Molly Crabapple: I remem­ber get­ting online for the first time when I was 14. For me the ear­ly Internet was Usenet. I was obsessed with three forums: alt.anarchism, alt​.goth​.fash​ion, and alt.nethack. I basi­cal­ly sur­vived mid­dle school by play­ing one of text-based role play­ing games where you’re rep­re­sent­ed by an @-sign and drag­ons are d’s and you type in com­mands. I still get tremors some­times when I see an and” sign because that was the demon. 

I basi­cal­ly spent all of my time post­ing on these Usenet forums and sort of devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships with peo­ple. It was a real­ly inter­est­ing thing because it was this time where you were kind of just judged by your writ­ing style. Like, you would think some­one was hot based on how well they wrote. You did­n’t know what peo­ple looked like. You did­n’t know how old they were. I remem­ber when I was 15, I went to a hotel par­ty that was host­ed by some mods from alt.satanism. And I just remem­ber think­ing, Oh wow, they’re real­ly short. They’re so much short­er than their prose style seemed.” And because you weren’t real­ly judged by exter­nals, I was­n’t real­ly judged by the fact that I was 14 or 15

It was also a time when no one real­ly used their real name online. Which I’m very thank­ful for now because I made real­ly extrav­a­gant polit­i­cal state­ments then that I would just not like to be tied to me. They were real­ly obnoxious. 

In addi­tion to spend­ing all my time on Usenet, I remem­ber just a vari­ety of like these kind of very clum­si­ly hand-done web sites. There was one called Gothic Martha Stewart that I real­ly loved that would tell you how to make like a cof­fin purse, or how to dec­o­rate your bed­room all like tech­no style in a way that your par­ents would­n’t kill you over?

I also remem­ber amaz­ing Satanist GeoCities pages with these GIFs of flames going up and down. And also that under con­struc­tion GIF, which like nev­er was lift­ed from sites. 

I think feel like old Internet, what it real­ly was was it was just so much more text-based. It was real­ly much less of a domain of graph­ics, and there was­n’t real­ly video? as far as I remem­ber. Maybe there was. I just was­n’t an advanced user. So you were real­ly just read­ing scads and scads of writing. 

I would like cor­re­spond with peo­ple. I would use the Internet in this way that’s prob­a­bly how par­ents are real­ly afraid of their 14 year-old daugh­ters using it. Which is that I would use it to have flir­ta­tions with old­er men. I met my like 20-something boyfriend when I was 15 online. And I would use it to read snuff porn because I thought it was real­ly real­ly fun­ny. And look at bomb recipes. And basi­cal­ly look at every sin­gle thing that I was­n’t sup­posed to look at because that was just how I kind of defined myself as a human, by look­ing at things that I was­n’t sup­posed to look at. 

The Internet also gave me access to the adult world in a way that was­n’t author­i­tar­i­an, where it was­n’t like, this is a teacher cre­at­ing a youth-based activ­i­ty for promis­ing youth. Or you know, this is some­thing where there are rules because you’re young. At that time it did­n’t mat­ter that I was under­age. I could talk like an equal to peo­ple. And that was incred­i­bly impor­tant for me.

I don’t think I used the Internet for any­thing whole­some or use­ful while I was a young girl. I think I used it most­ly for illic­it flir­ta­tion and polit­i­cal grand­stand­ing and play­ing video games and learn­ing how to you dye my cloth­ing black with Rit dye. 

What do I think is lost? Well, then your Internet self had noth­ing to do with your real self for most peo­ple. But not in this way where it was like Gay Girl in Damascus, where you were build­ing up a lie and trick­ing peo­ple. It was just no, the Internet was the gnos­tic realm of ideas. Your gnos­tic, ide­al self, that had noth­ing to do with the fact that you were 15, or the fact that you were real­ly real­ly short, or the fact that you weren’t con­ven­tion­al­ly hot, but rather the self of words and ideas could live there. And it could be divorced from your every­day reality. 

I don’t think that’s pos­si­ble any­more. I think that if you’re some­one online…you have to sort of own your ideas. And that being anony­mous is very asso­ci­at­ed with like being a hack­er, or being a troll, or being some­one look­ing at porn sites. Or being some­one who has a rea­son for their iden­ti­ty not to be known. Whereas then, your iden­ti­ty not being known was just a default. It was­n’t some­thing that was real­ly interrogated. 

I love being my real self online now, but I’m real­ly grate­ful that I did­n’t have to be my real self when I was a teenag­er. Sometimes I think it must be real­ly real­ly awful to nev­er be able to make the break with your past that you used to do when you left high school, because your Facebook is always just lying there wait­ing to haunt you with your opin­ions from ten years ago. I wish that we could— I wish that teenagers could be issued new names, or new iden­ti­ties if they want­ed to when they turned 18 so that they could start their lives over. Of course maybe some peo­ple don’t need to break off from their past in the same way that I did. But I wish that there were still that option. 

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