All right, kids, this is when I'd put on a grandma sweater and fix some chamomile tea (if it wasn't 85 degrees) and we'd settle in for my tales of ye olde Internet (when you probably did have to walk miles through the snow just to get to 4800 speed modem access, but never mind the technical details). The kids growing up with so-called Web 2.0, or anyone who's just gotten online in the past few years, have a vastly different experience from when I first got online in 1992.
I used Prodigy message boards and email--the main competitors were AOL, CompuServe, and Delphi, and I suppose local bulletin boards and university accounts. The communities on Prodigy fell apart when Prodigy started to charge per hour of use instead of a flat fee--the other services already charged per hour. It's amazing to think of paying a fee per hour to be online (other than using an Internet cafe). People fled to AOL. The other thing I find astonishing now--you couldn't easily (or at all?) email between the different service providers.
Anyway, so I was online (though not technically on the Internet yet, unless I was looking at my dad's university account) since the very early 90s, back when most people barely knew what you were talking about, and you could brag about having communities of friends all over the country. Well, it was hard to brag if you had all these friends because you barely had friends in real life.
(And more than any technical changes, to me the most incredible change in the Internet has been from its function as a community for people who often didn't have great real-life relationships--i.e., the unpopular kids--to a place to show off your popularity by collecting friends on social networks. It's bizarre to me, and surely the kind of thing some people my age have written dissertations about!)
But since then, I've been incredibly late to most of the big developments online. The hype shifted from discussions of bulletin boards and chat rooms to the World Wide Web--but I don't think I ever actually looked at a website until 1996. My friend Jason had a blog (back when they were "online journals") by 2000 (earlier?) but I didn't really look at blogs until 2004--2005, when I first explored the very-well-developed political blogging communities. (Weren't blogs talked about for the first few years mainly as "self-indulgent" personal sites, then all the hype about political bloggers came along?)
As you can tell, I still have a lot to learn about blogging--but after 2+ years of this blog's existence, I just TODAY learned to change the template, add a subtitle, and add links. (I wasn't totally incompetent for 2 years, I just didn't post here.)
More on how very, very far behind I've fallen: I didn't look at Wikipedia in earnest (I'd discovered it accidentally a few years ago) until this summer. (I haven't yet edited anything.) I've almost never seen Ebay, though that's out of a smart reluctance to spend time online trying to add to the unbelievable clutter of my place. I hadn't looked at MySpace, YouTube, and Flickr until 2007. I've never downloaded a song or listened to a podcast. I'm trying to figure out RealAudio to catch up on massive amounts of public radio. I've looked at Amazon reviews as long as they've been around (did they use to rate books on a scale of 1-10?) but have never posted one. (Once you were able to rate other people's reviews, it got intimidating.) You get the idea.
But I've CHANGED! I've done more in the past week and a half than in the last few years (and 4 of those days I was away from the internet entirely):
Last week: I put up a Flickr page. I restarted this blog (after having to switch to Google). I emailed a photo for the first time.
This week: I put up a MySpace page. I looked up dozens of people I know to see if they're on MySpace. (I haven't added friends yet.) I got several Flickr friends/contacts. I went through my entire email inbox and unsubscribed to some junk lists that have scared me away from it for a while. I got a second email account that I actually plan to use (unlike the ones I created to respond to people on Craigslist, then got scared to look at). I made the aforementioned changes here.
I know I'm only doing what millions of other people easily do every day--but it's a huge deal to me.