Internet came very naturally to me. No one would have thought about it, but I was one of the “Internet bourgeois” back then in Nepal. Not many people in Nepal had that access to the World Wide Web, though it was a popular term. It was around 1997-98, the first time I witnessed the ecosystem of something called the Internet. Compared to now, there was not much at that time but I guess there was a lot. I should also consider myself being one of the few and first Internet kids in Kathmandu, connecting to one of the few service providers via dial-up modems. I loved the creepiness of that modem sound when dialed; it was a sound of patience, which would soon turn into glory.
I was mostly the spectator of the Internet then, as I was very young and early teenager. So my uncles would go through pages after pages, yet very minimal use compared to now. I would stare at these pages, being flipped, watched and closed. The graphics were extra minimal and were similar in many of the pages. The texts seem heavy and the blue text with an underline always appeared with a hand pointed index finger with a click could take you on an adventure. To surf these pages we would use the legendary Internet Explorer or my favorite, the Netscape Navigator. I just liked the word “Net-scape”, although I now consider it had a deeper meaning. Perhaps, the utopian name was to represent the imagining and constructing the Internet itself.
Maybe, it was late 1998-I first started using the Internet by myself and also sometimes deceiving my family to get into it. My partners in crime- my brother and some cousins who were a little older rebel and who I would consider the dark kids of the Internet back then. There were no accessible cell phones and smartphones right now look like science fiction. This was the time of landlines and sometimes communication would be three ways or more since these phone lines had multiple extensions.
We assembled as kids and sat before a computer and dialed the saved ISP connection link, to get connected. Once the dial connected, which also failed often and minimized to an icon of two computers connecting each other on the bottom toolbar on the right side of the screen, we were the happiest kids. This was my first introduction to that fast-changing environment. I knew in every possible way, I didn’t want to get out of there ever. I didn’t want to be disconnected.
I was crazy about the websites, I would even write in my diary what pages I had visited and show it to my friends later in school. They would be fascinated to not surf the Internet first hand, but just hear about a computer and what it could do with it when connected with the phone. Chats were really popular then. I remember being an avid lover of Yahoo chat, which took millions of years to loads its “chat applet”,- that’s what it was called. This was also a first time; I had my alter ego, my first digital identity, my virtual personality. Something felt good about having an extra alternative identity back then. I was chatting a lot with people, from all around the world, which continued for years. It was just fun to talk to other virtual identities without knowing whether something existed in reality or it was not just there. A lot of chat time had also caused a change in my writing tasks at school – I was using a lot of slangs and abbreviated words. The teachers were not so happy about it.
There were other things to do too, which I wasn’t really fond off. It was also early days of photo-shopped nudes circulating all around the Internet. People also stepped to making their home page and constructing their digital homes. At the same time, I also received dozens of emails and I won millions of dollars every day or sometimes bankers from Africa wrote to me for partnership and a few also passed on billions of dollars and properties in my name after their death although I didn’t know them. I always thought, why would people leave behind so much for a person they didn’t even know in person. They would just request my name, address, and other essentials.
Perhaps, I wondered, if they were grandparents of my chat buddies who have left all their wealth for us. And sometimes I also received an email about whether I wanted tons of Viagra on Christmas sale. This was at least 20 years ago. This was the first time I heard about Viagra. One common notice on all these emails would be- “This is not SPAM”.
In my Internet heydays, I clearly remember the Dotcomguy of the dotcomguy.com who was probably the first Internet celebrity for me. He had a webcam set to show his activities publicly, although not much moved with the slow Internet. I hear this guy is a tech evangelist now. A lot changed in 20 years- celebrities turned to activists, chat became bots, dialup changed to wireless and surfing became ubiquitous.
The Internet is there, but it is not there. There is a personality you develop with living in this ecosystem. It’s not a problem to be addictive with anything. The purpose is to use the addiction in the right way. I now see a lot of research blaming the Internet ecosystem, saying it is making us dumb, fills us with anxiety and depression. I wouldn’t like to counter that generally because I can just talk about my instance with my addiction to the Internet- for good or the bad. As I evolved, the phenomenon of Internet evolved with me. I made my Internet for myself- I made my choices. At least I would like to think so. Hence, I don’t have a lot to complain. Back then; I just looked at the Internet on a screen, now I am curious to know what is behind the screen. Similar, the Internet now is not just interested in knowing what I type but is interested in what I am thinking.
Probably that’s the symbiosis of a human with an ecosystem like the Internet, in which both evolve and complement each other. One isn’t complete without the other, I feel. This was the process of being a curious connect a kid to now being a connected critic. What a strange long trip it’s been!! How far is this going to go?
(Some words used in this blog are for humor. It doesn’t mean to offend anyone in the society)
Samik Kharel, NetMission 2018/19
Master’s Degree in Media Arts