Everyone’s online now.
I miss the early days of the Internet. In 1989, the Internet was an exclusive club where I could tell all my problems to strangers online. On Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, fellow tech geeks would happily read my rants about bosses, relatives or friends. In turn, I’d allow them to vent. Together we whined into the internet abyss yet received no ramifications. Unlike today’s faceless, mean-spirited voters on HotOrNot.com or sardonic commenters on YouTube, chatters in the olden days were authentic. Truth was free; you didn’t have to pay for it with stunned expressions or cold-shoulder silence. It was easy to type out intimate feelings and immediate reactions. The genuine perspectives I gathered in those days were invaluable; they made me a better person. It was a beautiful, cathartic experience.
That’s all gone now.
Back then, there were billions of unassigned numerical Internet Protocol (IPv4) addresses. Today, it’s estimated that the 4 billion Internet addresses originally allocated by IPv4 will run out by 2012. Just like with telephone numbers, we need longer Internet Protocol addresses just to keep things working. Today, to call across the street we have to punch in 10 numbers. Cell phones changed the way we dialed, and the advent of the Internet application called the World Wide Web changed the way we go online. The Web made the Internet accessible. A person doesn’t need programming skills to get online like I did to chat on IRC. Now everyone is demanding their own spot on the Internet. Millions log on to the Internet at least once daily.
People I thought would never be online, like my in-laws, are now on Facebook. My neighbors follow my Twitter updates. The parents of my kids’ friends read my blog (I’m looking at you, Mr. Hunter!). My favorite IRC channel is dead because even we old school chatters know Google sees all. Across the nation, we have stalker-moms who “friend” their children’s connections in social networks. We have Moral Police raids conducted by everyone from employers to grade-school principals using exhaustive (therefore merciless) search engines. It’s as if we’re all living in the limelight, a level of Warhol’s Hell that’s a constant 15-minute loop from which there is no escape.
Despite my advanced level of technical skill, I find no shelter from the scrutiny. My tech friends suggest I start up a new, private account where I feel free to rant. After all, they say, a hearty rant is the soul of the Internet. But Google is the now keeper of souls. Any “secret” accounts would eventually be linked with my main online presence. The people I complain about would see my posts. Clients of my writing services will get bad impressions.
I’ve tried ranting to real life friends; It isn’t the same. All the social mores are in place, all the expectations, all the sympathy. There are no safe places for me to be that boundless, pitiful, carefree college kid typing white letters onto a black terminal screen late into a Friday night. So I stick with the rules. On Twitter, I stay within the realms of psychology and technology or else I lose followers in droves. On my family Facebook account, I dare not get too technical or I face ridicule from my non-geeky relations. Online and off, it’s as if I’m some sort of 21st century Stepford wife, programmed with the endless variants of etiquette that each social situation or website dictates.
Perhaps it isn’t the lassaiz-tongue Internet I miss as much as youth itself. Despite the media focus on sexting, cyberbullying and over-sharing, today’s youth are reigning in their typical indiscretions. 71% of 18-29 year olds have hidden personal information online in order to protect their privacy, according to the May 2010 Pew Internet study. Whatever happened to the old-fashioned freak-out, the bad break-up poetry or the stupid supervisor stories? It’s all quickly disappearing. The Millennial Generation realizes the Web doesn’t have a universal erase button. They are wiser than we think. Yet they’ll never know what it’s like to share safely and without worry. Sure, we’ll still see TMI (TooMuch Information) blogs. I marvel at some of the more famous mom-bloggers who reveal all. I could never do that on today’s Internet. I lament this loss like disco kids mourned the pre-AIDS days of Studio 54.
Where are you in all of this? Do you rant online? Do you share a lot? Why? What happens when you do? Let’s discuss.