Debbie Chachra: So, my first mem­o­ries of using…it was­n’t even the Internet, this is before the Internet, it was BBSes, was when I was a kid. My father had bought a second-hand com­put­er and it came with—God, like a 600 or a 900-baud modem. And I don’t even know how I dis­cov­ered what BBSes were, or that there was a local one. But I at some point start­ed dial­ing in to BBSes. 

And again, I don’t know how it evolved to this point, but for a while, I would go to bed at the nor­mal time for like a 12 year-old, and then I would wake up at three o’clock in the morn­ing, head down­stairs, plug in the modem, dial into one of these BBSes, and spend a cou­ple of hours chat­ting with strangers, before pack­ing it up around five AM and going back to bed. 

So that last­ed for probably…you know, I’m think­ing about months. And of course because I was 12 years old and it was five in the morn­ing every once in a while I would for­get to unplug the phone. Which meant that when my par­ents came down and they went to use the phone that day, it did­n’t work and they even­tu­al­ly fig­ured out why. And not real­ly all that sur­pris­ing­ly, after this hap­pened a cou­ple of times my father con­fis­cat­ed the modem so that I did­n’t have a con­nec­tion to the out­side world. 

The thing that I sort of remem­ber about it now that I think back on it is, first of all, my user­name was Eowyn. This was back in the day where you could actu­al­ly have the user­name of Eowyn—it did­n’t get tak­en in the first five min­utes. And it nev­er occurred to me not to have a female user­name, right. Cause there was no pre­ex­ist­ing knowl­edge of what it was to be a woman on the Internet. So, of course I took— I mean of course I was gon— If I had to pick an alias, of course the alias that I would pick as a pre­co­cious geeky 12 year-old was gonna be Eowyn. 

But the oth­er thing I remem­ber is I don’t actu­al­ly remem­ber being harassed. And I don’t know whether it was because I was too young or clue­less to rec­og­nize what it was? But I real­ly just sus­pect it did­n’t hap­pen. I don’t think there was any­thing there that made me uncom­fort­able. I’m sure…I know it was obvi­ous that I was female. I’m sure at no point would I have men­tioned how young I was. And I was pret­ty pre­co­cious so I doubt any­one real­ized how young I was. 

So…yeah. So real­ly I just— And I’m sure most of peo­ple I talked to were were male. I have no mem­o­ry of talk­ing to any­one else who was a woman or a girl, or even pre­tend­ing to be a woman or a girl on these BBSes at the time. But most­ly I just had the sort of sense of reach­ing out and con­nect­ing and talk­ing to peo­ple that I would­n’t oth­er­wise be able to talk to. 

So I don’t think there’s a lot that I miss about the ear­ly Internet. When I was at col­lege I spent a lot of time on the Usenet groups, par­tic­u­lar­ly in like the rec.arts hier­ar­chies, and in the alt hier­ar­chies. And they were of course these sort of weird lit­tle cor­ners of the Internet where peo­ple who real­ly cared pas­sion­ate­ly about some­thing talked about it. But all of those things still exist. You just sort of need know where to look for them, right. They’re not on Facebook. They cer­tain­ly are on Twitter. And they cer­tain­ly are in like forums. So there’s def­i­nite­ly places you can have those weird lit­tle conversations. 

I guess prob­a­bly the only thing that I miss—and I did­n’t real­ize that I missed it until I start­ed think­ing about it a lit­tle a few min­utes go, was…it nev­er occurred to me when I was the sort of 12 year-old girl get­ting on BBSes that there was any rea­son to hide my gen­der. That it would make a dif­fer­ence in how peo­ple treat­ed me. And it did­n’t occur to me when I was in col­lege using the Usenet groups that I should do any­thing oth­er than to use my real name, right, that was sort of asso­ci­at­ed with my stu­dent account. I think there was real­ly this sort of sense that those were sort of pri­vate spaces and they did­n’t reach out and touch your real life. Whereas now that’s absolute­ly not true, right. If I fol­low some­one on Twitter, even though I haven’t met them there’s this expec­ta­tion that they are a real per­son in a real place, and there’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty that we might cross paths. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I would ever meet peo­ple, any­one, that I knew on Usenet. I don’t think it crossed my mind that that would be ever a real possibility.

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