Kio Stark: Two moments that are the first time I got on the Internet. One is probably before the memory of a lot of people who are listening to it, which is using Gopher. Which was a text-based browsing around…thing. And what you would do is you’d log on… I had a university account. And you would see a list of basically places and some of them were other universities, and some of them were things like the Madison Wisconsin freenet, which was something where you didn’t have to be associated with the university.
And you could click on them, and they would take you to that place’s list of places. And there was no back button, so if you wanted to go back you would have to actually remember where you came from? So you ended up sort of making a map as you were doing it because otherwise you were absolutely, randomly lost.
And the funny thing about using Gopher’s I don’t really remember what the stuff was that you got to. I only remember the process of jumping around and being disoriented by not being able to get back to what I was finding. And I think you can still use Gopher. I’m not positive. It was at the same time as using Pine for email, which was basically command-line. And I found out the hard way that the backspace button did not actually delete anything. So I wrote a kind of angry response to an angry email that was very carefully written, with lots of things written and then deleted. And then I was told kind of gently that all the deletions were visible. Which was…awful. But also, because email was so new, it seemed sort of forgivable.
The second time I first got on the Internet was when somebody showed me Mosaic. So I was at a friend’s house, and he was kind of geek and kind of an artist. And I went to visit and he said, [whispering] “Come here. I have to show you something.”
And we went into… I’m sure a lot of people have this story. So we went into the room where his computers are and he’s like, “Look.” And again, I don’t remember the content. I don’t remember what I was looking at, I only remember that it was a picture. And it was like oh; this is all different.
And he’s like, “I’m gonna learn how to make these.” And very excited and also, “I’m gonna learn how to make these because that can be a job.”
And you know, suddenly this was also a whole new realm of things you could do you. And I’m not a programmer, so the side of it that was exciting about the idea that you could make something wasn’t…that didn’t really resonate with me. But I’m a writer, and somehow being able to look at things and hop around and look at different things was really amazing. And it was such a change from using Gopher, which had a certain random excitement and this was much more purposeful.
I actually— One of the things I remember about seeing Mosaic is just the room that I was in, and the light, and the messiness of the room, and the fact that the computer was at standing level, in a way that with significant moments you remember sort of everything about them. And looking at Gopher, what I remember is the various desks that I was sitting at. There was a desk in a room that had a sort of garret ceiling angle, and there was a desk in a room where I had my own study in a whole house and I could go sit in my room and look out the window. And I had some tiny box of a Macintosh. So, it’s strange to me that what I remember the most is the spaces.
I’m not sure how to describe what I miss and what’s lost, but I think particularly with moving away from Gopher, I really miss the sense of disorientation, and of finding not only stuff but interesting paths, and finding out which place was getting you to the same other place. It was like when you play a text adventure game and you end up drawing a map because you know otherwise you can’t remember the layout and how to get back. And it had that kind of feeling of a game. And it wasn’t…purposeful. I wasn’t looking for anything, I was looking around, and so it felt like I’m looking around at the world. Except that I wasn’t looking at anything, I was looking at words. So…
I also think, and this isn’t from my first memory but it is from my early use of email and like everyone I sort of miss, the letters. But I don’t so much miss the physicality of the letters. That’s sort of a quaint way to miss it. I just miss the length and the carefulness with which things were articulated. And the sort of long…pauses as you were writing, and the long thought that goes into the response. And also, I had one friend who—we were using all channels. So we would still actually write letters and she would send me photocopies of lyrics by this guitar player she had a complicated crush on. And then we would talk about it on chat and refer to the letters. And to some degree we still do that now, we say you know, “Oh did you see my tweet.” But it was different when it was so deeply thought-out. Even though you were still doing it in the middle of work.
So, I think those are kind of the moments that I remember the most about early encounters with the Internet and what I miss about it. But I’m also not very nostalgic as a person. I like to tell stories. Things remind me of things and I always talk about them. But I don’t miss them so much. I’m really aware of the idea that they are invented, you know, that your memories are stories you made up. Because they’re meaningful to you. So…yeah, so I’m not sure if any of what I just said is actually true.