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 288 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, SalonGawker…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.

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