Strictly speaking, I’m old enough to remember the aftermath of the Eternal September, but not old enough to have experienced it as it happened. If you’re not familiar with the term – and I certainly wasn’t until a few years ago – the Eternal September refers to September of 1993, the month that America Online – or AOL – launched their access to Usenet servers. While AOL would quickly become notorious for being a walled garden of curated content, they did still offer basic Internet access and the aforementioned access to Usenet. Up until then, a relatively small number of college and university students would join Usenet, learning the rules and “netiquette” that went with it as they joined. AOL ensured a constant stream of new users rolled in month over month, week over week, day over day. By doing so, AOL changed the fundamental makeup of Usenet and what many think of as the earliest incarnations of the Internet. The old guard of the early Internet was replaced by a kid in a backwards baseball cap and shades riding a keyboard into the future. He was probably radical, or at least tubular.
I was a decidedly less radical kid – bodacious, at best – when my parents first got AOL in the mid-90s, likely due to one of the seemingly trillions of floppy discs and CDs that the company sent out during their heyday. The sounds of a 56k baud modem and that ugly sign-on screen are burned into my very soul. It wasn’t much, at the time, but it allowed me to poke around in video game chat rooms, look at completely bogus gaming rumors, learn about things like the famous(?) Simon Wai Sonic the Hedgehog 2 prototype, and even play StarCraft online against friends and random strangers. It was my access to Sonic fan forums and the community for Sven Co-op, an old Half-Life mod that’s still kicking to this day. It’s how I learned about DeviantArt and where I posted poorly put together sprite comics and my early attempts at art.
In that time, I watched the rise and fall of webrings and sites like the Anime Turnpike. The site I used to go to to get gaming MIDIs from, while still around, has long since been replaced by the meteoric rise of file sharing and MP3s thanks to Napster and, later, Limewire, Kazaa, and eventually Torrents. I used to follow artists with dedicated websites where they’d post their work, relying on webrings to drive people to view their work out of pure love of what they did. I’ve lost contact with perhaps too many friends I made through message boards, but I’ve also formed bonds of friendship that have lasted to this day – people I couldn’t live without. It makes me wonder how much things changed in such a short amount of time in a way I couldn’t see.
My online experience was fundamental to who I am at a time where I didn’t have a lot of friends in the “real world”. In some ways, it helped form my bent towards drawing and illustration at a time where I was trying to figure out where my creative flow should go. Musician? Actor? Pottery? The relative ease of being able to post images online meant I could share what I was drawing at home, more or less, when my only option was to try to quietly use my parents’ scanner to upload whatever I had drawn on printer paper or to make sprite comics that are lost to time. I used to get endless entertainment from Flash-based games and videos from sites like Albino Blacksheep, which hosted some of the earliest and most bizarre content, like memes before they were known as memes. For a while, I tried to put a website together on Geocities. The less remembered about that, the better, really.
Without really realizing it, I lived through a period where that endless space has slowly collapsed into a few websites. Facebook. Twitter. Reddit. Instagram. YouTube. Seemingly unlimited potential is largely funneled through a few key places, and it’s a true challenge to find discoverability beyond that. Gone are the old communities, largely replaced with an endless torrent of people all yelling at each other or clandestine groups that are more interested in recruitment for a cause rather than a conversation. Online art has been made commercial, with stagnant wages combining with inflation and a culture of making every hobby a side gig or a hustle. NFTs have salted the earth in more ways than one, ensuring that anything even remotely popular has the potential to be taken out of the hands of the artist, tokenized, and sold for a profit among an elite few of scammers. It’s easy to forget that the online world and the real world have the same people behind them.
I think we’re all old enough to remember the Eternal March. COVID-19 has taken so much from us, and collapsed the multi-dimensional world outside into what feels like a single point. A promising Summer of change in 2021 has simply become a promise of more of the same from those in power in 2022. Omicron is cutting through every country and every community like a razor. I think anyone with a heart and soul feels that pull of wanting the days that came before where everything was more simple and the world felt more vast, while also wanting to see real, meaningful change even if we feel powerless to make it happens as and endless stream of just… more pounds down on us. We all know, on some level, the world was never as simple as we remember it being. Some days, you just have to get yourself up on your feet and do what you can for your community and yourself. Some days you just need something to carry you forward, carving out a tiny slice of the infinite vastness of the Internet to call your own.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, the current date as of this writing is Sunday, September 10,358th, 1993, or approximately Sunday, March 663rd, 2020, depending on how you want to look at it.
Peace and chicken grease.