Saturday, 22 February 2014

T'internet at Twelve

Kitti says Trololol
 I have a feeling that this might be the most boring blog post I have ever written - and now I've just sold it to you so beautifully. I know, I know, I'm a genius. Anyway.

I have been online since mid-2002 when my grandad brought me my first computer. It was kept downstairs in the dining room and I was allowed to be on the internet for an hour an evening. To begin with, I spent most of my time on roleplay forums, but then my friends signed up for MSN Messenger and all-too-quickly my evenings were consumed (for an hour, anyway) by talking to people I had already spent six hours that day with. I have absolutely no idea what it was we said to each other, but we thought we were cool (we were twelve at the time).

The first thing I learned about the internet, aged twelve, was that we are alone here. Whilst the internet undoubtedly facilitates communication with people on the other side of the world, it is also a tool for isolation. I don't recall ever surfing the net with a friend sat beside me, and even when my friends and I were talking via instant messenger about homework or who upset who at school or something equally shallow and pointless, I would minimize the chat screens when my parents walked passed and might see. If this is how secretive those of us who are twiddling our virtual thumbs are, I cannot imagine how awful those who are doing things that are genuinely dodgy must be.

I also learned that if I got myself into trouble online, nobody was going to come to help me. That was a little more vague a lesson than the first. A friend sent me an email and, somewhere along the way, the email picked up a worm virus. I believed this friend had sent the virus on purpose, and when confronted, that friend cockily announced that he had (which I sincerely doubt). My parents were furious and called the Police, and an officer came around to our house to speak to me about Internet safety. Even aged twelve and new to computers and the Internet, I realise how out of his depth this officer felt, and everything he told me was stuff I had known since day one. Don't give out your name. Don't tell people where you live. Don't give people too many personal details about yourself. You have no idea who the person on the other side of the computer is (unless he happens to have the same Science homework as you, and saw that kid get hit in the eye with that snowball last week). Etc etc etc. The Police Officer had to agree that I was obviously clued up and he left having done exactly nothing to fix the problem at hand - the fact that someone might have fucked up our computer from the inside on purpose. 

The final maxim/rule I learned, if 'rule' is the right word, is that things said online could not be repeated offline. This came a little later, when I was around fourteen/fifteen. My school friends and I were still chatting on MSN Messenger, and one day I received a friend request from someone in my tutor group whom I didn't know particularly well. We started talking and became pretty good friends, although we only saw each other at school during registration as we didn't have any classes together. One evening, we decided to go on webcam and were just chatting and waving at each other when I realised this guy was flirting with me. We were talking about the non-uniform day we had tomorrow and what we thought the weather would be like and etc etc etc. He said I should wear this jacket I had on because it looked really good. Flattered, I walked into registration the next day wearing the same jacket and flashed him a big smile.

He didn't even catch my eye. He actively avoided me all day.

You knew that was coming, didn't you? Well, aged fourteen, I didn't, and I spent the whole day feeling so annoyed that this friendship I had with this guy online did not translate offline. By the time I logged into MSN Messenger that night, I was thoroughly pissed off. Of course, he wanted to talk to me then and put webcams back on, but I didn't want to know anymore. The separation between the Internet and 'the real world' did not - still does not to this day - exist for me in that way.

These might seem like such trivial anecdotes (and they are), but in the past eight years, things haven't changed that much. Admittedly, nobody logs onto MSN Messenger anymore and we now plaster the Internet with our real names and personal details a la Facebook, but you still cannot assume that something said online holds water offline, nor can we seem to stop being so secretive and alone.

And where online exists the culmination of these tendencies and behaviours? Where are they played out to extremes? You guessed it.

Where did you learn your Internet lessons? And for those of you who existed online in the days before Facebook, how many pseudonyms do you have? Maybe we've met before and known each other by other names ;)

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