It started with floppy disks — the kind that were actually floppy. We started visiting the computer lab in first grade or second grade. For several years, we had computer class, and when we started, we used floppy disks to load programs on black-and-green-screened Apple computers. What exactly we did on these computers is vague in my memories. Eventually there were games — Oregon Trail, Lemmings, and typing programs masked as games.
At home, we got our first computer when I was in fifth grade. Before that, if I had to type a school paper, I had to do it on an old, manual typewriter. Its hospital-green keys required force — my fingers frequently slipped between the keys. Mistakes required correction tape. That computer, a Compaq Presario, was a blessing. Besides typing papers, I used the computer to mess around in Paint, play Solitaire, and type up bad poems I’d written and pair them with clip art. The computer lived in my parents’ bedroom. If anyone came in, I would minimize my bad poem-window. The computer had a CD player and came with a demo CD that had five songs on it. It opened a program that linked to each song’s corresponding album and played snippets from the other songs and music videos. I listened to a lot of Mariah Carey’s Christmas album. By sixth grade, I got real CDs (upgrading from cassette tapes), a CD player, and by seventh grade, I was looking up song lyrics on our slow, dial-up internet connection on a Netscape browser. I got my first email account about a year later. I kept this unprofessional address until my junior year of college. It, and the slew of cute AIM names (goldengrahams, swissmiss) at least gave me an illusion of anonymity. When we got a new computer, the old one moved upstairs to a nook between me and my brother’s rooms. I spent many evenings downloading music and videos on Napster and chatting with the same friends I saw for eight hours at school. I found it easier — and still do — to express myself through writing. I appreciated the time chatting gave me to collect my thoughts and edit myself. Others must have felt the same. My classmate asked me to prom on AIM, and my first boyfriend and I did most of our genuine “talking” online before we actually started dating. Today, I would rather text than talk on the phone. When I do talk on the phone, I’m inevitably doing something else. When I went to college, my parents sent me with a massive desktop. I used it for school, AIM, and Livejournaling. By this time, I was saving to 3.5” floppy disks (not floppy). Someone introduced me to USB keys, and I learned to email myself documents for printing in labs around campus. When I studied abroad, I started a separate Livejournal to share adventures with my family. When I returned from Geneva for my senior year, I learned about Facebook, which had just expanded to my school. I now had a new way to procrastinate on my schoolwork. I initially liked Facebook for sharing photos, until I realized they gained rights to anything I shared there. I still used it for the occasional photo, but moved to Flickr for everything else (although I share nearly a photo a day on Instagram). I have tried to quit Facebook for years, but it’s become an indispensable tool for organizing and promoting events and for contacting friends. After college, I served in the Peace Corps in Togo. For 16 months, I lived in a village without electricity or running water, but it did have a cell phone tower. Texts and calls from friends and family made me less homesick. Every few weeks, I would bike or take a shared “taxi” to the nearest town or the district capital to check email and update my blog. While I was overseas, I heard about Twitter. “That sounds dumb and like a waste of time.” Secretly, I knew I would probably love it. I joined within two months of coming home, and I do love it. In fact, I love the internet. My love intensified after two years of no and then slow internet. I love being able to find out anything, immediately. I love the access it gives me to distant loved ones, to music, movies, TV shows, podcasts. I love that the internet can teach me mostly anything. Two weeks ago, it taught me how to install my new bike rack. The internet gave me my last job and numerous freelance gigs. The internet also opens a window to a world I’d rather ignore — the world that lives in the comment section of news sites, the world of trolls, bullies, racists, misogynists. Then again, it helps me remember that people believe these things. It reminds me that people can be amazing… and awful. People seem to forget that the person to whom they’re directing that email, comment, or tweet is a real person. The internet is also a huge distraction. I only got a smartphone in 2013, but now I check it in social situations, which is rude. I check it when I wake up and before I go to sleep. I checked Twitter, Facebook, and played four games of Threes while drafting this post. I worry about losing my phone or computer, and about someone hacking any of my accounts. I take certain precautions, but my worry is more, “That would suck if that happened,” than a constant concern. I share a lot on the internet, but I censor myself. My accounts are mostly public, and every free months (weeks? days?), I review my feeds to make sure I’m maintaining a somewhat professional appearance. I think I’m doing ok. That said, I’m sure it would be pretty easy to dig up those old Livejournals, which were far from professional.