It was 1996 and the university computer lab was full of constipated Apple Macintoshes. The girl beside me was hammering away at the keyboard, flipping back between her emails and a chatroom window. I knew I had an email address – a bunch of meaningless digits @myuniversity.edu.au – but unlike the girl my inbox was always empty. I envied her digital popularity, her overflowing inbox and easy understanding of what all the buttons did.
I was clueless when I arrived at university. In hindsight I should have just worn a t-shirt that said I’M FROM THE COUNTRY and saved a lot of painful conversations. All I knew about the internet was that the previous year a teacher had strolled into class and announced, “Guess what I did on the weekend? I surfed the Internet!”. The inter-what? Apparently he had searched Yahoo for our town and found one (1) result!
“Sooo,” I leaned over to the girl and selected a casual tone, “Tell me. How did you get all those email messages?”
She did not look up from the screen but arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Your mailbox seems to be full of messages but I keep checking my email, day after day after day, and there’s never anything there! How did you get so many?”
“I mean,” A slightly hysterical edge crept into my voice, “What am I doing wrong?”
“I doubt you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just that I’ve given my email address to my friends, and they write to me and then I write back and so forth. Have you given your email address to your friends?” Do you have any friends?
“I did, but none of them have got The Internet.”
“Well, there’s your problem.”
“Damn. Well how bout you send me one, just to get me started?”
I also was keen to try some of this web surfing business. I had an article carefully clipped from the Sydney Morning Herald about TV fan sites. The very first thing I ever typed into a Netscape browser was alt.tv.x-files. I clicked on GO! and was rewarded with an Page Not Found error.
“The Internet has broken down!” I told the girl, who pretended not to hear. “Broken down, I tell you!”
I typed in alt.tv.simpsons. Same error.
“This is the superhighway to hell!”
It took a wee while to figure out that websites were things that went http://somethingsomething, and things that started with alt were newsgroups. Actually I still don’t know what newsgroups are.
Nine years later I am still living on the blunt edge of technology. I recently discovered Wikipedia, only to discover it was discovered some time ago. I use Wikipedia for a variation of a game I used to play while waiting by the Inbox. I’d fire up Internet Explorer, type a noun into the address bar then hit Ctrl + Enter, which wraps a www and dot com around the word. I’d throw in random words for hours, just to see what was at banana.com or coriander.com or volcano.com. If I ran out of imagination I’d just look around the computer lab…. chair.com, clock.com, door.com, ironictshirt.com, acne.com. Oh such fun. Now I perch on the couch with the laptop and bark at Gareth, “Gimme a word!” and we’ll see what Wikipedia knows about it.
I tell you what, there is not much that Wikipedia doesn’t ken. Once you’ve searched for obscure historical figures, vegetables and country towns you’ve lived in, you start typing really purile stuff like bum and fart. If you’re half asleep after an hour of furious Wikipedia-ing and search for scrotum then click on the link on the right that says Scrotum.jpg, well that just wakes you up like a slap in the chops I tell you.