in the early days of the internet, as i remember them, it was a very nerdcentric place. now im talking the early days, when it wasnt assumed everyone had an email address, where having a 28.8 modems was the cutting edge, and having a webpage with flashing text was considered graphics heavy. the internet buzzword back then was ‘interactive’, which now just seems redundant, like colour television. every website stressed how interactive it was which usually consisted of signing up for newsletter or having your own login: ‘hello sexmonster69, welcome back’. needless to say it was all pretty lame with the interaction limited to you and the nebulous entity of the website itself. the truly interactive aspect of the net were chatrooms. in this forum the website was not the endpoint of the connection but the medium for it. i remember going on aol chatrooms with my buddy and being blown away by the fact that we were actually talking to real life person on the other end. that and the fact that he insisted on no swearing online in case his dad came down and saw what we where doing, even though I remember that we where posing as a fourteen girl from pennsylvania, which I think at the time would arose more suspicion and concern from his parents.
this brings up the first quality the internet had back then which gave it its initial nerdish quality: the anonymity. in those days, the person you were in real life and the person you were online were completely seperate from each other. the actions taken in one had no consequence on the other. because of this you could be anyone you wanted to be. no longer did you have be trapped in the real world identity of sheldon derkoff but free to invent the persona of vulcanchancelor69 as you saw fit, “and never the twain shall meet”. this was the ultimate outlet for the nerd who believed his chief obstacle in any real world social milieu was the immutable fact that whatever persona he hoped to invent would be encapsulated in this less than desirable container. the medium would tragically always define the message (mass comm what!). what made the internet so nerdish in those days was that it was a social end in itself, with that end being percieved by those not seeking it as anti-social.
for the kids who were already cool this anynomity inherent to the internet gave it a distinct creepy quality. it was derided as a place only the desperate fled to after any and all attempts at an actual social life had failed. only the most abhortent quasinerdos would have to flee from the pitchforked cool kids and claim virtual sanctuary in the net. before such sites as eharmony and match.com, internet dating was seen as the last refuge of the damned. the best you could hope for was a shut-in looking to expand their horizons for the weekend. spending any time in chatrooms confirmed that you had given up on any conversation that would require you to actually take off the sweatpants and face the day. as for newsgroups, well, exactly, “what exactly is a newsgroup?”. in short, the internet in those days was an auxillary social system. a backup plan for when the real world just didnt understand.
it would not be until the advent and growth in popularity of social networking sites and services such as msn messenger, myspace, and the game changer, facebook, that this paradigm would shift. with these sites the internet would morph from being an alternative to the real world social, to a complimentary addition to it.