Rex Sorgatz: So I guess the first part about what I remember is the history I don’t have of the Internet? I have lots of friends who have… They tell stories about the modem days. And I grew up in rural North Dakota, and there was literally no such thing as modem culture. We wouldn’t even have known what it was. And so in some ways I’m really envious of people who have that history and experienced those communities, let’s say before the browser.
And I started college in 1990 and that was my first introduction. And because it was so jarring to go to the computer lab and see this group of kids, a few years older than me and wearing trenchcoats in the computer lab late at night playing weird games, I think that my first reaction to them was that they were weird, fringey outsiders, and to be avoided. And then by the end of my freshman year those weird fringey outsiders to be avoided were my best friends. And at first…this is pre-browser. The first usage of it was like looking at conversations on Usenet. I remember being a religious follower of alt.postmodern, because I was a critical studies person and I was reading Derrida and Foucault. And I was an active participant in alt.postmodern. If you go back and do searches, you can find my name dug up in there and it’s rather embarrassing to see the things that I wrote.
So that was my first experience of like Internet communities. I was editor of the college newspaper, so I started using it as a research tool really early. And I remember thinking that I had access to some sort of information that no one else did and I remember just being sort of topically more engaged because I knew news that people didn’t.
The other thing is I went to a big state college in the Midwest. And Minnesota had invented Gopher—the University of Minnesota had invented Gopher. So I remember that being pushed on us really strongly, and there is like an alternate history of the Internet to be written someday about how Gopher could have been the Internet rather than the HTML version of the Internet we have now. But I remember exploring that really early on. I think—I don’t remember when the first main Netscape came through that like the world started to adopt. I think it was ’93 that the Internet was on the cover of Time, and then all of a sudden it was a mainstream idea.
And I had a friend, one of the people I met in that computer lab, who was explaining to me how the new version of Netscape would allow you to view the source of the document? And I didn’t understand why that was important, and he was telling me that it was important because you could view the actual code and how it was made and this is gonna be— And we were think— We were going to make a literary journal I think is what we were gonna do, and we’re gonna be able to view the source of other people’s web sites so that we’d know how to make a web site. Because there was obviously no real resources out there for figuring that out.
And that idea struck me as really interesting, that there was an ability to see the programming that was behind the thing. And there’s several things that I wish since then were like that.
I remember the day The New York Times came online. I also remember the day The New York Times Magazine came online, which was a few years later. And then when I got out of college I started working for newspapers and other media companies, and eventually in ’97 was involved in a startup magazine about web culture called Web Guide Monthly, which was in this weird era where people made magazines about the Internet—print magazines about the Internet. And it was sort of like a TV Guide for the Internet.
And then it was right around that time that I started a blog called Fimoculus. I remember there being maybe a hundred or maybe 200 people doing that at the time. And I really don’t remember where the first one I saw was but I know that some of the people that were really early influencers for me are still around today. And everything since then’s been like Facebook, Twitter, blah blah blah. But those are the most important early memories to me.
What do I miss. I think…um…there’s way more access to information, obviously. And it’s way easier to understand other people’s… If I find somebody interesting in San Francisco, I could quickly find their Twitter feed and learn a ton about them. The thing that I think is lacking is communities around ideas. Everything now is in such disarray and spread out, and there’s no kinda closed communities where people are having conversations about particular topics like my alt.postmodern example. I think people are trying to solve for that right now. There’s a few companies that’re thinking in that way. But the advances of Twitter, and Tumblr, and Facebook, those are more…kind of…you know spread out, not consistently about a topic.
And I guess the other thing I miss is that the Web once seemed much more a platform for creativity, exploration, and simply the idea of viewing the source of the document and using the ideas that are contained inside of it, is completely gone now. Why you can’t view the source of an app, for instance, is disheartening to me. So it’s become a more closed environment, of course.
And I mean if there’s any moment of Internet history that I miss the most it’s probably the early days of blogging, where people built things that looked like some representation of their personality. And now the only way you’d have representation of your personality is to like put a background image on Twitter. And people were learning how to program from…because they wanted to build things. And I don’t think that happens now. I think when people build things, they don’t really learn the systems and the plumbing as much. And you know, maybe that’s for the better but I miss web sites that look like people’s personalities.