Over the years, my Internet habits have changed significantly. This has been at least partly due to changes in technology over the years, but I still find it an interesting observation to think back on how times have changed since I first “got online.”
My earliest experiences were with CompuServe which, for the unfamiliar, was somewhat like an online “walled garden”. It included much of the things we take for granted on the Internet today — email, topic-specific forums, places to download stuff, real-time chat and probably, if you looked hard enough, something which could be used by someone as porn. Initially, you were limited to talking only to other CompuServe subscribers, but over time access opened up: firstly to allow emailing to Internet email addresses, and eventually to access the Web proper. I remember vividly trying (and failing) to get the browser Mosaic to work with CompuServe.
At this time, since I was just a kid and living at home, my Internet (or equivalent) access was severely limited. I had to plan out what it was I was going to look at (usually the Gamers’ Forum and occasional delves into the “CB Simulator” — aka real-time chat rooms — to try (and fail) to pick up girls. (a/s/l?)
Over time, the Internet opened up to all, and we were all able to gain access to the information we wanted and some we didn’t. The best free porn sites were (apparently) passed around in the schoolyard; the best sites to download shareware games were common knowledge; little communities started to spring up as people figured out things like “forums”, “personal homepages” and “search engines”.
Fast forward to today and, with an Internet that is growing at a frightening rate, I find myself limiting what I’m doing to a very small number of sites. Despite becoming increasingly irritated with it, I check Facebook. I check my GMail. I check in on the Squadron of Shame Squawkbox if there’s been a new post. I write this blog. Occasionally I might check a gaming site for news of something I’m interested in, but that’s really about it. I tweet from my phone and everything else that I really want to do is covered by those sites — and Google if I can’t find the information I’m looking for straight away. I find myself going around and around and around the same sites over and over, hoping that something new and interesting has come up in the five minutes since I last looked. (It never does.)
One thing I’ve found myself not using anywhere near as much as I used to is dedicated, specific communities. Every time I find a forum that looks vaguely interesting, I might check it out and post there for a few days and then promptly forget all about it — even if it’s a community I have little doubt that I’d really enjoy being a part of. This is kind of sad, since it limits my contact with people who are specifically in to the exact same things as me, but it’s primarily a result of the fact that forum software tends to not play overly-nice with mobile devices — which, nine times out of ten, is the place where I want to be casually browsing. (Okay, a lot of forums bring up that annoying popup about Tapatalk, which I’ve never tried and might be the best thing ever, but still.)
It’s mostly a time issue. I have lots of things I want to do every day, and I rarely (no, make that never) get to do all of them. So far as “priorities” go, checking forums, posting things and getting to know yet another online community is not particularly high up the list.
Perhaps it should be. There are a lot of things I am into that I would like to talk more about with others. Without thinking very hard, I can immediately point to both My Little Pony and The Secret World as communities I would like to be more involved with. And there are doubtless more out there. When I think about how vapid and pointless 95% of the conversations on Facebook are, I do sometimes wonder if my “social” time online could be better spent in a more focused community rather than browsing creepy baby photos posted by people I haven’t seen since school.
Perhaps I should leave my own prejudices at the door and jump in to one of these communities to see what will happen. You never know where new friends are lurking, after all.