Ten years on

Ten year anniversaries are alarming — “Hey look,” they say, “you’ve used a decade of your life, I hope it was worth it.” Well, they do to me. They’re so demanding. Ten years ago today I first went online and, for better or worse, nothing in my life now would be the same if I hadn’t signed up with Demon and spent my savings on that 14.4 modem.

Internet Starter KitOK, to be honest it’s a couple of weeks until the anniversary of when I first ventured online, as it took that long to get my little Mac LC II talking to the Internet, such was the complexity of the unfamiliar fragments of software required. But, armed with the Internet Starter Kit, I finally made it and began exploring.

Which isn’t to claim I was some kind of pioneer; obviously the net was already well past adolescence and the media had probably stopped having to explain what “Internet” was at every mention. But even so, Ted was the only person in the world I knew who was online, so this did feel like an expensive solo mission into the unknown.

Every night, when the rest of the house had gone to bed, I’d commandeer the phone line and keep people awake with my noisy keyboard (sorry guys). I explored Usenet, I poked around Gopher and WAIS servers, I found places to chat and MOOs to play with, I clicked my way around the web, and I was thrilled whenever anyone sent me email. I began making new friends and every week I’d put a few pounds aside to pay my unfeasible share of the quarterly phone bill.

Real world friends would come round and sit on my bed while I tried to impress them with this amazing new world of slow text, although they could usually only muster excitement when a stranger in California typed a greeting to them across the world. During the day, while offline, I’d spend time fiddling with HTML, eventually finding somewhere that hosted “home pages” for free and putting up my first website.

When looking back I often think of the phrase “it were all fields round here,” and while the fields were already dotted with buildings it does conjure up some of the sense of space and possibility. There was so much missing, so many vast gaps. It was a surprise if a company had a website then, whereas now every company, person, idea and fad seems to have its virtual analogy, all jostling for attention.

What if I hadn’t signed up to Demon around then? Everything, everything would be different. I wouldn’t have seen a job ad for Wired, I wouldn’t have moved to London, I wouldn’t have spent time in Houston, I wouldn’t know the people I’ve met in the years since. Which isn’t to say life would be worse — I was loving life in Bristol and I miss my friends there — just different.

And now? The next ten years? I must admit to a feeling of exhaustion. There’s still plenty to get excited about of course. Even though the fields have long-since been paved over, this place is crammed with people doing wonderful, ingenious things and I’m lucky enough to count many as friends. But at the same time everything I do online these days feels like a chore. A decade ago a new email was a thrill; now it’s another item on the todo list. The Internet’s now just a job and a vast, rickety structure of never-ending commitments I’ve built up over ten years, and I’m not sure where to go from here.

Comments

  • Stop doing the things that feel like chores - delegate them - relinquish some control over your noble experimentation and find the bits of it you really like while also expanding across into the exploratory arty stuff that you did before which filled your soul. You can divide this to-do list; it’s called your life.

    Do some painting and other personal stuff as well as all this quasi-obssessive tinkering with fiddly networked high profile digital thingameebobs. You can’t keep up with all the detail - perhaps the networked nature of social software and communications can evolve rather an exhausting peer culture which can lead to stress and ultimately burn out, as we are beginning to see around us. You do legions of work supporting and facilitating innovation, and the detail of it all is intense (because you are exceptionally good at that side of it too) - can you step away from detail and move to a bigger picture with a mix of crazy internet stuff _and_ other things?

    Your friends will still love you.

    Or possibly, it is just mid-winter in the UK and that is just simply crap-ola. Or that I am talking nonsense and need to go get a cup of tea and get on with my detail-filled, networked, peer-obssessive day on the internet.

  • I to was an early, Demon customer, commissioned my first web site in 1994, then learnt how to do it myself shortly after. I was such an early Demon customer, the liquidators even sent me details of their bankruptcy, this was the hardware side of the business, a device no doubt recommended to Cliff by his accountants, I must have bought a modem from them. Your post and its response raises the question of detail V broad brush strokes. I admire people who can grasp detail without loosing vision, people with vision and no grasp of detail are a nuisance, they dwell in Elysian fields. If you watch the ‘Aviator’ HH is portrayed as a man who can grasp both, “let me see the blueprints”..”let me see the blueprints” and later “This is the way of the future, the future the future. However I often feel swamped by detail, this is what you were getting at, HH retreated into mental illness. With me it takes the form of absent mindedness. “I have too much to think about” I tell people when I loose my mobile (cell) phone or misplace my hotwater bottle top. If I could delegate I would, but there is no one to delegate too.

1 Feb 2005 in Links