CW Anderson: So it’s interesting, you know. The answer to the question the first time you were on—what you remember about the first time you got on the Internet, the first time you got on the Web, are sort of different for me. And I can answer them both differently, I guess.
You know, my first memory of the Internet has got to be one of those Pine email displays. Pine was basically an early…I don’t know if it was Unix or Linux or what sort of web service it was based on, but it was an email program, basically. And all of our undergraduate university— So we showed up to college in 1995. I…might have been on the Internet before that, I think that probably was, but you know, if I was I sort of have no memory of it really.
Got to college, and they’re like oh, here’s this email account. And I’d known about email because friends of mine who’d already gone to college had email. And so it was sort of this exciting thing that you got when you went to university. So they gave us all email accounts. And they all had Shakespearean domain names. So you were @ophelia, or you were @othello, and I was at @hamlet. I don’t know whether that meant anything, I don’t think it did but you know. I think there might have been Macbeth or something like that, too.
And you know, when I was first doing stuff on the Internet it was all very simple. It was all almost entirely text-based. It was almost entirely like you know…here’s this email program that you can use to talk to—you know, mostly talk to people that you knew in high school, right. That I think traditionally you would’ve maybe written letters to, or that you just would have not talked to at all. And so it became this way to just maintain these friendships that I’d had before I went to college and stay in touch with people and see what their experiences in school were and what mine were and all that.
Maybe the more interesting half of that story, though, is the first time I was on the Web and what I remember about the first time I was on the World Wide Web. In addition to getting email addresses and ways to log on and send email, we got domain name space. So we basically got web space, server space, or whatever it was. And it was… I went to Indiana University in Bloomington, so it was www.indiana.edu/~ and then whatever your…so mine was “chanders”. It was “ch” for Christopher and then “anders” for Anderson; it was my email address also. So it was ~chanders.
Thinking about that tilde actually is one of those things that suddenly makes me very nostalgic, actually. I don’t know if we use tildes anymore in web addresses but there was a while when you know, that tilde seems—like, it was everything after the tilde that was interesting, right. So you would go and you would—
Anyway, so um…I…had no idea this was. Was it you know, what… Something in there called “home pages.” And I had no idea what a home page was, or what they were for, or what you would possibly use them to do. And then through email, I saw that one or two of my friends at other universities had home pages. And on my dorm room floor, you could sort of walk down the hall and you could occasionally see these people building their home pages. And so I quickly realized that this was just sort of like a way to you know, you could learn this thing called HTML, which I’d also never heard of, and you could build these little scrapbook portfolio/business card ways of introducing yourself or you know, putting things about yourself on the Internet. And you could pick from maybe these pre-stocked back—like, there was a way to code the background, right. So I think my first background was probably black with like a starscape. And the text was this really ugly like neon green. And there was also this like neon green, thick, like bar between the “Chris’ Page” and there was this ugly-ass neon green bar. And there was this white text on a black background.
And you know, unfortunately I cannot remember for the life of me what I actually put on it. I have no idea. I don’t think it was any sort of…you know, dynamic content or anything like that. I don’t think it was anything that I updated regularly. I just think it was sort of like a “Here I am. This is me. I go to Indiana. This is what I do.” It was very unthought-out. It was very unstrategic, you know. There was very little idea of who would be watching or who would be listening. Or who would even pay attention.
So those are two early memories of my first moments on the Web. I mean, it might be later than some of the folks you’ve talked to, I’m not sure. I mean for me it was really deeply tied into college, you know. 1995 was when I started school and that seemed like the time when the Web was getting mainstream enough that somebody could just go to school and start using it.
So what do I think is missing, and what do I wish…I feel will never come back. A couple things. You know, I don’t know… I think that having to learn HTML was a really neat and in retrospect really important skill for me to learn. And it’s amazing, I feel like people learned HTML of a cert— You know, I feel like everybody age 35—no, 33 to like 38 has like some basic level of HTML skill. And I don’t know if anybody over 38 you know, or maybe 40 has it. Or anybody under you know like 32. Like I just think that there was this window where everybody learned HTML.
And practically I can still do a ton, with knowing HTML. It taught me how coding works. It made me less terrified by the idea of programming in a language. I mean even though HTML is really not complicated anyway. It made me not scared at all of this idea that you would type in these weird words and they would cause things to happen.
You know, and I think that that having gone away is unfortunate. Not just because it teaches you practical skills, but this idea—and then kind of going to the second thing I think is missing, this idea that… Look, I mean there’s so much you can do on Facebook to make yourself— To try to get your humanity onto Facebook. Facebook has so many gadgets and widgets and things you can add on, and all these things you can build into it, and you know, the idea is I guess that Facebook wants to make you as complete a person as you possibly can.
But it is also pre-packaged. I mean, there is such an aggressively strong template you have to put yourself in when you get on the service. And you know, my little stupid home page or whatever was limited by my lack of skill. It wasn’t as dynamic or as interesting or as exciting as Facebook is. But I made it. You know what I mean? Like I made it myself. And I feel bad for college students now—now I sound like Old Man Chris. But you know, I feel bad for college students now that their first experience of—and they’re all on social media way earlier anyway. But that people’s first experience with getting on the Internet is sort of entering this Facebook land where it’s also sort of done for you, and you don’t build it yourself really in the same way. I think that idea of you know, I’m gonna create this thing for myself using these very simple commands is a really interesting, important, and powerful experience.
So third and last thing I feel like is missing. You know, the Web felt…the Internet, the Web, whatever—felt very small in the 90s. You feel like you know, the people you knew on it were all people you really genuinely knew. They were all either friends that you’d had from home, or you went college, or they were the good friends you met while you were in school. And it just felt like a very— You know, there was one fan site for a band I was interested in. That was it, there was one. There was only one, you know, and everybody who care about this like, prog rock band or whatever, used this one web site. And the people you sent those Pine emails to, you knew them all.
And look, like, one of the best, awesomest things about the Internet now are how many new people you meet, how many people you have relationships with that you never would have known before. That’s how we know each other. And that’s awesome and that’s great and that’s wonderful, and I wouldn’t go back. But, at the same time it is…there’s something…it was nice when the Web felt like a small place. You know, I do feel like we’re just so over— And you know, the flip side of it not being a small place anymore is that it’s overwhelming, kind of tiring, you know. You can spend all day on the Internet sort of half working, half doing your social media thing, trying to get stuff done, and you know you’re just sending email—you know, dozens, hundreds of emails a day. And you leave and you just feel exhausted and tired and worn out and you know, a little dirty. A little sluggish. And you know, there was a time I feel like when it was this way to catch up. And it was a refreshing, energizing experience, rather than what is now, which is a bit…stimulating, yes but also kind of draining and tiring. So, I—you know…probably not the sexiest or most interesting answers you got, but you know, that’s what I remember and that’s what I miss.