What the Internet Was Like Pre-Y2K

Years before it was possible to spend hours at a time stalking exes and exes of exes on Facebook, there was just the straight up internet. Specifically, AOL – anyone who used Netscape or ICQ made me feel uneasy because… well, how simple was it to just use AOL? It was obviously the superior internet provider. They wanted you just as much as you wanted them – stopping at nothing to ensure that you were supplied with enough “40 FREE HOURS!” CD Roms to last a lifetime. AOL CD Roms came in the mail so often that they might as well have been ConEd bills or those yellow ass envelopes from Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.

Email used to be a game – something you did for fun; not something you only acknowledge because you can’t stand to see your smartphone flashing at you disapprovingly. Oh, to be young and hear “You’ve Got Mail” without wanting to shoot yourself in the face! AOL was like your friendship with a grade school BFF, the one who moved away and didn’t keep in touch. You can’t have it back, and you also can’t forget. Here are my favorite hits from the ‘90s.

e-Zines: In the dark ages, email was email – there were no custom fonts; and an option to type in colored text didn’t exist. The only way to make your signature stand out was by adding symbols to it, ala ~*Your Name Here*~. But once AOL’s email interface got a makeover, a slew of colorful, “grrl power” e-zines began to crop up in tween inboxes across America. I subscribed to at least seven. A lot of them were literary based and sponsored by ‘90s staple brand Delia’s (or Delia’s ugly stepsister, Alloy). I once won an e-zine poetry contest with a poem I’d “borrowed” from a friend, accepting a Delia’s picture frame as bounty for “my” award-winning poem. A kleptomaniac roommate stole the frame from me my freshman year of college – poetic justice if I’ve ever experienced such a thing.

Recording Your Instant Messages: As an adult, the thought of having every single one of my G-Chats on file is nauseating. If I had a nickel for every mile I’d have to move if anyone read those transcripts, I’d be able to afford a vineyard in Tuscany. But as a kid, every minute conversation was worth recording. Chats with boys were copied, pasted, and distributed to 25 of my closest friends for dissection. Shit talking sessions were so comical that I’d rather die than have to recall the conversation from memory alone.

Dead Internet Speak: While people cringe at the modern use of LOL, the internet used to be full of cheesy lingo. {{{}}} was how you hugged it out, <g> was how you giggled (or grinned, if you’re my dad), and @–>->— was how you gave someone a rose. Is this corny trip down memory lane embarrassing you yet? I know I’m <blushing>. :::feels lame for using :::’s:::

All About Me! Surveys: All About Me surveys were sent between you and everyone you’d ever met. Aside from the first one you participated in, the surveys never revealed any new information about anyone. The same 50 questions were recycled ad nauseum, but you’d continue to fill out any survey that came your way because the questions were in a different order or in a new font. What else were you going to do, homework? Play outside? Hang out with the friends you now knew 50 times better than you did the day before? PSH. Bitch, please.

Private Chat Rooms: Public chat rooms were old news by the end of the ‘90s. Public chat rooms were Rick’s Saloon on Lexington Ave, and private chat rooms were Studio 54. After private chat rooms had been around a bit, you’d start using them to announce that you were signing off for the day. You’d invite everyone on your buddylist and write “NO CHAT – gOiNg tO BeD! NiTe :P.” In turn, you’d receive about 20 of these chat invites every night announcing various mundane developments in your friends’ lives. Welcome to AOL circa 1999, home of the circle jerk.

Threatening Chain Letters: Never has there been a more deceptive email than the threatening chain letter. Nigerian email scams pee their pants in admiration when confronted with the OG email scam. Threatening chain letters used to be a master of disguise. One day, they’re a passage from John 19:17, complete with a macro of Jesus that was constructed from @ signs and # symbols. The next, they repurpose themselves as a poem about a girl that was killed by a drunk driver. At the end of the poem, you discover the drunk driver was the girl’s father – bleak! These emails play on your vulnerabilities – and when you’re at your lowest low, they sneak attack you: FORWARD THIS EMAIL TO 12 PEOPLE BEFORE MIDNIGHT OR YOUR TRUE LOVE WILL DIE! And you think, “Shit. Is that true? It can’t be. But I don’t want to take any risks.” It’s not a big deal – you were new to the internet. It happens to the best of us. That’s why, decades later, these chain letters are alive and well – thanks to people like your grandpa, who don’t “get it” and don’t want to “chance it.” Bless their hearts.

Building Your Own Website: You were an internet nobody if you didn’t have a Geocities or Angelfire site. How would anyone know that you love Counting Crows and glittery horses if you didn’t build your own page? You’d make sure all of your cyber guests felt welcome by placing a sparkling 3D “Welcome to my page!” .gif front and center – the one that rotates 360 degrees on loop. Don’t forget two glitzy shamrocks – screw it, you’re not Irish, but every homepage needs shamrocks. Don’t ask me why, I don’t make the rules. Any page missing a guestbook and one of those alarm clock ass, green and black visitor counters gets an incomplete.

Thank God that’s over with, right? The Internet can hijack your life if you’re not careful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have fourteen pending Facebook event invites to ignore and several hundred e-blasts from Vistaprint that need deleting. TC mark

You should follow Thought Catalog on Twitter here.

image – Madison Guy


More From Thought Catalog

  • http://twitter.com/andeenero Andee Nero

    I think the AOL statement is kinda off. I remember the morning news making fun of AOL for not having the capabilities to support their customer base. Dialing up with AOL was impossible for the longest time. If you DID get online, it would kick you off after a few minutes. What a nightmare.
    Everyone was always trying to get free internet through companies like Netzero.

    • http://profiles.google.com/mopeyprincess mopey P

      Right? And once there was AIM, why would you(r mom) bother paying for AOL?

      My ex still has an @aol.com email account, now, in 2011. I should have listened to my gut on that one.

    • http://twitter.com/sophiakiona Sophia Anderson

      I had cable internet as early as 1998, and I used to make fun of my friends who had AOL. I could talk on the phone and be online at the same time! Take that!

  • cecile

    hahahah.. i completely forgot about angelfire and geocities! thanks for reminding me.

  • Rachel C

    I had Prodigy…it was god awful.
    Alloy is definitely the “ugly stepsister” of Delia's.

  • klaus

    i remember the time i was in fifth (1995) grade and i befiended an enemy on AOL with a second account and told him about how i (meaning the fake me) was friends with the real me and how great of a guy he (I) was. then he told me once about the chat sex he just had and i told a bunch of people blowing my cover, but he got me back, i was wearing a tie one day and he told me he could tell the company just by feeling it which he did for like 2 minutes, later when i was with a group of friends he walked over behind me and pulled my shirt open, what he really was doing was opening my shirt buttons and i couldnt tell.

  • sleepy

    so many memories

  • http://profiles.google.com/jjamesskatzka Jeffrey Skatzka

    this is the best ever. laffed my butt off

  • Aelya

    Now I want to do an All About Me! survey

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregpphoto Greg Petliski

    What a trip dude. I remember Windows 3.1 on an IBM Aptiva!

  • http://profiles.google.com/cowashee Colleen Farrell

    when i was young i even went so far as to print out my chat room logs. i still have some in a folder somewhere in the attic. CRAZY.

  • brandypass

    Man this takes me back! I had forgotten about so much of this. I have some printed IM conversations somewhere, too. Fun!

  • deecie

    How would anyone know that you love Counting Crows and glittery horses if you didn’t build your own page?

    HAHAHAH so true.

  • http://twitter.com/sophiakiona Sophia Anderson

    This is beautiful.

    Also, I bought a purse from Alloy's website a few weeks ago, and I love it, but I'm kind of afraid that someone is going to ask me where it's from, and I'm going to have to be like, um, Alloy? It's kind of like Delias? Yeah, like the catalog that you used to get in high school with all the flare jeans and baby ts and ugly comforter sets. Yes, I am a grown-up, why do you ask?

  • JB

    I remember the AIM chats my friends and I would save. Twenty percent were gross toilet jokes. I hope that, like me, they've suffered from the universe's way of remedying such errors in judgement — hard drive failures.

    Also, there are several green and black counters in my past, on Geocities, Angelfire, Tripod, Brinkster, all since purged from the interwebs. And there were cliques and trading card games, online poetry and pseudo-diplomatic reviews for everything.

    I'm not super nostalgic, but – psst – every now and then I use the Wayback Machine.

    And I still have three aol.com e-mail addresses forwarding to my Gmail.

  • http://twitter.com/790FM Frank

    AIM profiles, anyone? Slingo? AOL Keyword: Rosie?

  • katehutson


    Away messages, gUrl.com, Slingo, keyword: ______, Zoog Disney, xanga, teenopendiary.com, AOL Homepages, Napster, Winamp, Kazaa, Kids Only! message boards (the Mary Kate & Ashley one = my old stomping grounds), whitehouse.com, excite!/lycos/dogpile, Blue Mountain e-cards, p911 (parents in the room) 50+ & Single chatrooms (I wish I could remember all the names of the standard AOL chatrooms). The AIM chats were so much more dirty than AOL chats.

    Oh, & saying “sry, back, got kicked” a million times when my parents received incoming phone calls that kicked me offline.

    I specifically remember printing off the lyrics to every song I could think of. Also, one tiny Sanrio .gif per piece of paper, and printing the picture + poem from inside the tag of each Beanie Baby at ty.com. It didn't occur to me that ink was not a)unlimited or b)cheap.

    • http://twitter.com/ohfaith Faith Wright

      printing out pictures of sailor moon for no reason

    • http://stephgeorge.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

      OMGGG GIRL @ the lyrics. I had lyrics GALORE. & Ty.com was like my first web crush ever. Think I wrote about that somewhere. I <3 you.


  • Mariel

    I'm afraid most of those you stated still exist. I guess they don't really vanish. They're just passed on to the younger generation and the older generation feels like it's long gone because, well… the younger generation is a private one. At least, somehow. We don't like our parents knowing what we like or invest our time to virtually.

  • idk

    Stephanie – you are my new fave writer on TC. wish we had known each other in middle school to chat online about kurt cobain.

    ps. i had an 'expage' (now defunct) called “3000pixiestix” (?) and there was a section dedicated to proof that tupac is alive. i am white and canadian.

    • http://stephgeorge.tumblr.com Stephanie Georgopulos

      Oh damn, love you. We can still talk about KC. My email is steph@theuglynewyorker.com.

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