Douglas Rushkoff: [high-pitched whistle] Yeah. You can use that test tone whenever you like. You can have the rights to it. I also hereby surrender and relinquish all rights public and private in this in any medium, for this to be used and exploited, and my name for publicity in other forms, as exists and shall be existing in the future. Amen.
You have to do that. It’s a release. It’s probably not legal but it does…it’s more legal than most things you would sign. It’s heartfelt. It’s a heartfelt release.
Okay. So I’m gonna misuse the terms, but my first experience of the Internet was before the Internet, right. The first thing that I experienced that was truly like the Internet was… I guess it was the first time I went on CompuServe. 70754.1622 was my username. And it was on a 2400 baud modem. You logged into this thing…it was a text-only universe. And text in those days was— The screen was black, and the text was either amber or green. So that was the way it looked. And it was just text, like, letters. So you would type in something and then you’d get back all these letters and things.
And on Compuserve, there was a really simple form of Nexis, which was sort of like a way to get articles and things, for money. And there was the ability to do some really simple data searching of things it would find. But, there was some nerd guy around then who looked at my little si— I was just…I loved this thing. I was the only one who had a modem or anything or anybody around. And this guy said, “Oh, you’re only at 2400 baud. You should be at 5600, which is what we’ve got now.”
And I was like, “Yeah but look at this article download,” and I’d found an article I’d downloaded and said, “Can you read faster than that?”
So the whole idea of— It’s like, why would you need information to come at you faster than you could actually consume it? So I figured that was— And I stayed with my 2400 baud for you know the longest time, you know. Really until probably 56k, until way late in the game or 28–8 or something.
But the real first moment—it was interesting. After CompuServe I got on The WELL, the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link. Which was you’d dial directly into it, right. It wasn’t on a network, either. It was basically a computer with a bunch of modems and hard drives, and you would dial directly into it. And then it had a BBS in it. But you’d dial—and you wouldn’t stay there, really. You’d dial in, you’d download the conversations that you’re a part of, and then you would engage in them offline, and then come back and sort of go back.
So I would do that but then there was this moment when the WELL attached itself to the Internet, right. So, instead of it just being a machine, now it was on this thing. So the address of the WELL was well.sf.ca.us. Because they didn’t have com’s and co’s and things and it was like the WELL, in San Francisco, California, US. So that’s how you knew where it was.
But then when I was on there, you had these utilities you could use with names like Gopher, and Veronica, and that was the Internet, right. So you’d go and you’d say I want something, and you’d find out from a list that oh, this thing that you want is like in a computer in Tel Aviv. And then you’d type the address of that computer and you’d use commands to get the file from that thing. And it could be anything, you know. A book or article, a thing that you need from there; a piece of information or a song lyric, whatever.
And so my first experience of the Internet was getting things I needed, as I needed them, right. So having a sense of autonomy over it. A human-based network that responded to my queries. And a way of connecting to all these other people in an asynchronous fashion where I got to be smarter than I was in real life. Because I had all night to come up with my response to something in a conversation, rather than having to do it face-to-face in the moment. And we’re all… Well I, anyway, am smarter if I have time to think about like ten responses and then… You know that feeling when you leave a cocktail party and you’re like, “Oh, I coulda said this, or I coulda said that.” The net was the place where I could do that.
Those are the two things that were most exciting to me about the Internet, and the two things that I’m the most sad about not having anymore. The net is no longer a responsive environment but is an environment that is demanding response from me. So rather than it being something that kind of sits there and waits for my human autonomy, or my choice, or my agency to— “Retrieve me this, get me that,” sort of the way you think of Siri today. “Siri! Tell me this.”
The net was like that. It was this big responsive thing. Now it’s like…asking me shit. It’s just pinging me and buzzing me. Instead of working in that great asynchronous waiting pause, it’s this always-on assault. And it’s funny, you know, I used to think it’s just all the people who want stuff from me. It’s not really— It’s like they are there, there’s all those annoying people in the inbox. But there’s also this pure leaning on you, this pure neural, claustrophobic assault that… I feel like I no longer have that… I don’t get a sense of wonder, right. And it was never the technology that was the thing that gave me that sense of awe and wonder. It wasn’t real-time video feed. It was being able to really swim or surf in this…you know…this sort of connected data place. The closest I get to it now is something like Wikipedia, you know. When you move through that, it can recreate—that’s the closest really to it.
And the other thing I miss is the beams, you know. We used to say on the WELL when someone would die or be sick or something like that, you know, we’d say, “Oh you know, my uncle died.” And people would say, “Beams.” They’d say that to somebody in an email or in a message, “Oh beams to you.” “Beams.” And it just basically was…you know, [indistinct], you get a little bit of that sense of oh, you know, we are something, we are human, we are together. But where I’m getting that is in very private— I’m getting that actually offline more. When I see somebody else we connect. Because it’s like the real mourning we might do as people is overshadowed by like every friggin’ you know…whatever Slate, Engadget, Salon…Gawker…blehhhh all over it. It’s just so much vomit to wade through that it’s just not a place to eat, you know.
So I miss that. I miss that… And it’s not just that there’s more people. It’s not. It’s that there’s something other than people. And that people are not so very concerned online with the stuff that made us, that makes us human, you know. They’re much more concerned with the stuff that makes us rich, or popular, or cool, or whatever. It was a nerdy, snark-free place. There were mean nerds, but they weren’t snarky, you know. And snarkiness just feels so deadening, you know. That… Yeah. I mean on the bright side? I enjoy my real life now more. You know, the Internet is no longer the place where I do the stuff I can’t do in real life. I’ve been forced to do it. To do it here, so, there’s that.