Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Internet and I

I was introduced to the internet the same way I was introduced to every other aspect of computers: Video Games.

I guess I first saw the concept of connecting computers in the movie War Games starring Matthew Broderick, John Wood, and everybody’s favorite, the one and only, Dabney Coleman. I was shocked to see Broderick place his rotary phone headset on a textbook-sized piece of equipment, and then ‘hack in’ to another computer. Surely this was akin to James Bond’s laser watch; something that existed, but I would never experience myself.

Two months later my cousin had this textbook-sized piece of equipment that connected two computers together. I never saw this ‘modem’, as he called it, in action, though a year or so later it was so outdated he gave it to me. I could never figure out exactly what it did.

When I got to college, I discovered the computers in the public labs were already ‘hooked up’. I could get on a computer and ‘telnet’ to another computer in a different location, or at a different school. I fiddled with Gopher and a few other programs before thinking, “big deal”. I could see no practical use for this thing that did not help me find single girls, or discounts on pizza or ramen.

Then a friend of mine, who spent hours and hours in the computer lab, told me I should check out the MUDs.

After we got our vernacular on the same page, he showed me what a MUD was. I was hooked. This was a big deal after all. I spent hours and hours gently guiding my fledging character along to greater experience and glory. Just as I learned DOS by trying to get my games to work, just as I learned programming in BASIC trying to transcribe game programs onto my old TI 99 computer, I was introduced to the internet by a text based role-playing game.

I remember very distinctly one experience. I had hooked up with a very friendly person whose character was much stronger than mine. We went hunting the bigger monsters together, and I was racking up the gold and experience. Just when things were going great, he text messaged me.

“Sorry, my mom tells me I have to go to bed.”

It was 1:00 in the afternoon.

“What?” I asked, “where are you from?”

“Norway. I’ll see you later.”

I didn’t see him later, but just realized I had engaged in a game, talking almost instantly with a person on the other side of the globe. I realized that this ‘internet’ thing, was global and it was catching on.

Through gaming I realized that the internet allowed asynchronous discussion. Two people could hold conversation at the same time. I heard about things called chat rooms where you could talk to another person outside of a game.

One day I got on Utah State’s chat room and found a girl on the other end. Another great use for the internet! I got online and realized my glowing personality did not transfer well online at all. I would say something in jest, but how did she know I was joking if she couldn’t see my winning smile? How could she tell I was being sarcastic if she couldn’t see me rolling my eyes? To say I floundered is probably an understatement. At one point, after yet another joke bombed, I wrote, “I’m just kidding you.” Unfortunately the d and the s are right next to each other on the keyboard. I glanced up to see what I had just sent to this nameless person and realized I had written, “I’m just kissing you.”

I know when to throw in the towel. I simply got up and left the computer lab.

I missed the next two years of advancement while serving a mission for my church. Upon return I noticed that in all of the magazines I was reading, there were these strange www things people called addresses. I had no concept at all what the World Wide Web was. As I began to learn, I was incredibly frustrated. How did you find something in all of this mess, where did you start? Where did you finish? Where was the first page of the internet? Which government entity created it?

I looked for a class on how to use the internet. I found none. How could people create, navigate, or use the internet if there wasn’t a class? I was in college; I couldn’t learn anything unless there was a class about it.

Slowly and surely I picked things up. I realized you didn’t need a teacher to learn something. In fact, the internet could be used to learn about the internet itself. I found HTML tutorials and began to build simple web pages. Then I discovered Clarus Home Page and other WSYIWYG editors. The most important thing I learned was that if you didn’t allow yourself to feel intimidated, you could learn just about anything.

Through many painful trials and errors, I learned what was proper and what was not. I was flamed, and I participated in flaming, before I realized it was a waste of time. I pontificated, studied, and searched for days and weeks on topics that I had before not given a moments notice. I figure out how to smile, wink, and frown online. The only thing I didn’t do was spend my Pell grant money on e-bay stock, which would have netted me roughly 1.4 million dollars. Instead I bought an education in political science, which has netted me roughly nothing.

The internet has become a staple in my life. My family is the only entity I interact with more than my computer, which is probably an embarrassing thing to admit. I was born three years after ARPANET went online. I was born three months after the first e-mail management program was written. Since I was 9, computers have had a soft spot in my heart. And 31 year later, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can express that warm, fuzzy feeling to the world with a teary-eyed emoticon. :’-)


1 comment:

David said...

Really nice. I enjoyed this a lot. It's always cool to hear these stories, to find out that other peoples' experiences were so similar to your own. Thanks.