I remember my first adventure into cyberspace. I was poor and couldn’t afford a computer, so I bought a weird little device called WebTV. I had it for a few years until I could buy a “real” computer. There wasn’t a whole lot that could be done on it. You could build webpages on sites like angelfire, tripod, and geocities. I even have printed out copies of one of my old websites from 1999. You could email (email was that days text message). You could customize your email’s background color, your font, you could add a picture, and even a midi. (Midis were also popular as ringtones before we could use the real thing.) (A Midi is a weird electronic version of a song with no vocals, just instruments, not an instrumental, it was more beepy.) The thing I usually used it for was chat rooms.
Back then, on that device, you could only access “Talk City”. There were rooms upon rooms, and you could make private ones. People much more tech savvy than I created these chatroom mods that if I remember correctly were called IRC. (My favorite one was one that was able to play The Offspring while you chatted, and had macros from their songs.) You could be anyone you wanted to be, and most were. You never told people who you were then. It was pretty much a given if someone even knew what state you were in, you could expect them to slide down your chimney like a demonic santa claus and gut you like a fish. Or at least, thats what the popular consensus was.
I hung out in one room more than most, the “alternative music” one. (that would consist mostly of grunge music I suppose). I had a little group of friends, but never told anyone my real name. It was something that just was. not. done. I went by the online handle of rebel_grrl (no I had never heard of the song at the time) and my first name was Andi, after a character I empathized with from my favorite show, Dawson’s Creek. We went to each others webpages, which if you were blessed enough to be online in the mid-late 90s, you know how atrocious they were. Spinning GIFS everywhere, horrible graphics. I was around 15 at the time.
One time in a chat room, someone messaged me. They said they knew me. They told me my (real) name. My city. My neighborhood. Almost 20 years later I still haven’t figured out who they were. I was a loner at school and with only a handful of friends. And of those, only a few had the internet. (Oh the days of dial up. That wonderful sound that it made. I think I didn’t even get DSL til maybe a little after 2000. I fortunately have cable internet now, or my World Of Warcraft would severly suffer.) Anyway, that scared the hell out of me.
We used to use this weird service where you could call a number and leave people voice messages. I called one and realized it was going to show my home number, so I made up some BS story about how I was using someones home phone and no one could ever call it.
Those days, there wasn’t social media sites. No cyber bullying. Just people hanging out in chatrooms bullshitting. Some people of course were there to “cyber”. But for the most part, the internet was a safe and somewhat boring place.
I ended up on sites like Myspace and Greatestjournal (RIP). I dont think I went by my real name until probably after 2000.
When I was 21, (and in somewhat of a manic episode) I spent a good almost six months meeting random people off the internet. Some guys, some girls. I’ve made some good friends that way. Ive also made some stupid decisions that honestly, I’m suprised didn’t get me killed and left in a gutter. I would meet people I’d never met in places I’d never been. One of the worst times I went through this part of life, I was seperated (albeit briefly) from my (now) husband. Maybe it was me being too young. Maybe it was because I’d litereally been single 3 weeks of my life from 14-21. Maybe it was an early midlife crisis. Hell if I know. But I met these people, and I did survive.
Today thats not always the case. People tell their names, their addresses, intimate details of their lives, all online. You can aquire stalkers or overly interested people that can latch on. A girl from my town ended up in a true crime book all from meeting up with a guy online that ended up killing quite a few people.
So maybe the title was wrong. At least before, we were scared of the boogeyman that didnt have a name or a face, that lurked in the dark, ever present. Today, that same boogeyman seems to have come out from under the bed, and is ready and able to find us. The internet can bring us all together, but it can also rip us all apart.