It’s hard to remember a time when the Internet didn’t exist, but for people my age, members of Generation X, I often think that we grew up at the perfect moment in human history. As adults, we enjoy the benefits of a fully networked planet and the vast resources of the Internet, but those benefits came late to us. While the Internet feels like it has existed forever, it has existed in its easily accessible, user-friendly form for a relatively short period of time. As a child, computers and cable television did not exist, so we spent the majority of our childhood outdoors, playing with friends, fishing, inventing games, hunting through card catalogs in the library, and staying out until the street lights came on. As a child, I did not spend large chunks of my day in front of a computer screen or attached to my cell phone, and though we owned an Atari 5200 that I played a lot, it was not anything like the unfathomable amount of time that kids use to play videogames today.
Prying the controller from my mother’s hand was hard enough, and you can only play Pacman, Dig Dug and Defender so much before an old fashioned game of basketball or a swim in the pond becomes much more appealing.
Then I turned eighteen, moved out on my own, and quickly found myself using the first public iteration of the Internet: online bulletin boards that we connected to via ancient dial-up modems. This was 1991, at least six years before the Internet would become mainstream and ubiquitous, but I quickly became a heavy user, playing online, turn-based games, accessing chat rooms, and writing my first column with a friend called He Said, He Said.
Each week we would choose a topic of disagreement and write 500 words or less on the subject. Once written, we would post our column on as many bulletin boards as possible, probably reaching out to a whopping one hundred readers, most of them under the age of eighteen and more interested in building computers from scratch than the rambling thoughts of two guys pounding the keys of a Commodore computer. Topics on the column ranged from a debate on the merits of Domino’s versus Papa Gino's pizza to a discussion on gun control laws.
Not counting my high school newspaper, where I was known to write an occasional column, this was my first effort at publishing my writing and sharing my ideas with people around the world.
My first computer was a Gateway, purchased in 1992 with one gigabyte of hard drive space, an immense amount of memory for that time. Within a few years I had developed into a heavy gamer, playing the first two versions of Warcraft on networked machines in my friend’s house, the original online version of Diablo (played over the Battlenet for you old-school gamers), and many, many more.
I also used a Brother word processor to begin writing my first novel, which was about 20,000 words long before I abandoned it, finally admitting to myself how terrible it was. From what I recall, it was the story of a kid who had decided to escape an abusive, drug-trafficking father who also happened to be the corrupt police chief in their small, Minnesota town.
Sort of an exploration on the enormous drug problem on the US-Canadian border, as told through the eyes of an abused runaway.
It really was awful.
And thankfully it no longer exists. Lacking cloud storage, flash drives and external hard drives, saving data in those days as one migrated from machine to machine was extremely difficult, and though I may have some floppy discs lying around, who has a machine that can even read them anymore?
Another benefit of being born as part of Generation X:
Our early, awkward, miserable and embarrassing attempts at writing are thankfully and forever lot to the ether.