's so much nobler to insult a 10-year-old than to teach her some remedial arithmatic, right?


So, I was curious about the Internet. It sounded pretty cool…the combination of shiny computer stuff, and a kind of pen-pal ethos, plus information on really obscure stuff like making bombs and Star Trek jokes. I was duly intrigued. Around this time, I was finishing up with highschool, and my friend Jeff had access to a Unix shell acount, and showed me what a Talk session was. It was pretty cool, though no terribly big wow. At the time, I was a huge fan of Douglas Coupland, who was famed as a zeitgeist-buster, and I heard he had a new book coming out, about computer geeks, and boy-howdy, I couldn't wait to get my paws on that one. The book was Coupland's Microserfs and it didn't fail to please. Easily the most upbeat in his career, the story tracked the progress of a computer-game startup company founded by a bunch of friends who quit their jobs at Microsoft because they wanted to create, rather than maintain. One of the books's characters, the mystical Michael meets the love of his life on a BBS. The girl, Amy, is something of a Riot Grrl cum Cyberpunk. Again, I was overwhelmed with a sense of “woah, how cool!”

Back then, in my last year of highschool, and the limbo period of summer before I started college, I didn't really know any “geeks.” I hung around with the stoner crowd mostly, and a handful of hotrodders. However, I really emphasized with the characters in Microserfs; I still really dug computers, I firmly believed that the Internet would be an electronic goldmine, and I shared the trait of having sets of very specific obsessions (your dream Jeopardy categories, per Microserfs) which I knew encyclopediacally and neurotically, and would argue to the death with other dorks of the same persuasion over discrepancies and minor quibbles.

When I got to college, part of our standard package of student perks was a UNIX account, with e-mail access though a PINE client. Through my friend Rob, I learned about ISCA BBS, and while I was never a true-blue ISCA slut, I definitely spent my fair share of time in queue, waiting to join the hurlyburly that was one of the largest BBSes around. I was and still am Fahrvergnugen over there, though I don't log on very often. I think my user account was created in January of 1996.

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