A Nerd Is Born

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.

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for January 2022.

21 thoughts on “A Nerd Is Born

  1. You are absolutely correct. It is so horrendously nerve wracking at the start, but once you get going … stand back! The internet and weblogs (where have they been hiding?) have become my lifeline now that I am on maternity leave. There is a whole world out there that I didn’t know even existed.

  2. I didn’t really know about the internet til I’d say late 1997 and then I wasn’t too sure about it. I remember my first real search was on George Michael 🙂 Got my first computer summer of 1998 and then I was addicted to chatrooms! OMG, lol. My first handle was moody 🙂

    I didn’t know about Ctrl+Enter though – just tried it, that is cool!

  3. Newsgroups are just big discussion threads, like web bulletin boards only accessed with programs that are more like email programs. Putting nntp:// in front of their names may or may not work…

  4. Oh, newsgroups. If you ever need porn, illegal warez or just want to be flamed and spammed stupid for several million messages a day, then newsgroups are the shiz, yo.

  5. Newsgroups were so last year, the latest craze is RSS. To find out more, simply go to alt.latest.crazes.rss. but definintly the best use of Wikipedia is just to look up random words.

  6. Ummm, I thought you were joking about the scrotum.jpg… uhhhh, yeah. Nice camera angle, umm, I’m still in shock.

    Wonder who I can send that link to…

  7. You seem to have caught up. I am still amazed by those that run their own websites with design features and everything. I keep thinking I should learn that so I can improve my blog…

  8. Ahh, newsgroups. What a flsahback. When I first got into (on to?) the net, back in a-long-time-ago) I did so courtesy of a geeky friend (and back then, geeks were GEEKS) and got thoroughly sucked into that netherworld faster than you can say… er… scrotum. Weird times.

  9. I too am stunned by the people who manage to run websites without all that help from Blogger or whoever, and without relying on boring one-size-fits-all templates and designs. I’m still at the stage where I’m scared to add anything to the HTML in case it causes the whole page to vanish. Or acquire ridiculous and unintentional formatting, such as black-on-black text (this actually happened to a blog that I read).

    I’m afraid my favourite internet game is still that old classic, entering people into Google and laughing when they turn out to share a name with a prominent brain surgeon/minor film actor/feminist critical theorist, whichever is most unlikely.

    I’ve recently discovered a site called googlism.com which raises this sort of thing to a fine art – and it knows about you, Shauny! (though not about me).

  10. Sweet mother of all thinks unholy!!

    That’s one set of balls.

    It most certainly is.

    Now I’ve just got to think up an excuse as to WHY it appeared on my screen just as my boss walked up….

  11. thinGs. with a g.

    Although all thinks unholy may be a more accurate term these days – is ANYONE going to heaven?

  12. Heheh, I helped to edit the fart entry for wikipedia (a grammatical correction, mind you, but my only contribution to date).

    A life, you ask? 🙂

  13. there is one thing worse than the internet and that is when your parents get the internet, and then spend the next 5 years sending you lists of amusing sjokes or anecdotes that you had sent to you in 96.
    Then they forget and send them to you again.

    And go in a huff if you tell them.

    odd things parents

    pol x

  14. Damn you are funny. “The internet is broken down”. LOL Watch all the cyber geeks have panic attacks if that were true.

  15. That’s great–I was doing the exact same thing in 1996! Except I was typing in the name of my favorite band and wondering why the Internets were in such boring colors.

  16. First thing I thought of after seeing the scrotum pic?


    Do your balls hang low?
    Do they waggle to and fro?
    Can you tie them in a knot?
    Can you tie them in a bow?

    Can you throw them over your shoulder like a continential solder?

    Do your balls. hang. low?

  17. I think you should revel in the fact that you’re late on the boat with some technologies. I know I am. I still hardly use IM. I figure let someone else work out the kinks before I come in.

  18. When I run out of words to search, heh, I tap out a bunch of random letter keys and hit enter, if nothing comes up I start eliminating one letter at a time from the back, until I get a hit. Like driving in a foreign place without a map and no actual purpose.

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