I started using the Internet when I was 13. Back then, it was accessed via a dial-up modem that made angry buzzing and clanging noises as it slowly connected to a collection of virtual bulletin boards. A far cry from today's apps and websites, the BBS (bulletin board system) world was one of pure text. You could be anyone you wanted. You could write about whatever was on your mind. You could reach out and touch someone with your words.
I used a series of bulletin boards run by a company called Prodigy. Since I was a teen, I mainly gravitated towards the age-restricted boards aimed at the few, the lonely, the online teens of the 1990s.
We were an odd bunch. Most of my fellow posters were, of course, male. And that was part of the draw, for a shy girl like me. I was a band nerd, a bookish type that loved reading, and mostly afraid of the boys in my classes at school, who teased me for simply being myself. I certainly didn't want to go on dates with these fools, but I imagined a world in which a boy sensitive and nerdy enough might ask me out.
The Internet provided that world.
Before Facebook and Twitter, before Snapchat and even online journals, there were the bulletin boards, where teens could discuss amongst themselves. If you wanted to speak to another user more directly, you could send them an email.
In today's world, emails are a matter of course. You can send anyone anything - including photos, Word .docs, PDFs, or even a computer virus. Back then, you could only send words.
Back then, you might have to wait a whole day to check your email.
Back then, it took almost 5 minutes just to connect to the Internet!
Email felt like a gift, rather than a nuisance. For bookish boys and girls, it was a miracle. Instead of waiting weeks for the postman to deliver news from friends on the other side of the country, now you could communicate within days.
And when Prodigy introduce a system for chatting? OMFG.