My parents bought me a modem when I was 12. In 2000, that meant my internet access was dependent on my blazing speed of 28.8k, and I had to get off the internet any time someone needed to use the phone.
Those were not the glory days if you wanted to download porn or play Neopets, but it’s starting to kind of feel like they were the brighter days regardless.
It wasn’t the speed of the internet, it was that assholes hadn’t worked out how to use it yet (or if they knew, they kept to their respective IRC channels).
Cyberbullying was harder. You had to somehow get hold of the person’s MSN messenger account (or ICQ, or Yahoo), and make sure they added you.
If you wanted to harass someone in the comments section of their daily drama, you had to first find their Livejournal account, then find someone else who had a referral code to give you, then sign up, then start insulting. 15 years ago, the internet made you really work at being a dick to other people.
Now, it basically hands it to you on a platter. We’re encouraged to connect to people we may know ‘in real life’ any time we use a service. Want to know how many steps your friends are taking with their Fitbit? How about how many mutual friends you share with this one night stand on Tinder?
Over the last 16 years, I’ve seen waves after waves of internet memes and fads walk in and out of our online lives.
When I first had access to the internet, the HamsterDance and Bonsai Kittens were the ‘in’ things. It didn’t take long for me to find Bash.org and start spamming my friends with hilarious IRC quotes like these gems either. They were harmless fun. No one was hurt (not even the kittens). All mocking was anonymous, and of the innocent kind.
My high school years started to pass, and so did the memes. Peanut Butter Jelly Time, All Your Base, the O Rly owl. I played a lot of Neopets, stuck to community forums largely about books that I loved, and eventually stumbled across IRC (Internet Relay Chat – a chat program, in its essence). The ‘BadgerBadgerBadger’ song popped up, and so did the ‘NumaNuma’ guy.
Those are the days I get nostalgic about. They weren’t perfect, no. It took 3 days to download a song and 90% of the time it was hardcore porn (thanks Kazaa, and later Limewire), but people hadn’t worked out how to cluster together to be awful. When they did cluster, they were in little pockets of the internet.
Now, with social media, the cluster is wherever we are. The internet isn’t filled with hamsters dancing to shitty music, or people quoting from terrible video games.
It’s populated by people who think #triggered is a totally acceptable social response, because they cluster with other assholes who are just as insensitive.
It’s difficult enough to live with PTSD in a community that’s becoming increasingly more selfish. We don’t need a meme dependent on being a jerk to other people who are struggling. It doesn’t even matter if their struggles are ‘worthwhile’ or not. The internet survived for literal decades before the lowest common denominator decided that humour at the expense of others is the best humour.
What happened to us in the time between BadgerBadgerBadger and mocking ‘Tumblrinas’? How did we go from giggling at harmless videos and owls, to ridiculing those with mental illness?
I had to explain to a grown adult this week that joking about beating the shit out of her kids with a belt is well past the line of acceptable behaviour in a public forum.
It’s like we’ve become so afraid of censorship that we’re acting out against it before it happens. The internet didn’t need censorship 16 years ago to enjoy Homestar Runner and Strong Bad. We’d just collectively decided that things didn’t need to target vulnerable groups to be funny. We didn’t need to deride others for internet popularity.
If you joined the internet after the advent of Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram – I’m sorry. This is all you know. You missed the days of logging on to share things with friends that didn’t require you to be a jerk to someone else.
Me? I’ll be over here singing BadgerBadgerBadger while putting mushrooms on a pizza, instead of ridiculing people who have triggers.