Tumblr is weird, like the Internet used to be

I’m nostalgic for the old, early 1990s Internet. Dial-up, you got on and downloaded your e-mail real quick to read and respond to later. And there were mailing lists, remember? I loved the Knitlist. It was my first exposure to celebrity knitters and spinners and knitwear designers. It is how I leaned to knit socks – no pictures, just instructions! I still remember the names of some of the regulars. Every year at Christmas, someone would wish everyone Merry Christmas, and the Christmas celebrators and non-Christmas celebrators would get in a fight.

I remember Archie, Veronica, and Gopher, which were file transfer and retrieval systems that I didn’t understand because I was an Internet rube. I remember thinking, wow, when people figure out how to buy and sell stuff securely on the Internet, it’s going to be something.

I remember when anti-virus software and anti-pop-up software wasn’t so good, and you had to be careful what you clicked. Porn was all around, you could click on an innocent seeming link or box and, whoa. And we so innocently thought we had privacy on the Internet.

I loved Usenet. After the Knitlist, that was my first connection with people on the Internet. I was a big fan of The X-Files from about 1996 until it ended in 2002. I knew no one in my real life who liked that show, so I discussed it with people online. The Usenet group was alt.tv.x-files, or something like that, and it was phenomenal. I couldn’t tell you how many regulars there were, but I still remember Autumn, and Gizzie, and Alan and LauraCap and Paula. For the most part, I don’t know who they really were or where they lived, but I conversed with them for years, not just about a shared television show, but about life and work and politics. We all experienced the Clinton years together, then Bush vs. Gore, and eventually 9/11.

Usenet was completely unmoderated. If the subject matter was interesting enough, a group survived. We fought, we argued, we had threads that lasted weeks. There were accepted conventions for quoting and replying and it wasn’t hard.

We skimmed over the spam easily, using various newsreaders that allowed us to block the regular intrusions of people coming to tell us about the aliens living in the Earth’s hollow core, or to get us to join their kinky sex groups, like the cake-farters (I don’t even know, it was a thing, apparently.)

There were no language filters, and no one screened out unwanted opinions. There were a million acronyms and in-jokes. To this day, I call people “idoits” because of someone’s accidental misspelling that caught on and became the accepted spelling.

Our Internet interactions are so managed now. First of all, you have to use it with the assumption that EVERYONE, from the NSA to your boss, is going to somehow know your every click. You are who you are now, no fake identities, no anonymity. In most ways, that is good, but I do miss the wild-west days of awesome flame-wars that gave rise to things like Godwin’s law. It was sort of freeing as a young wife raising two kids to take time out from PTO to get on the Internet and act like a teenager discussing science fiction and feminism and writing with complete abandon and honesty because no one knew who I was.

Then came AOL and Prodigy and Compuserve and Terms of Service, and easier access, and then, gloriously, unlimited access. Then web pages, and we learned HTML, and we figured out how to upload pictures and then there were blogs.

I guess we always knew that it would come to this. All this massive trove of information about what people think and say and like and buy could not go unmined. So now I am me. I have an Internet Presence, and I’m mostly just me at every place I go. I have an entire black book that records my Internet registrations, my usernames, my passwords. I know that everything I do at one place may somehow be linked to other places. No more dress up and pretend.

But there is Tumblr, which is the last hint of the wild-west, unmoderated Internet. I have a Tumblr. It’s hard to use. It’s not pretty. I don’t know how you find people with like interests to “follow” except that you occasionally stumble over them. It’s near-impossible to have a coherent conversation. It’s ridiculous. And once you “follow” someone because they posted something you thought was interesting and you want to see what else they might say, you get EVERYTHING they say. (Unless there are some filters that I have not figured out yet.)

Scrolling through my dash is an adventure. Mostly it is discussion of my current favorite tv show, but some is not. It’s educational. It’s not safe for work. There are gifs, which I don’t know how to make. It’s often funny. There’s a lot of lovely artwork, and sometimes that artwork is adult-oriented.

Twitter is so civilised and so informational. Facebook is…well, my mother is on Facebook. My blog is pretty, but it even bores me. Tumblr is that one place where I never know what is going to scroll up next. It’s that last little acceptable bit of the wild west on the Internet.

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