I’m lucky enough to be one of those twenty somethings who witnessed the early days of the internet. When I was 4 years old my dad got our first computer with a clunky tower unit and a rather large tube monitor that has the triangular protrusion at the back. Back then floppies were still a thing, and cd’s were just being introduced to the market. My first experience with my new computer was browsing Netscape Navigator. It became a game of mine. I would type in search words and browse through some rudimentary web pages that made little sense to me. The dialup noise would echo back to me as the connection booted up, and I would travel aimlessly from page to page across the internet. I was never looking for anything particular, just content to receive some sort of output based on my search terms.
By the time I was 6, I had already discovered online gaming. I watched a lot of tv when I was younger and after I came home from school in the afternoon I would watch Cartoon Network shows like Scooby Doo, Dexter’s Laboratory, or Johnny Bravo. Cartoon Network always advertised their website and the free to play shockwave games they had available. I quickly abandoned the rather poor pastime of endless surfing after my tv watching, and replaced it with games on Cartoon Network. A simple Scooby Doo game where you race a motorboat against a couple of pirates in a rocky lagoon kept me occupied for quite some time. Once I had discovered the world of online gaming, I quickly went beyond Cartoon Network to sites such as Shockwave.com and Ezone. On Shockwave.com I discovered the comical little Australian named Lenny Loosejocks (he was developed by Ezone so I quickly switched to their site). In Lenny Loosejocks In Space, you play as the Aussie hero who travels to all the planets in the solar system, defusing bombs that aliens have planted on each of them. For a flash game it was quite lengthy and complicated, and being 6 or 7 I was not able to complete the game. Nonetheless I played it over and over again, since I enjoyed flying the spaceship as well as going through the mazes in each of the planets. Completion really was not a priority for me.
Soon after that had transpired, I was browsing through the media section of Shcokwave.com and found this series called the 7th Portal. This was obviously way before Youtube, so one had to dig around on the internet to find any videos. 7th portal was the first internet video series I ever watched. It’s a story concerning a group of friends who start playing a computer game, only to realize that the superheroes they created within the game are actually involved in a war to save the human world. They enter the game and fight against the evil lord Mongorr who wishes to be ruler of the entire multiverse. Then a fierce gladiator style battle ensues to determine the fate of the multiverse. It was produced by Stan Lee’s media production company so I highly recommend clicking the link and checking it out.
By the time I had finished this web series I was thoroughly convinced that the internet was the place to go. I would eat my snack on the living room couch after school while watching Pokemon or something and then quickly hustle upstairs to the computer for hours on end. I missed homework assignments at school and rarely went outside for a year or two. My mother would have to call me for dinner or my dad would have to arrive home early from work before I would finally get off the computer. My cheeks would get red from excitement and I would sometimes even sweat at the thought of all the new things I had found or the success I had in searching for things I needed. My parents probably did not approve of my behavior at the time, and probably think I spend too much time on my computer in general, but these experiences really changed my life.
In some senses these experiences are very telling of my character. I was able to soak in the information around me, and find the resources I desired. In my elementary school years I played so many flash internet games and I can still probably tell you how I found them and the significance behind the search; that’s probably because the logical thinking behind conducting internet searches makes you trace your steps and plan a search strategy in advance. I transitioned from aimlessly searching on Netscape Navigator to constantly finding what I wanted through Google and directories of the gaming sites I frequented. Nowadays if anyone is looking for specific information on the web, I can usually find it for them in a Google search or two. These early experiences of randomly exploring the web and then forming an idea of things I wanted to find made me comfortable with finding all sorts of information and programs across the web.
Looking back it’s quite funny realizing that I have always been an internet person. At the age of 4 I was just beginning to develop the ability to think for myself and make my own decisions. By that age I had already interacted with a computer at a time when dialup had established some of the first consumer friendly internet connections. I may have started slightly earlier than some of my friends in first grade, but halfway through the year I had them watching 7th Portal and playing Lenny Loosejocks games on Ezone.
When I started this blog, I aptly named it “Thoughts Of An Internet Person”, to pay homage to the fact that I am an internet person because I find all the knowledge and entertainment I need on the internet (I use wikipedia for math theorems instead of my textbook, much more efficient with simpler definitions most of the time). When writing a paper, I find my sources on the internet. If I need to get some facts for a blog post I’m writing, I find it on the internet. Cooking recipes can be found on the internet, books too, practically anything. From this perspective I started to value ideas and concepts much more heavily than conversations about events and people. The ideas on the internet allowed me to explore events and people who I never would have had access to in real life, and that realization started a lifetime journey. I may not have spent as much time outside as I should have from first through third grade, but I definitely built my critical thinking skills and thirst for information; albeit in a way that made my parents frown.
So to all the other people of my generation who spent their early childhood learning about the internet and all it has to offer, it was worth it in the end. We internet people get stereotyped as drooling lounge sloths that type on computers all day. In reality I think there are analytical skills being built, in terms of categorizing and searching for information/resources. With so much available to us, we were forced to create our own questions and figure out what we truly wanted to find. Those experiences forever shaped the way I process information.
I encourage you to go beyond my extremely basic descriptions of the content that I first experienced on the web and take a journey back in time to experience it for yourselves. That is part of the beauty of the internet; I can show you what I experienced. Until a couple years ago I could still find all of my old games on Shockwave.com as well as Cartoon Network. Every once in a while I would play them just to remind me of my childhood. Unluckily for me, and probably luckily for them, both of those sites finally completed some major updates (probably was very necessary at this point). It was fun being able to access all those games until they were gone, but I’m on to bigger and better things now and it is a good time to let go. However this is what remains of my childhood experiences on the internet.