Rick Webb: So what I remem­ber… It was prob­a­bly about…1986 or 1987 when I first sort of— Actually it was junior high, so it’d’ve been like 84 or 85 when I got my first modem. I was in Fairbanks, Alaska. And you know, it was right around the sort of end of the Apple II era and the begin­ning of the Macintosh era. And I got an Apple IIc and I was so excit­ed. And they came out with that modem that was sort of this sleek lit­tle white thing that you’d plug into the wall— It looked like an out­let don­gle thing. And I just want­ed it so bad and my mom bought it for me. And she did­n’t real­ly know what it was. And I was like great, I got a modem, I can call people. 

But you know, I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska and we did­n’t real­ly have AOL or CompuServe or any­thing, and none of those went up there, there were no local dial-in num­bers and they did­n’t do any 800 num­bers up to there. So I found this one local bul­letin board sys­tem. It was called the Aurora Borealis BBS in Fairbanks. And it prob­a­bly had like fifty mem­bers. And now in hind­sight, you know, I was probably…well I guess 13, 12 or 13. It was a lot of adults, and it was a lot­ta gamers, and it was a lot­ta like…the mes­sage boards made no sense to me cause they talked a lot about the bars they went to and places to go in Fairbanks, which of course I could­n’t go to the bars. 

And I remem­ber there was like role-playing games in there. And I was­n’t ever real­ly ever a D&D per­son or any­thing like that, but it was lit­er­al­ly the only thing you could do in this bul­letin board sys­tem. So I signed up, and I was like… I did­n’t real­ly under­stand any of it. This was like my first sort of expe­ri­ence with social ostra­ciza­tion on the Internet, because I did­n’t real­ly under­stand how to play role-playing games? So they’d get to my turn and I’d be like, Well I don’t know, I’d look around for a door, and I would do this. And you guys! What if we get togeth­er and we do this.” And they’re just like, Shut up. Next turn.” 

But that’s a per­fect­ly rea­son­able action when you’re an elf trapped in a room with a team of peo­ple. So they all just kicked me out, which was real­ly pret­ty depress­ing because it was lit­er­al­ly the entire thing I could con­nect to on the Internet. 

But actually—so I know it was junior high because the next year I got to high school and I signed up for a com­put­er class and I went to the com­put­er lab. And it was sort of like the dawn of the PC age thing where every­body would take com­put­er class­es and been going to com­put­er camps even in ele­men­tary school. And there’s like after-school activ­i­ties and we were build­ingBBS there. And there was like one oth­er nerd, and I remem­ber his name. His name is Eric. He’s one of the few peo­ple that’s also left my home­town and is in the com­put­er world. His com­pa­ny was acquired by Microsoft and and he’s there now. 

So you know, we were talk­ing the first day, me and him. And he was a year old­er than me, and it tran­spired that he was one of these guys on this bul­letin board sys­tem that I had been dial­ing into, you know. Under his alias, of course. And I was like, Oh, I’m so-and-so!” And he was like, I’m so— I hate you!” 

So it was like my first real-world man­i­fes­ta­tion of the first online com­mu­ni­ty I was in was just as mean as my first inter­ac­tions were. Like in hind­sight it’s kind of amaz­ing I stuck with it for so long, you know. But you know, we actu­al­ly nev­er real­ly became super close friends, but we start­ed build­ing the sec­ond BBS in Fairbanks. 

And then it got real­ly reward­ing because you know, a lot more peo­ple got modems, and there was prob­a­bly like five or six hun­dred peo­ple on the BBS. And it was sort of like, peo­ple had use­ful stuff for the class­es in the school, so peo­ple would actu­al­ly login stu­dents and stuff. So it was sort this ear­ly glimpse into the util­i­ty of the Web? 

And then, in 1989, end my junior, begin­ning of my senior year, they gave us access to the stuff at the uni­ver­si­ty. And that was like when it real­ly kicked in. They has a VAX there and it was con­nect­ed to the Internet, and that was our first expo­sure to like Usenet, and I got real­ly wrapped up in alt.scientology, and got all the sort of like… You know… You could­n’t do file-sharing, real­ly. It was­n’t like they had some Ethernet through the whole cam­pus yet. But just, being able to email people. 

And I remem­ber I had a friend, her name was Catherine Thomas, and her par­ents had— They were aca­d­e­mics, and one of them had got­ten a job in New South Wales, Australia from Fairbanks, Alaska. And I remem­ber she’d just be like, Okay let’s meet, but I got­ta go to the uni­ver­si­ty and send my dad an email in Australia.” I was like what.

So you know, 1989 I first start­ed learn­ing about BITNET and ARPANET and these— She was on BITNET. And I just thought it was so amaz­ing she could write her mom, you know. And that was sort of like when it was real­ly eye-opening. 

Then I went to BU and so I got a prop­er email address and all my friends were at home. And you know, only a year lat­er it was like a life­line. The first month I racked up $400 or $500 in tele­phone bills. In the sec­ond month I was like fuck this, I can just email my friends. So that was real­ly when I start­ed to under­stand the pow­er of it. 

Yeah, so let’s see. From there…BU… So yeah, I got out of BU in 93. And that was around the time of like where you had to learn PPP… And there’s this ISP—it’s actu­al­ly still around in Boston. You know, I nev­er did AOL, I nev­er did CompuServe. There was this ISP there, you know, when I moved out of the dorms into the apart­ments. And this is when real­ly it was the Web, right. So like, my friend told me about Mosaic, and he told me about how there was a but­ton in it and you can go to Yahoo. And I spent all this time work­ing with this com­pa­ny called Software Tool & Die up in Boston, try­ing to fig­ure out how to get on the Internet from my apart­ment in Allston, Mass. 

You know, PPP and SLIP and all that stuff was so bad on the Mac back then and I was real­ly com­mit­ted to stick­ing with my crap­py Mac in the dark days. But even­tu­al­ly we got on there, and we had like all the ear­ly early…like the web sites. Like web pub­lish­ing. And then I start­ed a web site. Like, tried to hand-code, tried to use Dreamweaver and it was this like… It’s fun­ny, it was this like…new— It was like basi­cal­ly a blog, you know what I mean? It was…more of like a…I would say more of a zine. There was all this aca­d­e­m­ic stuff. And you could like… I’d write arti­cles about you know, stodgy film­mak­ers like Peter Greenaway or musi­cians like Philip Glass, or…you know…like Conrad Schnitzler or like Tony Conrad—all these like obscure things and I’d just write these long ram­bling essays that were basi­cal­ly fan letters. 

And peo­ple start­ed find­ing it and they would email you from it, which that was like the most amaz­ing thing like some— I can’t remem­ber who it was, it was some band I liked and they were— They lived in New York and I had writ­ten this long thing and they just found it when they searched on Yahoo. An they were like, Hey! You wrote this arti­cle about us,” and then— Yeah, they were called Bowery Electric, I remem­ber. And they were like real­ly good friends— We all toured togeth­er and like— That’s when I start­ed to real­ize you could do things with your life on it, you know what I mean? And at that point it like, start­ed becom­ing a job. Like I got a job at Ernst & Young doing web stuff. 

I think the oth­er big part was sort of when the blog­ging stuff hap­pened, you know. Like I work here now at Tumblr, but like LiveJournal was our lives at that peri­od, you know. And to me that’s super inter­est­ing, you know. You could do pub­lic, but you could do pri­vate, and it was almost like an online sup­port group, and it’s where you start­ed to under­stand that there are oth­er peo­ple out there that would real­ly help you. And it’s very dif­fer­ent like, you know, my sis­ter’s only four years younger but… She left Alaska four years lat­er, so she could learn about that stuff already, you know. Like when you’re in the mid­dle of nowhere, your favorite band or you’re slight­ly deviant in some way, or you have a hob­by and there’s no one around, the Internet is like a life­line to that, you know. And going home now is so— [record­ing cuts short]

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