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​.indi​ana​.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.

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