I grew up on the Internet. With the release of The Social Network, a lot of people have been reflecting on the way their relationships have been formed and changed behind the computer. I reconstructed my past twenty years of social networking and came up with this personal rundown.
CompuServe — late ‘80s
I wanted to play Hangman and my family didn’t, so they set me up with CompuServe. I was little and it was kind of like an electronic babysitter. Besides being paid to give me attention, it seemed cool and current, and perpetually hogged up the phone line. Hangman was my favorite game, and I was floored I could play it as much as I wanted. There was an unlimited amount of people to challenge. My favorite part was the stick figure graphic of the actual hanged man. When someone lost, it collapsed, shriveled and floated away. The animation was so satisfying. I got over the paper version instantly: the dawning of a new era.
America Online — 1995 to 2000
I spent my tween years in AOL’s MTV chat room. I took in about eight hours of screen time a day. More during summers.
I loved watching music videos and taking about them. Some users who would a/s/l (age, sex, location) poll, but I was more attracted to the users with stylized screen names and ways of chatting. Their names would have one word to them, like “Joka” or “Rainman,” but were always changing, employing different patterns of v’s, 0’s, x’s (0ooJokaoo0, vvJokavv, etc.) in the name of aestheticism. There were lots of “da’s,” purals ending in “z” and always a mix of upper and lowercase letters to produce what now seems like a sort of “zany” or “clownlike” effect.
Some of these people would chat solely in third person, only using their handles. Sometimes one would come in and do some kind of bomb design in the room. I remember someone named “Da Chronic,” and someone called “SHiZZa.” They would talk about things like warez, phishing, phreaking and getting TOSed (banned from a website for violating its Terms of Service). These things were beyond my grasp of understanding but looked cool. The personas in the chatrooms were mostly teenage boys around the age of 17.
Since I had a family member who worked for AOL, I had an Overhead (OH) account. Among things like unlimited hours, OH accounts allowed a user to message other users that have their privacy settings set to disallow instant messaging from other users. It also allowed a user to create an unlimited amount of screen names. On the OH account, I once IMed one of the chatroom guys when he had his privacy settings turned to block instant messaging. He assumed I had “phished” the OH account and kind of congratulated me for it.
After this instance, the people I was interested in started showing interest in me. They were always changing their names because they were getting TOSed for phishing, and as I became a bit more savvy I realized I had to start changing my screen name in order to keep up appearances. Green was my favorite color, so I changed my names among green-themed variations, i.e. always using “Green” or “Greenie,” or something, and that’s what people began to call me.
I faked understanding everything and told everyone I was 16. I was around 12. I mostly made friends with this kid Gary. He really liked “Something in the Way” by Nirvana while I’d always skipped over it before. He liked Prodigy’s “Firestarter,” and he made me laugh by making fun of the guys in the 311 “Down” video. One day Gary sent me a photo of himself—his class picture—and while I waited for it to load, I saw his flannel shirt, the laser-themed school photo background, long middle-part hair, and the most gruesome face I’d ever seen. I’d never seen someone with so much acne. I was scared, then just made myself feel nothing.
I made a time capsule that summer after sixth grade with a list of all of my favorite things, like music videos (Nada Surf’s “Popular,” Superdrag’s “Sucked Out”) and a list of all my friends. I divided my friends between real life and online, and I was very sad when I realized I had way more online friends than I had in real life. I was more sad that my online friends had names that weren’t even their real names, just screen names. The list was printed from a laser color printer and decorated with sunflowers from zapf dingbats.
Later I went to summer camp in northern California and met, in real life, kids from cities also into technology and culture. I got along better with them than the people from home, and I spent most of the school year chatting with them, with plenty of “what did he say about me in the cabin” type of talks, along with mailing books or mixtapes to each other.
ICQ — 1998 to 1999
ICQ was short-lived but sweet. I had started high school. I made friends with older kids who were vegan and into hardcore music and who told me to “jump on the ICQ cyber afterschool party.”
Seminal moments include being asked out to lunch at Taco Bell by a guy who I liked who had a car, a misunderstanding with a dude that asked me why I said “no” to going with him to the winter formal (he had actually asked me if I was going, not if I would go with him) and a football player who wouldn’t talk to me at school but would tell me about his drinking and anxiety problems online.
Napster — 2000 to 2001
Napster came out when I developed an intense but brief interest in emo music. Saves the Day, Get Up Kids, you name it, I downloaded it. Seemed convenient timing to get all that for free.
MakeOutClub — 2001 to 2002
I met this guy at an Anniversary/Mates of State show at a kung-fu club turned teen show space in Thousand Oaks, and then we ran into each other at In-N-Out afterward. He was very cool, originally from New York and then staying with his sister in Santa Barbara.
Once he invited me to Disneyland with his friend for her birthday. She was nuts and ended up kicking us out of her house. In turn, he stole her dad’s weed, sold it downtown on State Street, and took me vintage prom dress shopping with the funds.
Later that day, he drove with me back to my town in central California and showed me a website called MakeOutClub (MOC). It was all the kids you would see at a concert but with little profiles and e-mail addresses and screen names. It had a little body for text where people would list their bands and their interests.
I had never seen a group of people self-selected into an online community before, let alone ones that looked like me and liked the same things as I did. It was safe, it was parent-free, and I legitimately connected with the people on it. It felt like being outside a show, just organized on the internet. I had to drive two hours to get to somewhere with the nearest decent concert, and now those kids were accessible at anytime. I’d read the message board everyday – topics ranged from someone willing to “100% honestly critique your profile” to IRL localized gossip to talking about 9/11.
I moved in with my aunt and uncle in Eugene, Oregon for my senior year of high school. There was a guy on MOC that was starting college in Eugene that same fall. He happened to know the kid from Santa Barbara who told me about MOC, and I agreed to see him play an open mic show at the University of Oregon. He had a lip piercing, maybe straight edge tattoos and a picture of Scarlett Johansson from Ghost World on his computer screen. We dated for a while. It was pretty boring. He dropped out during Thanksgiving break. I think he was the only person I “made out with” from MOC, but that wasn’t the point of the site, despite the name. The way people talk about Facebook activity now could probably interchange a major percentage of the way people used to talk about wanting to “make out” with each other on MOC.
There was another kid from Eugene who found me on MOC. We used to talk for hours every day, him instigating, but never met in person. I signed into an old AIM account once a year ago and he IMed med, saying “lol” and “how he used to talk to me like seven years ago” and “how totally freaking epic it was.” I took a screen shot and signed off.
LiveJournal 2001 to 2006
The girl from Best Coast had a LiveJournal that I definitely used to read. I have a soft spot towards friend whose LiveJournals I used to read and have since grown into adults. I feel like LiveJournal was pretty important to teenage girls in the early ‘00s, with all the writing and the grainy low megapixel pics and animated gifs as means of expression.
At the time, some people had personal Angelfire or Geocities sites. But LiveJournal was really the next level in format and networking. You could tell everyone the type of music you were listening to, as well as your mood, and add a little graphic to express it. I was friends with people I knew in real life – most of them were my friends from California that I’d started the journal in the first place to keep in touch with. But you could find people by what bands you liked or see who was friends with your friends or who was commenting on your friends’ posts, so everyone was within a few degrees of knowing each other or shared something specifically. I would “review” records I found in my aunt’s basement, talk about books I was reading in class, or take pictures of clothes I got at thrift stores. For an isolated high school student, it felt somewhat like a party.
In one memorable instance on LiveJournal, a family member I’d lost touch with got in touch with me by leaving a comment after I posted something about a discussion in one of my literature classes. I thought someone was playing some sort of bad joke at first. We IMed and I asked questions like, “what is my middle name,” “what hospital was I born in.” We decided to meet in Paris a year later. We connected but it was something I didn’t know how to go through.
When I started my first year of college at UC Santa Cruz, I made friends with other people in my “arty” dorm that had LiveJournals. I liked people who put themselves out there. My best friend at the time used to say she hated reading people’s LiveJournals because it always made her like them less – this sentiment started to really come to life after college started.
Santa Cruz was beautiful but just stuck in a faux ‘60s, childlike bubble. It sounds nice to read The Crying of Lot 49 on a beach with a group of friends for class, but it’s really not that awesome when you feel like you’re studying with the bros from Encino Man. It wasn’t what I wanted for an education, so a few months in I applied to transfer to some of the seven sister schools.
Smith offered me a nice package, and I checked out the LiveJournals from girls who went there. They seemed more self-possessed than other girls I’d met, and it just seemed like a nice, foreign place where I could be brainy for a bit. I’d kept up the journal sporadically while I was there and ended it after shortly after I graduated. During that summer, I had checked my friends’ pages and read a long post by someone who had broken my heart and not updated in a year. It was followed by a flood of posts from high school friends talking about how our mutual friend had been hit by a car on his bike and killed. I didn’t want to read the site anymore.
Friendster 2002 to 2006
I’m glad I got rid of Friendster early because I hear it’s ruining peoples lives. It’s the first thing page in a Google search of a particular friend of mine, and unfortunately a friend of hers had joked-filled out her profile a long time ago saying some pretty cheesy stuff. Even though she deleted it, it won’t disappear from Google.
Friendster came out my freshman year of college. There was lots of talk of “activity partners.” I remember when someone “friendstered” you it felt pretty affirming. With LiveJournal, people were always putting new writing forward, but Friendster was a profile that pretty much stayed the same, except for a space for testimonials.
Since, at the time, I was planning on going to Paris and moving to the east coast, my boyfriend in Santa Cruz and I were on our way to the end. I found his Friendster when I was in Europe, and his profile picture was a bad photo of a terrible drawing I did of him in a vegan café. He was listed as in a relationship. It was sweet but also made me sick: I hated seeing that we were no longer going to work, and have it look back at me as a profile. It was like when someone gets a haircut and you no longer find them attractive, it was seeing the profile that made me knew things were, in the saddest way, officially done.
Friendster was the first time, I think, I started to feel bad online. LiveJournal people would be passive aggressive or leave anonymous comments, but I think with Friendster I was a little older and it started to have this dating element to it. Based on people’s testimonials, it was clear if they were hanging out or had an idea about someone. And I didn’t want to see testimonials on the people I had romantic relationships with. I didn’t want to know. I wasted a lot of time at Smith being in misery waiting for my main romantic interest to write me a testimonial back.
I remember the day when it showed whose profile you had been looking at. It was senior year and I called my friend, telling her to immediately make her settings private. It seemed like it was embarrassing, but when I saw who’d looked at mine I just felt flattered and not that surprised. I remember one of my friends at Smith trying to take Polaroids to use as a profile picture, smoking outside on the porch swing. She got pissed none of them were cute after shooting through a whole package. Friendster was a giant affectation, but it was okay.
Dailyjolt 2003 to 2006
Only some schools had the DailyJolt - it was this college-specific site with job listings, things for sale, news and an intensely active forum. People asked general advice or would do anonymous “crush posts.” Sometimes there would be offensive anonymous remarks and Smith would organize a committee or workshop to address the comments. Once, a friend of mine tracked down this childhood crush I had who was on a reality show I liked when I was little. We had a nice exchange and later became Friendsters, then Facebook friends.
The most memorable Jolt posting I remember was called “best gossip ever” and it was a link to a porn site with an episode starring an intensely self-righteous girl that was in my Utopia/Dystopia philosophy class I’d taken at Hampshire. Seemed like hell/perfect. I don’t think Dailyjolts are around anymore.
Myspace 2004 to 2006
Myspace came out my second year of college. I think people liked it at first compared to Friendster because you could have more images on it, and ‘pimp it’. I ‘pimped my profile’ by putting photos by Larry Clarke and ‘60s feminist performance artists’. And I think I played the Milkshake song. I don’t think I ever did a real ‘MySpace pic.’ I felt like “Tom” was faking it for marketing when he did his digital camera-in-the-mirror snapshot. My friends and I would look at pictures of boyfriends’ new beaus and gossip. God, so many dorm room moments with MySpace open on a laptop and shit talking going down.
It seemed like people in cities had a lot more fun with Myspace, with all the nightlife photos. This was around the time the Cobra Snake came out. I was really sad I was not in a city. I just liked the fashion from the photos – I would actually draw each piece of clothing in pictures and go to thrift stores to rip off the outfits. I deleted MySpace when it started to bum me out, like Friendster had.
It seemed like with MySpace, brands started to become interested in social networking. It seemed like everything went from authentic internet socializing to social networking/marketing when things got intensely based on how many friends an account had. It seemed more chic to have less friends. Twitter seems to have figured this out by lettings brands have low following, high follower ratios.
Blogger 2005, 2006
My only other friend at Smith who was into Internet stuff had a Blogger account, and told me LiveJournal was for thirteen year old girls and their deepest darkest secrets. She had a point. I didn’t really like Blogger, or the word “blog,” or to refer to myself as “blogging,” but I was clearly behind.
I associate Blogger as a weird transitional time in my Internet life. I used it for about two months, when I was ending my time studying abroad in Prague to go traveling through Europe about whatever nihilistic/existentialist adventures I was trying to cinematize. I sent the link to a few of my Smith friends but deleted it by senior year. Then I did a fashion/art blog when I graduated, which I probably should have kept up.
Flickr/Vimeo/ Last.fm 2005 to 2006
Flickr was a nice step up from Webshots. I did not really have the video capabilities for Vimeo but it seemed like a cool company. I liked using Last.fm because I was the musical director of my college radio station. I feel like I was excited when these media management services came out, but I don’t have much of an emotional connection to them. They were handy. I was glad they were designed well.
Linked-In 2008 to present
If I thought blogging professionally was initially difficult to grasp, making a professional social network site was the next big pill to swallow. Seeing the internet as some sort of creative, mischievous playground for so long made it strange to use it for work. But it definitely makes sense. As I get older, more of my identity is mostly career-related, so there’s no need for separation.
Tumblr 2008, 2009 to present
I wanted to start a Tumblr on January 1, 2008. I was excited about it. It had a much nicer interface than Blogger. I felt like, with the job I had at the time, I somewhat lived in fear of any personal expression that didn’t represent where I was working. At the time, blogging and chic didn’t really go together. I thought, “If I hold up this Balenciaga bag, will that make this an acceptable blog for both the fashion world and my interest in the online world?” I tried to take a photo, but I couldn’t take myself seriously. I think a lot of girls do amazing things with style blogging, but I can’t really consciously put my picture on a blog. My Tumblr was up for a day then came down. I felt defeated.
I started another Tumblr a year later as a place to put my clips when I was writing them, and then fill in other points of interest. It seemed to make sense, and reached outside my Facebook connections. Kind of seems like how LiveJournal used to be but with a viral element to it.
Twitter 2009 to present
I started tweeting before I understood the point. Seemed like a place I could share my articles. It was like a Facebook status update but no longer in third person. It was funny to see people complain, and what side of their identities really came out on Twitter.
I connected with people I casually knew, and made the occasional friend on Twitter. Early on, it seemed like a place to say whatever nightclub I was at, but in general, Twitter made me go out less. The nightlife status updates didn’t really seem that fun, and seeing someone’s tweet about where they were took the place of casually bumping into them in a dark crowd. Fashion week happened, and it seemed like I got some followers who were interested in my twitpics. I don’t know if I would tweet if there wasn’t Twitpic.
StyleCaster 2009 to present
I know technology and fashion have always influenced each other, and when I heard about StyleCaster, before it launched, I was really attracted to it. Combining content, social networking and shopping was something I felt like I’d been doing for my whole life, and it was so smart to see it come together somewhere in one place. I am continually impressed by the work and growth of the site. I definitely think the future is about bringing brands and blogs closer together, and StyleCaster is really making this happen.
I went on Chatroulette for maybe eight minutes. It was winter and freezing. I was feeling Seasonally Affected Disorderly, just dyed my hair gray and felt trapped in my apartment. I saw a vagina, a penis and:
I have maybe 20 friends on Foursquare, none are ones I really hang out with on an active basis. I have no mayorships, nor any drive to achieve any. I still feel like it is something I should be doing, albeit for unknown reasons. I feel like “being mobile and local” is important, maybe. This is similar to how I felt about Twitter when I first started, so maybe in a year this will make more sense.
Facebook 2004 to present
With Facebook, it seemed like the first time normal people really got obsessive about the Internet. It really brought out the inner freak in the Dave Matthews-listening set. I first heard about the site from my roommate at Columbia, when I took a painting class over the summer there. She was a pretty girl in the upstate New York sort of way: wore a hot pick polo with a popped collar, Seven jeans and played lacrosse. She talked about “The Facebook” all the time. I was always wondering why she was obsessed with her online presence. I thought it was cute when Smith opened it up in the fall. The site completely lacked sex appeal – that was left to Myspace. It was merely a place for my me and my Smith friends. Then groups started forming: if you went to public or private school, fan groups for not-that-obsolete childhood pop culture icon that caused unseemly amounts of nostalgic hysteria, or “so and so is the hottest person in the world and I want to makeout with them.”
I think some of my early interests on Facebook were like, “white nailpoilsh, Caravaggio, watching my plants die, trying to be a good person, soy nog.” When I graduated from college, I think there was only one photo tagged of me and it was a screenshot from SNL’s mom jeans sketch, which I was content with.
People think Facebook is creepy now, but before privacy settings, things were pretty insane. You could fall into a big Facebook k-hole, finding one person of interest, looking through all their photos and their friends’ photos. It was fun to be a free voyeur for some time. Now Facebook has places, which brings things into real life, and my favorite: “photo memories,” which manages to pull up everything you would like to forget about.
I liked to play games online when I was younger, but with Hangman there was an end point, an execution. What’s scary about Facebook is its suspense. It is the Alfred Hitchcock, the Marina Abramovic of the Internet. What is happening to my information, my privacy and my morals? Are you following friends online, or stalking strangers in public? Is it more sociopathic to look at people online a lot or to download a program that says who views your profile? Is it weird that your profile pic is a photo of your baby, or is it even weirder that your pic is of you as a baby? What about a picture of yourself in a bikini? A drunk photo of your friend? Would you suggest I become a fan of you? Whatever rules there are have been made up as they go along, but what happened to the ethics? There’s one thing for sure: what we “Like” no longer means something is good or right. It has nothing to do with taste. It’s just a measure of whether or not it can make money.
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