You remember the early days of the internet.
If you don't, honestly don't worry. It's okay. You couldn't even email pictures back then. You weren't missing much.
But what you were missing was the crazy thrill it was to set foot in mostly barren land. It was like the wild west: you never knew what you'd come across, and sometimes you'd have to travel long distances to find good people who might take you in and tell you a tale worth hearing. There were these little communities of strangers, trying to figure out if you were friend or foe. Our own prehistoric version of "social media" had very few boxes for sorting: ASL? What usenet groups do you follow? Is this guy creepy or what? And it was all very terrifying. (At least for my parents: "Mom, this Dutch skateboarder I met on the internet is coming to stay with us for the weekend. No, I've never met him in person.") Groups of timewasters hanging out on computers all the way across the world, typing nonsense to each other in the wee hours of our respective mornings while roommates slept.
We were the laziest pioneers. Explorers with esoteric handles and bags under our eyes.
Offline, if we felt the need to connect further, we'd send each other pictures. Mix tapes. Whatever would fit in an envelope, whatever postage we could afford. I still have most of them: the Dutch skateboard stickers, the grainy zines, the masking tape covered plastic cassette boxes, the picture of some Croatian and his dog (though who's to say if it was actually him, or what happened to him if it was).
Once in a while, we'd meet in person, and find ourselves in that awkward position of getting to know someone you only know through their words. In New York, I met Richard who took me to 2nd Avenue Deli and a lesbian bar. In Chicago, I met Chris. We went together to see Austin Powers, and when we got back outside, the city was on fire. Lesbian bars and cities on fire: experiences you can only have in real life. That's how it was.
Over the years, I lost touch with most of them, kept in marginal touch with others. Every time I thought of Chicago, I wondered about Chris.
Then, last week, somebody found him.
The email from Danielle began "I seem to run in very, very, VERY SMALL CIRCLES."
We weave strange paths in life. And one path went from those late nights I spent awake on a random skateboarding IRC channel, bonding with strangers, all the way up to Danielle. She put us back in touch, and the emails flew.
"Let us pause for a moment to remember that when we knew each other last, I couldn't even send pictures over the internet. And now I just took a picture of a video cassette with my cell phone, mailed it to myself, downloaded it, and mailed it to you. Also, you were making VIDEO MIXES."
"And remember when someone was going to make a #skate website and it'd have everyone's profile with picture and we all had to actually mail photos through the mail to one person in charge?" If we hadn't been emailing, this is where we both would have audibly sighed with bemusement. "I have to say, the future is kind of great when I can sit outside on the lawn and answer my email on the phone which also lets me watch youtube videos of cats doing mildly amusing things."
"Because, really, what else could you ask for in life? I'm going to start mailing people physical pictures of cats asking for cheeseburgers. That should be a thing."
/me comes to the point
It's mind-blowing to think how much this place has changed, this internet. In just fifteen years. How it's grown, rapid fast, swelled to an almost unwieldy size, full of books of faces, Rick Astley videos, and hungover owls—and in between, the things that used to live elsewhere. In books and record stores and on street corners. We're all online.
And because this is what we are now, because in fifteen years it's become the same thing only faster, only broader, only further-reaching, and in honor of the mix tapes we used to send each other when we still did that sort of thing, and because, heck, Chris asked what I was listening to lately, I decided to make a mixtape for the internet.
If you're viewing this in your RSS feed, you won't see the player. Come on over here to hear.
(Interestingly, no matter how good the internet gets, I still seem to be making mixes that sound like they've been chewed up by a garbage disposal. Apologies for the quality.)
40 Day Dream - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
Watch the Waves - Taken By Trees
Hold Me - Fleetwood Mac
Deadbeat Summer - Neon Indian
Ambling Alp - Yeasayer
Couldn't I Just Tell You - Todd Rundgren
The Ballad of El Goodo - Big Star
Frederick - Patti Smith
Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National
I Think I've Had It - The Gories
Carry On Wayward Son - Kansas
Your Love - The Outfield
Things Ain't Like They Used To Be - Black Keys
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.