I’m 25. I was born in 1988. I first got to use a “proper” computer when I was about five.
I remember being led into the school library one morning, and my classmates and I were taught how to access an encyclopaedia on this strange machine that I had never seen up close before. I remember the teacher being as confused as us, though, and not getting very far with showing us anything because the bloody thing wouldn’t load and kept crashing (the computer, not the teacher; although she did look like she was about to have a breakdown). I was also terrified of going near the computer in case it ate me. These are the only things I really remember about the experience.
Then for my sixth birthday, my mother bought me a second-hand Atari. God knows why, I don’t think I did anything to indicate that I was interested in owning a computer, but I got one anyway. And I was pretty grateful, by the looks of things (although my cat looks petrified).
I don’t remember doing much with that computer other than playing a really bizarre game called Seymour Goes To Hollywood, and another one based on the TV show Noddy. Oh, and all of these were on Floppy Disk of course, an experience that any 90s child worth their salt should have had.
By the age of around 8, my mother and I were living alone and I remember her buying us a computer. I spent a LOT of time on 3D Movie Maker, which lagged so much it took me about 2 hours to produce a 2 minute movie with blurry, pixelated graphics and a choice of incredibly racist character stereotypes.
Around the age of 9, I remember wanting to join the Computer Club at school and experiencing first-hand sexism in IT. My male teacher wouldn’t let me join because I was a girl. Nowadays you wouldn’t be able to get away with that shit, but this was the 90s and he thought he was the tits because he could write basic code and make our primary school a really horrific website with basic animations, typical 90s style.
About a year later I learned to touch-type. I have absolutely no idea how, it just sort of happened. The skill developed by itself, I was never taught – I remember just intuitively growing into it. I still have people today who marvel at how fast I type and I almost feel bad for not putting any effort into acquiring the skill.
At 11 I went to secondary school. That’s when it became all about fonts like Kristin ITC, Comic Sans, Jokerman and Harrington. I remember writing serious essays completely in Jokerman and my teachers were fine with that because they thought it was cool – let’s remember this was cutting-edge technology! Oh, and the travesty that was (is!) Word Art. At least it’s not as ugly now as it used to be. That said, I was horrified when I recently discovered that a charity for which I’m volunteering was using Word to create their newsletter, complete with Word Art and Clip Art. I can’t even.
I also remember staying late after school in the IT room specifically to play on Neopets. Anyone remember Neopets? I was on it so much that to this day I still remember my username: DCbigfan (because I was a really, really, unimaginative big fan of Destiny’s Child at the time – DON’T HATE YO). I used to get really angry at it, though, because I never used to win anything. At the time I remember thinking “damn those kids in America with their fast internet, stealing all my winnings!”. It wasn’t just winning things, it was near-on impossible to buy anything from the shops because the pathetic internet connection both at home and at school was so slow that despite the starting stock of an item being 20, by the time the computer would load my purchase they would have all sold out. It was incredibly addictive though, and I at least knew that my Neopets would never die because they weren’t allowed to tear kids’ dreams apart like that and introduce them to the harsh reality of mortality. One thing I must credit Neopets with is really firing my imagination. I used to get totally absorbed into their virtual worlds, the background “stories” for them, the way everything was designed. It was incredibly well thought-out and I think made me more artistically creative.
Then I progressed to Habbo Hotel. Oh good god. I frequented Habbo around the ages of 13-14 and I giggle just thinking about it now because it was so bad. You inhabited a weird little virtual person and then went around these social rooms and talked to people. If someone said a naughty word it would automatically be censored and come up as “bobba”. There were clearly a lot of sexually frustrated teenagers and tragically sad nerdy boys on there who would sit at their computers, virtually approach the girl habbos and ask them, “wanna bobba?” – if that wasn’t good sex education, I don’t know what was. Oh, I was also constantly cut off by my dial-up internet in the middle of a conversation with a stranger who I would consequently never speak to again, or my mum would scream at me to disconnect from the internet so she could use the phone. I also remember how you could buy credit (with actual money) to buy furniture for your little Habbo “room”. I did that, because I was lame and had nothing better to spend my pocket money on. One day someone came into my room and asked me for my password so that he could “transfer some of his furniture over to my account”. Since I was an incredibly naive 13 year old and trusted EVERYONE, I of course said yes and he stole all my money and furniture. Life lesson right there. I think I cried for about 3 days.
While we’re dealing with circa 2001 when I had the joy of using dial-up internet, I have to point out that if you were a regular dial-up user around this time, the sound of connecting to the internet is not something that will ever really leave you. It was like some sort of extra-trippy Aphex Twin song. I used to be able to mime along with the noises and know exactly when each phase of sound would start.
Around 2002, I got MSN messenger. Lol wtf omg. My friends and I would bitch about our day at school, talk about the new song in the charts and ask each other about our homework. We also used emoticons to death. Remember those!? The sheer, unadulterated excitement of being able to add your own custom emoticons was mind-blowing to me. It was quite annoying when my friends would change their display names and I couldn’t tell who was who; but it was also massively awe-inspiring when one of them used ASCII art.
By the age of around 16, I had reached my “goth” phase (maybe that was perpetuated by that guy stealing all of my Habbo furniture, who knows). I joined Vampire Freaks which was a pretty terrifying site, but full of angry teenagers which seemed to be what I was after at the time. By 17, I had joined MySpace. Most of my time on there was spent writing I’m-so-angry-at-life blog posts, posting bulletins about what arseholes my parents were, and making passive-aggressive comments to random strangers. Christ.
Despite Vampire Freaks and MySpace being completely and utterly cringe-worthy, they were my first experiences with “social media”. Because I’ve always loved design, I made the effort to customize my own layouts with HTML – I have fond memories of coding my own DIVs. Ahhh, nostalgia. So they did lead to something good, because I’ve still got that foundation of understanding of HTML and CSS today which is eminently useful.
In 2007 I got Facebook. I remember being disappointed at the lack of ability to customize my own page, but it was my introduction to a completely new kind of social media where users interacted with each other very differently to what I had experienced before. There’s no question that Facebook revolutionised how we interact with each other socially – in some ways good, in some ways bad. But that’s for another post. Just the development of Facebook alone, certainly in the 7 years that I’ve been using it, seems to reflect the development of information technology in general.
I got Twitter in 2009 but I remember not using it for at least a year as I didn’t see a space for it in my life. The idea of posting 140 characters or less to complete strangers felt like an odd concept to me and I couldn’t quite get used to it. But eventually I saw the great benefits of connecting with people via causes you care about and people you follow (although I am perpetually annoyed by the discovery of Twitter by fan cults like Beliebers – what a waste!).
Technology is always evolving and I’m excited to see what the future holds. It feels so odd to think that just 20 years ago I was playing on a second-hand Atari and using floppy-disks and now we have 3D printers, tablets, smartphones, selfies, wearable technology and so much more.
I think it’s important to occasionally reflect on what has made us into the people we are today, and I am grateful for being part of a generation that grew up with technology and saw it develop into what we have today. There were some real innovations during my childhood and it’s been fascinating to see everything move so quickly (even if it didn’t feel quick, while I sat there for 3 minutes and 25 seconds of sinister screeching noises every single day while my dial-up connected). I kind of feel bad for kids these days who will never know what it was to have to put a LOT of effort into engaging with the technology you wanted. It taught you to appreciate it. Nowadays it’s much more accessible and “up for grabs” than it used to be which is great, but it does make you take it for granted somewhat. On that note, I should probably wrap this up because I’m starting to fulfil the “IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS” stereotype. Eurgh I’m old!
Did you have any of the same experiences as me with technology while you were growing up? If so, which ones? And if you experienced it quite differently, what was different about it?