Georgina Voss: So, I don’t remem­ber the first time I went online. It was kind of always there, real­ly. There was a point— Well not always there. There was a point when it was­n’t and then there was a point one day when the com­put­er in my dad’s study sud­den­ly had the Internet on it. And it was big, and bricky, and the things we print­ed out from it were slow and bricky. And it was kind of there. So it was­n’t a big excit­ing event real­ly, because the pos­si­bil­i­ties of it nev­er grabbed my brain in the same way that I got the excite­ment—overwhelm­ing excite­ment of get­ting my first text mes­sage. That was thrilling. The Internet kind of just…was­n’t, real­ly.

So I used it a bit for work. I used it as as an under­grad­u­ate. It was nice to know a web site was there, but the web sites were nev­er of the amaz­ing capac­i­ty and speed that they are now. What I find use­ful now cer­tain­ly did­n’t exist fif­teen, twen­ty years ago at all. 

The real­iza­tions I have now of oh my God you know, I can find as many pic­tures of piglets wear­ing cow­boy hats as I want, I did­n’t real­ly even have then. I just had like kind of…[inaudi­ble] imag­i­na­tion around it. And I did­n’t in the begin­ning find it par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for social stuff either. We had at uni­ver­si­ty a very kind of…early, lumpen email sys­tem. But because it was a uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem we could all find each oth­er through the uni­ver­si­ty by our tag names, our user­names. And they had this thing called fin­ger­ing. So if you fin­gered some­one’s user ID, you could see when they lost logged on. And obvi­ous­ly this was a recipe for heart­break and angst and dra­ma in ways you could­n’t even imag­ine if you were pur­su­ing some­one and you sent them an email and they did­n’t respond. You could tell when they’d last logged on. You know, if you’d bro­ken up with some­one it was you know… I can’t think of any­thing more designed for 18, 19, 20 year-olds drunk on angst in the com­put­er room at three in the morn­ing than what they’d developed. 

And I was also not par­tic­u­lar­ly into games as well, either. So a lot of sto­ries that my friend have about how they stayed up to 3:00 AM in the col­lege com­put­er room play­ing this or that game, that just was­n’t a space I inhab­it­ed. So I don’t think I was meant to be one of those ear­ly pio­neers, or at least what was built was­n’t built for a pio­neer like me.

I poked around in some of the ear­li­er online mes­sage boards. A lit­tle bit, because the anonymi­ty of it actu­al­ly just made it kind of strange and too fast-moving for me and I could­n’t quite get my hook to it, in a way. And then mes­sage boards came along. And they were a lit­tle bet­ter because you need­ed to have longer post­ing and it was a lit­tle more…to me a lit­tle more inti­mate. And there was one in par­tic­u­lar that a lot of my friends were on. But again, I end­ed up read­ing, you know. I was look­ing at what they were say­ing a lot more than actu­al­ly engag­ing with them­selves. And that was part­ly because I think and write quite slow­ly. My brain might be quite sharp and spiky in places, but when it comes to trans­lat­ing that into a writ­ten response, I’m very very slow. And by the time I’d read what my friends were talk­ing about, and par­tic­u­lar­ly of my friends who were a lot more engaged in music and cul­ture than I was, and when they’d been talk­ing about this album or that cul­tur­al or polit­i­cal point, or this thing about queer the­o­ry, by the time I’d kind of thought of this three-line com­ment that I want­ed to say, the con­ver­sa­tion would’ve moved on quick­ly, and I just… you know. And the struc­ture of the mes­sage boards nev­er real­ly gave you a space to actu­al­ly say, I don’t want to com­ment down at the bot­tom of the thread, I want to come in and com­ment at the top of the thread here.” But I can’t do that now. It was all very much kind a lin­ear drop drop drop drop system. 

The oth­er thing about that was the mate­r­i­al nature of engag­ing online. To do that at that stage, you need a big heavy com­put­er in front of you. I did­n’t own one. This was the stage where lap­tops to me as a post-graduate stu­dent in the ear­ly 2000s were pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive. I knew one per­son in col­lege who had one, and he was way ahead of all the rest of us. And a net­worked lap­top at that. 

And I was also doing a type or work which meant that I was­n’t in front of the Internet all day like a lot of my friends were who were either under­grad­u­ates or had jobs which enabled them to be online all day so they could have one screen open where they were doing their work doing copy­writ­ing or they were writ­ing their essays, and then anoth­er screen open where they were con­stant­ly engag­ing with this chat about you know, Have you seen this film,” or about this point here, blah blah blah. 

And I did­n’t. I would get the com­put­er room at col­lege every—even every few hours was­n’t enough. It was­n’t con­stant engage—all this talk of you know, con­stant [inaudi­ble] and being in this brave new dig­i­tal cyber world, you know. I kind of checked in on my cyber world like every four or five hours but then had to check out again, or then had to leave the com­put­er room and go off cam­pus to go home. So I’m aware this is kind of you know, quite a tiny vio­lin, but it just…that thing, that belong­ing, I’d nev­er real­ly felt it. 

And then, I think it would’ve been about ear­ly, mid-2003, pos­si­bly before then, I went to a big queer event where a lot of peo­ple already knew each oth­er and were talk­ing to each oth­er, and who had these things called LiveJournals. And that was a ques­tion of the event, of you know, Hi, I’m George.” And they’re, Alright,” and, Are you on LJ? What’s your LJ name?” And this I think was still at the stage where you need­ed an invite to get on. So there had to be that kind of [inaudi­ble] social con­tact, too.

And I liked the peo­ple I’d met there, and I thought well you know, if they’re all com­mu­ni­cat­ing on this thing, then I’ll add that to my kind of list of read­ing and I got myself a LiveJournal. And I knew a few oth­er peo­ple who had them but I’d nev­er real­ly signed up. It just seems like anoth­er form of blog­ging, and I knew peo­ple who had blogs but it was­n’t again quite that same kind of pseu­do­nymi­ty, but not quite, kind of space to talk, but not quite.

And that was that, and sud­den­ly all the things that peo­ple had been say­ing about how online com­mu­ni­ca­tion and engage­ment and rela­tion­ships and all those forms of kind of your life splic­ing into some­one else’s and some­one else’s and some­one else’s across this kind of online plat­form, sud­den­ly that all made sense. I don’t want to say any­thing as cliché as like, And that was when I saw in col­or,” because you know, it real­ly was­n’t like that at all. It was still…back in 2003 it was still rea­son­ably clunky…you know, we had a lim­it­ed amount of icon pic­tures we could upload. A lot of the LJ tags were still quite crunchy. It crashed a lot. 

But it was bril­liant. It was fan­tas­tic. It was a space where instead of just hav­ing to write a quick response, you could write a real­ly real­ly long, con­sid­ered post. It was a space where if you were like me and some­one who thought long and hard before writ­ing a con­sid­ered com­ment, you could come into an ear­li­er point in the con­ver­sa­tion and insert a com­ment because of a thread­ed com­ment sys­tem, which was aston­ish­ing and real­ly worked well.

You did­n’t have to just have your one lit­tle kind of han­dle or name that you want­ed. You could have lit­tle pic­tures, you could cus­tomize it. You could make the space your own. And you could also fil­ter the friends that you want­ed to see things. They did­n’t just have to kind of splurge out onto a mes­sage board at 3:00 AM, I hate my life! It’s all so awful.” You could find a small fil­ter for that and splurge that out.

You could make small fil­ters for the peo­ple who were doing aca­d­e­mics at work like you, or who were doing sim­i­lar queer events like you, of who wore sim­i­lar types of hats to you. And then you could find all the com­mu­ni­ties that were out there as well and join those dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties too, and engage in dif­fer­ent ways.

And it felt like it all made sense. And it still kind of aston­ish­es me…and I real­ize you asked me, this is probably—we’re lit­er­al­ly com­ing up to my ten-year anniver­sary on LiveJournal now. I know. And I say I would’ve been 24, 25 when I got my first LJ…my only LJ still. And my LJ name, which I’m not say­ing on this—let peo­ple find me—is relat­ed to the fact that it was the year that I start­ed my PhD. And so it was a kind of aspect of…you know, that was how I picked my name.

And I know peo­ple have picked their name and then changed and changed and changed and changed it. But over that ten years, what LJ has which I real­ly had­n’t seen many oth­er spaces do, is allow the kind of change of lifestyle and how peo­ple’s lives evolve and adapt and shift, but still lets me do that in that space, you know. What I talked about on my first post was stuff that—kind of teenage diary stuff that you look back slight­ly with your fist in your mouth and go, Oh my God.” But you have those com­ments and those con­ver­sa­tions still cap­tured in amber to look back on, even if—you know, as I have done, you lock down the ear­li­er part of your LJ so the past few years are only vis­i­ble to your friends. The con­ver­sa­tions have moved on. The trav­el­ing I’ve done, the kind of dif­fer­ent lines of work I’ve gone into, the things which are pri­or­i­ties or are real­ly impor­tant to me now, in some spaces are not nec­es­sar­i­ly the same as they were then. But LJ has kind of enabled all of that and still lets me write long, angsty or thought­ful posts but still lets me get advice from var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties that I’m in. It’s about as hor­i­zon­tal as it can get as a plat­form. There isn’t that strange thing of kind of Facebook fans sites. It’s just there are peo­ple there and they have their LJs, and that’s what they are.

I think one of the things I gen­uine­ly like most about it, which I’m aware that I might be spoil­ing by talk­ing about this on a pod­cast, in the way that a restau­rant crit­ic says you know, But there’s this one tiny place, and it does the best gnoc­chi you’ll ever have! If I tell you where it is…” and you know, then every­one swarms this gnoc­chi restau­rant and then that’s the end of it, it’s gone. 

What I like about LiveJournal is its stealth, basi­cal­ly. No one thinks it still exists. So Twitter, even if you’ve got a pri­vate Twitter, there’s still kin­da those link­ages that’re there and the pub­lic Twitter’s pub­lic. Facebook is Facebook, you know. All these plat­forms are kind of col­laps­ing into each oth­er like one gigan­tic black hole all suck­ing back to one glo­ri­ous, sin­gle uni­fied iden­ti­ty. And LiveJournal’s like, Oh real­ly, fuck that. Have as many live­jour­nals as you want, you know. Log in how you want to. Call your­selves twen­ty names.” But also it’s the thing that most peo­ple is still not going. It was the thing that peo­ple used five, ten years ago. And they’re like, Oh you still have a live­jour­nal. It’s still around?” Like that dod­dery old man is still walk­ing around the estate? Oh my God.

And that’s great. So yeah, it’s com­plete­ly stealth. People say is it not just pop­u­lat­ed by Russian teenagers? And like yes, yes it is. Don’t come near LiveJournal. Don’t go hunt­ing for us, you know. We might be here if it’s secret.

And that’s in a space where it does feel like there’s this push towards the grand uni­fy­ing iden­ti­ty that allows me to log in every­where, pro­vid­ed that Mark Zuckerberg is hap­py that you’re doing so. LiveJournal just feels like, Aha, well screw that. Log in under what­ev­er user­name you feel will be most apt to you today and that’ll be fine for us.”

I think also as well around the tim­ing of it, it laid the way for obvi­ous­ly a lot of oth­er social media plat­forms. I mean, you’re engag­ing with peo­ple, you’re giv­ing out per­son­al infor­ma­tion, you’re post­ing pic­tures, maybe videos. You’re prob­a­bly get­ting angsty in ways at three in the morn­ing that at nine in the morn­ing aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the best idea in the world but you know, what’s done is done.

But LiveJournal I think gave a lot— It cer­tain­ly gave me my train­ing wheels for how to engage oth­er bits of social space. We…people I know on LJ, I think we learnt quite quick­ly (or prob­a­bly some not as quick­ly as we should’ve done) where the lim­its of shar­ing and over­shar­ing are. How pas­sive aggres­sion is man­aged in an online space. What lan­guage you use when you can’t see some­one’s facial reac­tion, and so how you tone down or medi­ate what you’re say­ing in a writ­ten sense so that you can express your­self more ful­ly. Which groups of peo­ple you do and don’t talk to and what infor­ma­tion you share with­in those subsections. 

And so what real­ly struck me when Facebook came along…however long lat­er it would’ve been, five years lat­er, prob­a­bly? Maybe four, five years lat­er. The peo­ple I knew who had LJs, when they migrated—or when they got Facebooks as well, it was a space they knew, and they were fair­ly con­fi­dent in know­ing if they were shar­ing infor­ma­tion, who they would be shar­ing it with, what would be tak­en from that. It was a known quantity.

Whereas peo­ple who came kind of fresh to Facebook, it was just mad­ness. It was kind of like see­ing the dark­er side of someone’s…inside some­one’s head, with no kind of con­trol­ling voice or bound­ary on it. All the peo­ple you’d kind of broad­ly known, school or uni­ver­si­ty friends, sud­den­ly talk­ing about aspects of their life that had they had live­jour­nals they would’ve learnt how to fil­ter out those con­ver­sa­tions but instead it was just a mas­sive splurge of, And then I broke up. And then oh my God this is my par­ents,” and it was just like, No! No! Learn what this plat­form is doing. Learn how you’re trans­mit­ting your­selves on it.

But they had­n’t had that kind of ini­tial train­ing space that I think LiveJournal cer­tain­ly offered for me as a way of kind of nego­ti­at­ing it. And again, I look back at my ear­ly stuff from 2003 now, like I said com­plete­ly locked down, just…with my fist in my mouth. It’s kind of… But I guess I look back at my teenage diaries which are cov­ered in stick­ers also with…you know, with my fist in my mouth just at the kind of lan­guage that I was using. Enormous dra­ma, cap­i­tal D dra­ma, that was being invoked in the name of some­thing or oth­er; get­ting a reac­tion. And that’s adapt­ed and evolved with­in the LiveJournal space. And yeah, I still make use of a bunch of dif­fer­ent oth­er spaces to talk in and con­nect in and do all the oth­er ter­ri­bly dull, SEO, buzzword‑y type things and man­age what­ev­er facet or spike of my iden­ti­ty I need to use for one par­tic­u­lar day or another.

But LJ just, it feels like kind of a safe, stealthy, under­ground, bot­tom line that can be relied on. Actually some­thing a bit more…if not authen­tic but you know, clos­er than any­thing else, which is a bit more shouty. 

I think you’d— You’d asked us to all think about what I miss the ear­li­er days… I’m not sure that I do, actu­al­ly. It’s fun­ny, I was doing some read­ing for the book, and also for anoth­er paper I’m writ­ing back on a bunch of papers that were pub­lished around 2002 that was look­ing at this new phe­nom­e­non of new media. And it was talk­ing about things like CD-ROMs, and intranets, and this brave new space we’d be inhab­it­ing. And the fantastic…you know, what could be built there. And I’d nev­er a part of that con­ver­sa­tion. It felt like— You know, I said I wasn’t…in that group of pio­neers. I’m hap­pi­er now that there’s actu­al­ly a space that has been built up that I feel like I can mod­i­fy what’s there and make it you know…and adopt it to my own desires, rather than hav­ing to try and fight for or engage in a con­ver­sa­tion that I was­n’t equipped with the skills to engage in fif­teen years ago, you know, but I know that stuff now.

Do I miss any of it? Not real­ly. I still go—I mean… Seriously. The moments of won­der I have now are gen­uine­ly things like—exactly like I said ear­li­er of you know, that moment I real­ized I can find a video of that or I can look for a pic­ture of that or I can as a researcher find that thing that how­ev­er many years ago it would’ve been…sixteen years ago in the libraries at uni­ver­si­ty I would’ve had to go to the sci­ence library and pho­to­copy my way through a stack of arti­cles from one of the bio­chem­istry jour­nals. I don’t have to do that any­more. I cleared out one of my desks ear­li­er this week, and ditched a ton of papers from my PhD because I knew I could find them online. That stuff is the mir­a­cle to me. Yeah. I’m kind of—I’m inter­est­ed about what comes next, but I’m not sure that I miss much about what came before.

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