To celebrate our 500th post, we Anti-Roomers share how the internet has changed our lives for the better – and the worse. We’d love to hear your early internet stories, life-changing online experiences and whether you love or loathe the interweb…
The first time I went online was in 1994. I had read in the NME that Courtney Love had been rambling wildly but entertainingly on something called a newsgroup, which as far as my innocent little arts student brain could gather was a way of writing stuff on a computer that could be read by lots of people on different computers all over the world. I knew about e-mail, though I didn’t have an account – at the time, only computer science and maths students at Trinity, where I was in first year, automatically had college e-mail accounts, and I was doing German and History of Art. But this public discussion thing was new to me. So I nagged one of my best friends, who happened to be studying computer science, to show me how to read Courtney’s ravings on a Sun computer in the Hamilton science building. I was unimpressed by Courtney, but mildly intrigued by the whole internet thing – not that I could do much about my interest down in my Arts Block home.
When I started my third year of college in October 1995, arts students finally got Eudora e-mail accounts (though there wasn’t enough server space to accommodate us, so we had to save our mails onto individual floppy discs), and I haven’t looked back since. By 1996, I had discovered the possibilities of hugely entertaining webzines (I miss you, Blair); by 1998, I was engaging in discussions on Hissyfit.com with people who, as I discovered when I met up with some of them while visiting the US a year later, were just as they seemed online: smart, funny and good company. Soon after that I became involved in the forums at a women-centric literature site called Chicklit.com (named before the term took off as a description of popular fiction). Through the Chicklit forums, I was introduced to dozens of authors who have since become my firm favourites and, more importantly, many people who have since become dear and close real-life friends. When I joined Livejournal back in 2002, many of my friends there were from Chicklit, and these days loads of us are on Twitter. We’ve all been talking on the internet, and sometimes meeting in real life, for more than a decade, and my life is definitely better for it.
Since I first read Courtney’s ravings in the Hamilton, the internet has changed my life in many ways. It’s allowed me to keep in touch easily with friends who have moved away. It’s allowed me to make genuine, real friendships with people from Canada to Edinburgh to Dublin, people who were once just words on a screen. In Twitter and indeed the Anti-Room, it’s given me the equivalent of an office full of smart, funny, thought-provoking people, some of whom have also become real-life friends, while I work alone at home. It’s made my job so much easier – when I started my first job at the Sunday Tribune back in 1998, there was only one computer in the entire building with internet access, and the amount of information available online was much, much smaller. It’s educated and entertained me. It’s given me countless books and music that I would never have had access to before – I got my first credit card purely to buy American stuff from Amazon, back in 1999. It’s enraged me and upset me – there ain’t no drama like internet drama, and over the years I’ve typed a few comments and posts with hands that were almost shaking with rage. It’s made me temporarily lose my faith in humanity – just a few minutes looking at the comments over at Comment is Free robs me of the will to live. It’s distracted me not just from work – entire evenings at home, evenings I should have spent hanging out with my husband or reading a book or playing the piano or working on some art, have been sucked into the maw of Twitter and Google Reader. It’s tapped into my worst qualities – my innate desire for distraction and novelty, my procrastination, my need to have the last word. And it’s put pointless pressure on me – while I do love my iPhone, sometimes I genuinely hate the expectation that we should all be constantly contactable and online at all times.
But it’s also entertained me, made me laugh, given me good friends, and shown me how incredibly nice and kind people can be. And for that, I can only be grateful.
Sometime in early 1996, I remember getting up very early one morning to queue in UCD for an email account. Not an internet one – the two were distinctly separate – but one solely for email, with no other web access. The idea now seems positively antediluvian. The only reason I wanted said account, was because my brother had just moved to Australia. Email was a far more affordable way of talking about records and gigs than 3am phonecalls when I’d wandered home from a club. The clunky, minutes-to-load account was life-changing, and a bazillion gigabytes away from today’s smart phones with their Sci-fi apps. My consumption of online life has intrinsically increased. It’s invaluable for my job, for music, for contact with distant friends, for rewatching TV shows, laughing at viral nonsense… But it’s also the biggest time sponge I know, and the reason why I have umpteen unfinished short stories sitting on my laptop. It’s a leveller and a curse; indispensable and completely disposable. You learn to live with the duality of something that is both an enormous help and a hindrance. I’ve killed my Facebook account four times, but Twitter is the most instantaneous news ticker I know. I’ve made lots of friends, from my early days as Editor of an online magazine (Sigla) to Arts & Culture blogging and now among the wonderful women of the Anti Room. The key is balance. To embrace it, but to also plug out more and remember that when you’re not online – like those Saturday nights in your early 20s when you were broke and had to stay in – that you’re not missing very much anyway.
I thought this topic was an utter no-brainer for me. Gorgeous Twitter, which some days feels like my own personal version of Sliding Doors. Where else can I chat to people I probably sat next to in college French lectures, people I unknowingly drank alongside in Soho dive bars, people like, well, the ladies of the Anti Room, who I should have known years ago? All at once? Without even leaving my desk? (although, as Keith Ridgeway put it so mesmerically, beware the false sense of company). Yep; Twitter’s changed my life more than any other section of the internet, I thought.
But then I thought back a bit, to the prehistoric times of 2005. Twitter was but a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s eye and both Skype and my elder son had both entered their infancy. We were living in Seattle, a good place for knowing about emergent technologies and a TERRIBLE place to be if you want to show your newborn child to your extended family, and they’re all 5,000 miles away. Skype honestly changed my life at that point. Post-natal blues were so much easier to handle with the baby and the laptop both wedged on my lap, my son’s head given a ReadyBrek glow from the screen as he slept and my grandmother gazed at him, rapt.
It’s a funny old thing, the internet. Sure, it means we can shop without leaving our sofa, that we’re never more than a mouse click away from knowing who wrote the song lyrics you can’t stop trilling, but that’s not really the power of it. Seeing people, real people, people you love, from thousands of miles away; watching that family bond come down the interpipes; that’s amazing.
I can’t really say the internet has changed my life. It’s made my life; there wasn’t a time, from my teens on, when there wasn’t an internet to teach, and entertain, and distress, and provoke me. I embraced an online life from the beginning – chat rooms, message boards, amateur web design … blogging. Most obviously blogging. The fact that we’re living in The Information Age is something I find endlessly fascinating, and I think it’s shaping the world we live so radically it’s practically … biblical. No, honestly. I waffle on about this a lot. The Book of Genesis, in which ignorance was equated with beauty and innocence, to the Information Age, in which there are absolutely no limits to personal pursuit of knowledge; we’ve come 360 and that’s thrilling and kind of disconcerting, if you’re a superstitious type. Who knows what effect all this info will have on us? But that’s a subject for another day, possibly one spent in a cafe in Amsterdam. Personally, the internet has been good to me. It allowed me a platform to write, an instant audience to make me improve, the knowledge that shaped me as an adult. And gosh, have I met some really amazing people. Some of my closest friends were originally “internet people”. I can’t imagine my life without them. And as for those who moan about the “evils” of Facebook – learn to streamline your experience, read up on the privacy options, and make the bloody thing work for you. I have whole legions of far-away relatives whose faces I’d have forgotten if we didn’t have Facebook to weld us together. Play me off, keyboard cat!
The A-Z of my internet life…
@ the new 27th letter of the alphabet. Antiroom blog – a must-read, everyone!
Bewildered to know how I would live without the internet now.
Couldn’t live without the internet now – did I mention that?
Dial up – took forever and sounded like a freight train.
E-mail – it changed everything about the way I communicated with people.
Floppy disk – never really understood them. Facebook – never did that.
Galway – where I went to my first ever internet café, in Cornmarket Lane, about 15 years ago.
Help! – Sound I emitted many a time when I thought I’d broken the internet.
Information superhighway – remember that?
Journalism – I hope it never dies, no matter what the future of digital media holds.
Kansas – what I would rename the internet.
Letters – sadly, I no longer write them, although I used to write six a week for years.
Macs – been through two laptops so far.
Netbook – my latest on-the-hoof bit of gear.
Online. Online. Online – are we ever offline these days?
Paywall – we put them up at the Irish Times, we took them down; as busy as the construction industry in Ireland this last decade.
Questions – are there any the internet considers it cannot answer?
Real Player – more new language I now take for granted.
Skype – talking and waving to my faraway friends for free.
Tibet – the very first word I ever keyed into a search engine. Twitter – where I’ve found so many new friends.
Unknown – there are always so many new places the internet takes me.
Virtual – a dazzling experience the internet allows; it has let me see video clips from literally all over the world, and almost feel like I’m there.
Web – a word I’ve already discarded.
X – internet, I heart you!
YouTube – my favourite clip ever is the mad music video, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.
Z – often difficult to get any when engrossed with The Twitter or any of the many joys of the internet.
Picture the scene; the romantic incomer – beguiling, charming and undeniably fascinating, with a metaphorical sweep of opera cape, a suggestive bit of eyebrow play and a mutter of sweet sentiments it snares me into its loving embrace where I swoon…
I am a fan of the internet.
Years ago it successfully courted and seduced me implanting itself into almost every aspect of my life. Work, leisure time, friendships, I saw the world with the tickets I’d booked online, attended plays and enjoyed concerts through it, reconnected with old acquaintances and kept in touch with new ones.
I made friends through the internet, true friendships sometimes with people from other ends of the globe; some I went on to meet up face to face, others I know I never will. It even played a role in introducing me to my fiancé (which I wrote about here) thereby changing my life in the biggest way possible.
I also have to it to thank for being here, writing with this amazing group of extraordinary women; the people I wished I’d known when I was becoming the adult I am.
Of late I’ve found my beloved internet to be a demanding lover, I’ve allowed it to muscle in other potential love interests in its quest to dominate. So have been forced to be strong and cut back on the hours we spend together, to recover more of my off-line life. I had expected it to cause me many a pang on leaving it, but strangely this hasn’t really been the case. Perhaps my red hot love is not the real passion of my life, but just a passing fancy?
I do hope not.
Despite living a good portion of my life in the real rather than the virtual world I simply can’t imagine life offline at this stage. I remember the day we first connected, way back in 1996. Sneering in the face of a potentially skyrocketing phone bill the husband & I hooked up a laptop to our phone socket via a labyrinthine tangle of trailing wires that snaked across the living room and caused us to temporarily lose telephone contact with the outside world. I looked on sceptically as he typed in the long numerical string that he assured me was our IP address, no user-friendly front-end back in the day. I can’t remember what we looked up, something utterly innocuous I’d imagine, but I was hooked.
Several years later, while living in London, I was booking tickets to must-see shows and iconic sporting events, not to mention flights and train journeys all over a world that had become my oyster. I had serious RPS and my credit card was on fire. Before I knew it (and yes I am cringing as I type) I had signed up for daily internet updates on my first pregnancy.
Nowadays I simply can’t imagine life without the internet. You might as well ask me to live in a cave and forage for bush tucker. I use it for work and for connecting with friends, old and new. I tweet and blog and file copy and mess about and still book holidays and shows and sporting events. I’ve shaken off the shackles of the desktop and shed the weight of the laptop by getting an iPhone. Next step is undoubtedly an implant in my brain. There must be a website offering that…
Hail, hail the new religion, for is that not what the Holy Trinity of Internet, Facebook and Twitter are? Lo, on Sunday mornings we gather in the light of a screen, or sit alone in silent contemplation, picking out like a mantra our online prayer, “OMG”. We bow before the Gospel according to Google and Wikipedia, and confess everything to the all-knowing, all-embracing Status Update. Then we mutter endless Hail Mary Byrnes – is she really singing the next Bond theme tune? Some merely dip a toe in, checking church times online and googling their own names. Others are found in the pews morning, noon and night, tweeting each passing thought, blogging their sermons, and singing the praises of lolcats and failblog, while damning 13-year-old Rebecca Black to hell.
Like a religion, the plugged-in world offers an answer to everything and a friend to everyone. You can be reborn on Avatar, you can embrace kibbutzim on Farmville. Equally, you can cure diseases on WebMD, make your offerings via Paypal, and wage war on the sinners, the Muslims, the Bible-thumpers, the atheists, the smokers, the non-smokers, the obese, the anorexic, the ugly, the beautiful, and Justin Bieber. Oh, and you can wage actual war in Libya too, wielding the sword of eternal truth that is Twitter. Indeed, through the miracle of YouTube the scales fall from our eyes as we bear witness to modern miracles like Monkey Rapes Frog and Fire Fart Goes Wrong.
Yea, I tell thee, this is the way, the truth, and the light. It’s also how to lose your way, spread untruths and spend days alone in the dark.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Internet -The good: new friends (real & virtual); reconnecting with old friends; access to a world of information; being able to send things (manuscripts, photos) without the palaver of Post Office visits with kids in tow; online banking; online shopping (very important when you live in the sticks); literary blogs; freely available music; new audience for my books; cheap PR for cash-poor writers; speed of access to Important People in publishing etc.
Internet -The bad: e-mail pile-up; obsessing about being able to be online and/or feeling bereft if the internet connection is down; stalkers; reconnecting with old friends; people picking fights with you over innocuous/innocent statements; people being nasty in general; going online when drunk and being over-chatty; people knowing far too much about your life; time-wasting; isolation; Facebook competitiveness and boasting.
In about 1988, in the school computer room, in order to draw a green box on the black screen we had to type the following commands in LOGO:
TO DRAWCLEARSCREENSHOW TURTLEFORWARD 50RIGHT 90FORWARD 50RIGHT 90FORWARD 50RIGHT 90FORWARD 50HIDE TURTLE
I can’t remember my first email in the same way I can’t remember my first roast potato, but I do recall getting addicted to random chatrooms very early on. Rubbish chatyack where you simply logged on and saw streams of absurd irrational messages dropping in real-time like plunging neon, before wasting eight hours of my working life, missing deadlines. Immediacy and anonymity were overwhelming features of my unspecified shadowy self on de web. Of course this would get me into trouble very early on. In the mid 1990s I mistakenly sent an email to my boss instead of the man I was having a fling with in the office, to disastrous consequences (especially as I was, er, mentioning what a prick the boss was at the time).
It was also the year I sat through a rather trite PgDip in Journalism, where I realised how easy it was to sift through cyber offscourings for feature ideas to sell. A tiny ancillary fact about an increase in unmarried fathers phoning Parentline about child access problems, turned into my first published article: ‘Clowning Around With Fatherhood’, published in the Big Issues in 1997. An article I wrote on narcolepsy a month later was picked up by a health supplement in the New York Times. I could barely fathom how any of this ‘global village’ stuff could happen! The ‘world wide web’ very quickly became a de rigueur necessity of both my working day and my off-duty life.
Flurry and melodrama surrounding this newfound instant access to info still manages to fool me, and I often fail to see the danger in mouthing off without reserve. A few weeks ago a 14-year-old girl hacked into my partner’s Facebook account, printing off all our private messages [some of which were unsuitably sexual, others which were raw and noxious drunken arguments dating back to a horrendous few years in Belfast) and is now claiming to be Pandora’s box disturbed by what she read. Her mother had ‘encouraged’ her to excavate this material, without any care in the world for how it might damage her. This is the kind of horrific payoff that seems tout de suite worth it in the midst of relationship breakup. The experience has made me feel sad and sick to the core. Likewise, the existence of trolls (even on this blog) upsets me immensely when they dig in claws for little or no reason. Or the flagrant paedo who keeps looking me up on Linkedin and any other website I’m registered to/with due to his lack of life, or the knowledge that I wrote things online very early on that I had no idea would linger everlastingly (rubbish poems, half-finished stories, crap ideas).
However, it’s not all bedlam and mobocracy, I have met some incredible new friends (antiroom peeps more recently), sourced much-needed work, shared opinions through Facebook updates, splashed about different demeanours and ‘frames of mind’ [especially on Twitter] I’d never get a chance to in the humdrum of ordinary daily life. A piece I wrote on depression won ‘Best Blog Post’ at the recent Irish Blog Awards – only a few short months into my newfound blogging life – and a poem I wrote was picked up and published by a UK magazine. As a writer, it’s becoming increasingly clear how vital an online presence is, not just for freedom of expression or the ability to rant, but to stay in touch with people who might want to hear what you have to say.
Digital stratosphere is also great for following other writers in the same genre I’m interested in. As a shy gobshite all my life, this type of connectedness is nothing short of love. Then there was the time I was being bullied by a paramilitary landlord in Carrickfergus and having got so totally bored with his daily intrusions, I lost my mind and contacted a local sex addict who took me to an abandoned salt mine where he did some ‘stuff’ that took my mind right off my ills for more than a day. But who wants to hear a glut of unsavoury details of how my cyber life led me astray when there’s so much goodwill and kindheartedness to mull over instead?
I grew up with the internet, so I’ve never known what it’s like to be a grown-up without it. But a lot of the complaints I hear people make – the obligations to present a public persona, to update their various social media outlets, the busyness of it all – just sound to me like the sort of things adulthood seemed to be about. Being capable of making one’s own choices, but still having obligations and commitments, whether it was attending some work event or chatting to someone at the supermarket. Many of these things often sounded suspiciously close to fun, and if they were really that dreadful then why didn’t grown-ups just, well, not do them?
That little child-voice in my head that wonders why grown-ups talk about the things they ‘have’ to do when they don’t really have to speaks up a lot when I think about the internet and how time-consuming it can be, how we can feel under pressure to respond immediately to emails or represent ourselves in an interesting way on Twitter or whatever it might be. It’s the same voice that reminds me that despite all the complaining we can do, the truth is that for most of us, the internet, like growing-up, is infinitely better than the alternative.
My contribution is all about Twitter. So, what have I got out of it?
- A bottle of wine from @grapesofsloth, just for posting him a useful link
- Two free theatre tickets from @darraghdoyle for entering a competition
- A copy of Mary Poppins from @patomahony1, which I passed on in turn to @snastablasta
But those are just the added extras. Twitter is a source of news, information, fun, great conversations and recommendations for films, books, restaurants and music. It’s all out there if you follow the right people. TV becomes communal; many programmes just aren’t the same without a simultaneous Twitter stream of comments and observations.
I often work from home, and while Twitter can be a terrible distraction, it also helps to make tedious work bearable and lessens the feelings of isolation. During a recent hospital stay I was really touched by all the good wishes I received from my Twitter friends. And, sad though this may sound, I do regard some of my Twitter contacts as friends. I have met a few of them in the real world, and hope to meet more.
As @nickmcgivney wrote in this recent blog post, Twitter can help people to virtually meet their heroes. I have had a tragic middle-aged crush on actor David Morrissey (@davemorrissey64) since once briefly meeting him. Lo and behold, he joined Twitter and posts interesting tweets and an excellent daily music track of the day. Not only that, but he also engages with his followers including, occasionally and thrillingly, me. I have also had a few exchanges with the highly amusing @hughbon. Oh yes Downton Abbey fans, only Lord Grantham himself!
But the best thing about Twitter is that it inspired me to move beyond 140 characters and to start writing, on a (recently neglected) blog of my own, and here at the Anti Room. Nothing beats the feeling of someone commenting that they enjoyed something I have written. So I want to raise a glass to Sinead, Anna and all the other Anti Room women. Here’s to the next 500 posts.
Answering people’s social media problems in the Irish Times for the past year has taught me a thing or two.
Stuff I knew already: Irish people are intensely private, mostly because if it gets out their grandmother will know within five seconds, problems on the Internet feel as all-encompassing as problems off the Internet – they are real problems – and everyone’s compartmentalised social spheres are becoming melded together.
Things that have impressed on me include; just how intensely personal problems on the Internet are, how little most people who use it know about how to protect themselves on it, how unwilling most people are to be rude on the Internet – except the copious amounts of people who become incredibly rude when they are on the Internet.
The ramifications of the move of large parts of our social lives online are profound and currently little known.
What we do know is society has always had technology and technology has always been a part of society. There are negative books about the Internet being spat out as if the printed word were going out of fashion (snark), the most recent being a tome called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. These types of books claim the revolution of social media on the Internet is making us socially poorer by creating an illusion of being surrounded by friends when the essential elements of real friendship (regular real world meetings, face to face communication etc) are not there.
There are other, more positive books, notably The Cognitive Surplas by Clay Shirky, which recognises the enormous power of good that has occurred from millions of people democratically connecting in order to entertain, inform and even encourage each other to give charitably and improve the real world.
The arguments against the Internet continue to rumble on ploughing the exact same ground as all those spouted against television.
My bottom line, having dealt primarily for the last year with people’s problems online, is that the Internet and more specifically Social Media, widens our lives out in a mostly positive way by making connection and meaningful, as well as meaningless, communication possible at the touch of a fingertip
As Adam Gopnik wrote in his superb New Yorker article on the subject, “Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them.”
Social media delivers far more people’s thoughts far more effectively than any previous media revolution.
That will take us where we decide to take ourselves.
My first forays onto the internet took place when I was in secondary school. I’d go online with a friend, using her creaky dial-up connection. We’d sit chomping on Pringles while patiently waiting for the beep-beep-brriing-buzz noises to signal that we were on our way to the super cyber highway. Though the internet seemed a huge and somewhat unfathomable beast, with an infinite amount of information at my fingertips, I always ended up doing exact the same thing – going to Alta Vista and searching for very basic items like song lyrics, or information on TV shows. Wild days, to be sure.
That said, at one stage, unsure of what else to do online, I’d just search for ‘chatrooms’. Not my finest moment, it has to be said – up there with when I used to think LOL meant ‘lots of love’. That naivety makes me laugh now, but back then the internet really was unchartered territory. Today, I’m wholeheartedly pro-internet. Just last night, I caught the end of a documentary on Robert Moog, the creator of the Moog synthesiser, on TV. That led me online, searching for Youtube videos about early electronic music; watching old Delia Derbyshire videos and marvelling, as always, at her perfect ear for beat-matching; and then discovering legendary Theremin players.
I believe the net has enhanced women’s lives immeasurably. Online, we can join communities, connect with people with similar ideals to us; find out more about feminism; and read about women’s rights in other countries. We can blog about our experiences, in private, using a pseudonym. We can talk about sex, contraception, relationships, in the ‘open’, perhaps for the first time in our individual lives.
Have a problem? Google it. It’s perhaps no surprise that type in the words ‘Am I…’ into Google and the first suggestion is ‘Am I pregnant?’
But just as the internet offers freedom, it offers constraints too. It’s not free of the prejudices which can plague life off-line – sexism, racism, homophobia. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people online, and women are exposed to the same abuse on the net as they may be in real life situations, albeit in a non-physical manner. Though the internet offers anonymity, and that includes the ability to hide your sex, if you ‘out’ yourself as female, or male, or transgender, you leave yourself open to being judged on that.
I find the internet can also impinge on my real life – sucking up precious minutes and hours when I should be working, playing on my innate ability to procrastinate and sitting like the proverbial shoulder-devil, tempting me with just ‘one more’ look at a new site or Twitter feed.
But despite all of its pitfalls, I will forever be grateful for the internet – and do not take the fact I live in a country where I have uncensored access to it for granted. It gives me knowledge, it gives me space to vent, and has even been beneficial to my career. And now that I’ve learned not to spend time arguing with people on forums (that’s a top tip there if you want to stay sane on the internet!), ‘surfing the net’ is a rather pleasant experience indeed, even if it does have its ups and downs.