My good buddy Al got me thinking about internet memories, at a time which is my internet anniversary. So here goes ....
I happened to pull out a file yesterday with a set of invoices ... including one from late May of 1995, saying that I was now a client of Island Services Network. That was the month that I started my life on the Internet.
I well remember it. Aside from looking at various websites, one of the things I was most interested in was meeting people from other places and chatting. My buddy Davey suggested IRC, so I found a program (MIRC) and hooked up through a server at the University of Texas (there were actually two servers there, nicknamed "Minnie" and "Mickey"). They connected me to Efnet, and I was on my way.
My first stop was - and I can give no reason for this - a channel called #Buffalo. People from or around or interested in Buffalo. I called it up and *BLAM* ... all these conversations, coming at me, disjointed, seemingly unconnected, words scrolling down my screen. I thought I'd never be part of this, just because I couldn't comprehend what was going on.
Just as I was about to give up, some kind soul offered some help. He explained some acronyms that, today, seem laughably obvious. LOL ... ROFL ... IMHO ... and others. He offered advice - essentially to sit back, relax, let the screen unfold for a while, and it will all make sense. He was right. By the time the evening was done, I wasn't so intimidated.
The next night, I wandered into a channel called #Canadiana ... seemed like a good place for a Canadian boy. Again, I was intimidated by the speed and volume of chatter, the acronyms, the inside jokes, the camaraderie which I wasn't part of ... all of it. So I hung back (what I now would call "lurking", but the term was not yet invented), watched, and occasionally threw in a smart-ass comment. I remember being thrilled when somebody responded to a comment with "LOL". Wow .. I made somebody Laugh Out Loud. Cool. (OK, how naive was I?)
A few weeks - maybe even days - later, and I was an active participant, with a whole raft of people I knew only by their screen names: Carla, Ed, Tea, ScarletWitch, NOFX, Mouse ... almost all were from Canada, and it was a genial place to be.
I got into a conversation one night with ScarlettWitch, who said "There's another channel called "NOBS" you might like."
"NOBS"? I'm going to hang out with a bunch of people who openly admit to being Nobs? I don't think so.
"Not NOBS," she said " "NoBS" As in No Bullshit." Ahh ...
So I went there, and yet again met up with a group of people who all knew one another and weren't much interested in me. I watched, waited, threw in the occasional smart-ass comment, and eventually felt ... well, like a part of it. A newcomer, sure, but ... provisionally accepted.
I was "Nilbo" (a nickname I picked up in junior high and which has, for whatever reason, stuck). In the channel were others, male and female, with nicks like "Sugggar", "EShark", "SweetLace", and "MsK". To complicate things, they all knew one another's real names, as well as nicks from previous incarnations on AOL and other mediums. - meaning one person could have several names. One character - "Dani" - would chip in every now and again with: "Women Suck". That was his sole contribution to the conversation: "Women Suck".
I sat, watched, and occasionally lobbed in a smart-ass comment. It's what I do.
The conversations were - as anyone who has done this for any length of time will know - all over the map. Daily happenings in peoples' lives, bawdy repartee, current events, more bawdy repartee, bitchiness, pissypants behaviour, anti-social rants, flame wars, the whole IRC experience.
It was utterly banal and utterly invigorating. I was addicted to it. "I'm just going to check my e-mail," I would say to my wife as I signed on at 10 PM. At 4 AM, I'd be almost asleep at the keyboard.
Then, one night - a few days after I joined the channel - I was sitting there, watching the shit being shot, when I heard a ding. It was a private message. The tag on the screen flashed the nickname of one of the women in the channel.
(In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I will say there is and always has been some dispute about who messaged whom first. I consider the question irrelevant. But, strictly for the record, it was - take my word on it - she who messaged me first.)
She said something like "Can you believe this?" The conversation in the channel was eye-rollingly stupid, and I was delighted to realize I wasn't the only person who thought so.
"Morons," I agreed. We traded a few good-natured, snarky comments about the people who were dominating the discussion. Then we began the tentative, drawn-out, overly-cautious process of getting to know one another.
It was tricky, because the net was then - and for all I know, still is - dominated by HNGs - Horny Net Geeks. For all she knew, I could be one. I certainly knew the lingo - my early joke was to greet her with "So whut r u werin?" (To which, of course, the only correct answer is "Nuttin. U?")
(Let me interject here that nothing should be inferred by the fact that I became close friends with a member of the opposite sex. I'm not much of a "guy's guy" - in fact, I don't have many male friends at all. I much prefer the company of women. Always have, always will. Call me a girly man if you will, but that's me.)
But we did gradually become acquainted. She had a couple of young daughters, aged 4 and 7, the same number of years apart as my girls, so we had that to talk about. And lots of other things. She was smart, could spell, could punctuate, made me laugh, and was great company through the long night.
That was ten (!) years ago. A decade. In that time, my girls have grown up, graduated from high school, one has finished University and become engaged. Her girls have grown as well, into lovely young women. We've both been through enormous change. And through it all, we've talked - in the early days every night for weeks, less often now as our lives have changed, but still more regularly than I see most of my closest friends in "real life".
We have a shorthand now, like any old married couple. She can finish my sentences, I hers. If something's not right with her, I can feel it from the way she types a comma or the way she says "Hello". She can sense when I'm bothered about something or when I'm in need of a hatpin for my inflated ego. And she always has one handy, although I've never seen her wear a hat. I can ask her opinion and know I will get an absolutely direct, honest answer.
She's become a close friend, one of perhaps three or four people on this planet with whom I would literally entrust my life. Knowing her has been endlessly enriching.
She lives a long way away. We met once, for lunch and a couple of drinks. Nothing scandalous. Nothing untoward. Just two friends.
I shudder to think how much poorer my life would be if, some ten years ago, I hadn't signed onto the Net. And ended up on IRC, and in that channel ...
And if, of course, she hadn't messaged me.
Hey, you ... ten years, huh? Ain't that something?
Now, I know that a lot of you have been on the net for years ... what were your first experiences ...?