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48 Artists (and Rhizome) remember when...

By Kei Kreutler


When all of my friends are on at once, organized by Gene McHugh

Chat rooms, ScReEnNaMeS, AdultKing, cheat codes, Everquest, AOL/Rent essay writing contests. While the cultural forms we encounter on the internet are always changing, there was something palpably unique about the early web; for many of us, this is simply because we encountered it for the first time as adolescents. As many of the entries in When all of my friends are on at once detail, adolescent experiences online in the pre-mobile computing era were often alone, all-engrossing, and/or associated with some form of embarrassment. Launched today, this new project organized by Gene McHugh collects the thoughts of 48 contemporary artists engaged with technology on their first memories of being online.

The site, which will soon be translated into book form, reads like journal fragments strung together on an early web coloring book. (Yes, the site uses HTML frames.) As McHugh states in the outro, one's physical "first memories" are easily supported by a cultural narrative—"running around in nature, walking up the stairs of an old house, a first kiss"—but for the first generation to have come of age with the internet, one's virtual memories are still kind of humming somewhere downstairs with that old dial-up modem.

On this occasion, I've gathered some recollections from the Rhizome staff. They may not do justice to the breadth of experience captured in McHugh's collection, but it's our modest contribution to the collective memory of growing up internet.

Kei Kreutler (me), Editorial Fellow (New York):

We talk a lot about Angelfire and Geocities, but does anyone remember Expage? Well, my friends and I, we each had an Expage. In fact, I think we also had one exclusively for our group, comprising our nicknames, arbitrary preferences, and lots of fuscia Comic Sans on reflecting pool image-repeat backgrounds. At 8, I even spent a lot of time in Dreamweaver developing a tropical-themed website for me and my best friend. Once it was finished, we couldn’t think of anything we felt very compelled to post. It was never hosted. 

Michael Connor, Editor & Curator:

My first experience of the web was in using it for research, at school, which was difficult because everything was just pages of "interesting links." Once, while looking for something while a teacher hovered over my shoulder, I accidentally visited a porn site—luckily, it was a text-only browser.

Heather Corcoran, Director:

I don't like nostalgia... .com :)

Laura Davidson, Editorial Fellow (London):

My Dad was an engineer for Ferranti, and as a result I grew up in a household of handcrafted, idiosyncratic, domestic hardware experiments. I was known as the only girl in town that had a successfully networked home system, and word got round to my chemistry teacher, who stalked me for an invitation to our house. #die 

Emma Hazen, Program Intern: 

I remember in 4th grade we got to use the computer lab. We usually learned to type and did Kidpix. Right after 9/11, some boys surfed the internet and allegedly found some website where they could sign up to join the military. 

Nate Hitchcock, Curatorial Fellow: 

I was being taught by my dad how to use a computer and I remember it seeming strange that the pictures had light behind them but didn't move. And that words moved vertically and not horizontally. [ED. Nate was using a machine equipped with a T3.]

Zachary Kaplan, Community Manager/Program Administrator:

I had the internet, but my dad wouldn't get AOL (the cost!). My friend Michael had it as his house, however. He also had punters. And we used to go around seeking out what we thought were neo-nazi chatrooms—I'm sure they weren't—trying to boot people. We were good/confused Jewish day schoolers. 

Scott Meisburger, Senior Developer:

Growing up, I shared a gray box computer with my brother. When our parents first hooked it up to the internet, they flung their hands in front of the screen to cover it, deathly afraid that their children might see pornography.


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patrick lichty 1 year, 11 months agoReply

1985. Student Assistant UNIX Systems Admin for the Engineering Computer Graphics Facility for the University of Akron, tending a 16- node HP 5000 workstation cluster. No Web. Just Usenet, Bitnet, and KERMIT. Making bad desktop schemes, playing the ancient predecessor of Civilization, and the old Star Trek game. And writing printer drivers for a dying Prime CAD miniframe.

Tom Moody 1 year, 11 months agoReply

1987. My friend Les from high school is now a mathematician with research interests in commutative algebra, algebraic geometry, combinatorics, and algebraic K-theory. I'm visiting the college where he's teaching and he walks me over to a green screened, putty-colored terminal. "I spend a lot of time here talking with colleagues on the internet." "Kind of a linked-up computer thing?" "Yeah, a lot of schools are connected now, I can send and receive messages all over the world." Afterward we drive back to his apartment, drink a beer or two, and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation (the episode where centipede-like parasites infiltrate high Federation officials) and Wes Craven's Deadly Friend (where a woman's head is exploded with a flying basketball).

Pall Thayer 1 year, 11 months agoReply

1992. Picked up the "connectivity" packet at the University of Minnesota and installed it on the only computer at work (Kinko's) that had a modem (it was the one that was used to send and receive Kinko's resume orders). Dialed in to the U. Explored the university's "gopher" server. Telnetted into Wunderground. Checked out the IRC. Explored a wide variety of MUDs, MUSHes and MOOs, finally deciding on LambdaMOO as my fave. Little work was done that day.