Experience #1 – 90s chat room and nostalgia
// Posted by Nicola on 09/08/2014 (12:20 PM)
Logging on to LALive, I was immediately taken back to my childhood. The format of the site, with its minimal text and now primitive graphics, reminded me of my early experiences with the Internet and computers in the late 90s and early 2000s. Having grown up with the Internet and thus easy access to an abundance of differing social networking sites, I assumed that this experience would largely be the same. However, it didn’t take long for me to realise that the multitude of differences, no matter how small, had a significant impact on the way I interacted online and my perception of online communication itself.
The first thing that took me by surprise was just how swiftly the conversation moved. While we almost exclusively kept within the realm of the predetermined theme of 90s and early 2000s nostalgia, the format of the site made it incredibly difficult to keep up with the particular point at hand. Having constantly to hit ‘reload’ ensured that I was always frantically scrolling back down to see the previous responses, only to find after reloading again, that the conversation had taken a completely new direction. Iscream4icecream perhaps most succinctly noted this frustrating limitation of the site when they responded, “I said that earlier!! no one appreciated it” (see end of post) upon the new focus of the conversation on Tamagotchis, a toy they had mentioned in an earlier post. Moreover, anytime I switched tabs to Google something that another user had mentioned, by the time I returned I found myself about five topics behind, so that my newly sourced information was no longer relevant. By doing so, I was also alerted to the ease at which I was able to switch back and forth from the chat room to other sites, a feature of contemporary computers that would have been largely non-existent in the 90s. The experience would have thus been far more immersive than instant messaging today, where one always has their eye on multiple pages and conversations. Given this restriction of early online forums, it isn’t difficult to see why the WELL was perceived as a mode of recreating the counterculture ideal of a shared consciousness.
Although I could not have anticipated the difficulties posed by reloading, I was far more surprised by some of the issues I faced in the early stages of the conversation. For instance, for about the first twenty minutes, I simply forgot that I could copy and paste. Instead I was laboriously retyping each username that I was directly addressing. Strangely, it seems as though being on an old-fashioned chat room made me forget about contemporary computer shortcuts, as if for some reason they wouldn’t apply. Here too, the advances in online communication became apparent in that I was unable to ‘tag’ or initiate a private conversation with just one user. Everything that I posted was essentially public to anyone who logged onto the chat room. Thus, although at certain points I responded to one particular user, with so many other active users the point soon was lost, left behind as others moved on. Had this been the case today, I would have simply created a new, private message to that user whether it was through iMessage, Facebook or even Snapchat, and continued the conversation in greater depth. Further, if you did not include the username to whom you were responding, confusion could again arise. For instance, in screenshot #2, Lux replied ‘Such a good show’ yet looking at the previous posts it is not clear which show they are referring to. It could have been an afterthought to their earlier post “’Oh Lizzie McGuire’ or to ‘Air Bud was the shit’ or even to Heisenberg’s post regarding ‘Courage the cowardly dog’. Consequently, I began to wonder just how substantial a conversation could be on these types of online forums in the 90s, particularly given that the price of the Internet was far more expensive than it is today. If conversations were only brief or constantly disrupted by differing streams of thought, was the notion of a ‘shared consciousness’ online ultimately undermined?
The inability to add links to videos or post images was another stark point of difference with how I communicate online today. While I had never truly considered how convenient this tool is on contemporary social networking sites, it certainly became apparent on LALive. At certain points, I would have liked to include an image or link to emphasise a point or add another level of interest. This restriction of the site meant that I had to think more carefully about what I wanted to say and just how clear it would come across to the other users.
However, one feature of the site that I would be interested to see make a resurgence is the anonymous username. Not only was it entertaining to come up with our own handle, but it also provided a sense of freedom. By having no profile image or personal information attached to your posts, there was no risk of being forever associated with your comments or statements. There was, for instance, no need to be embarrassed by admitting your love for Britney Spears. While Turner asserts that some subscribers on the WELL, such as Carmen Hermosillo, felt like they were performers, ‘…selling themselves to other readers…’ I did not notice this play out on LAlive. Of course I only logged in for the hour, but certainly in comparison to how individuals harness social networks today it seemed like a more genuine and less edited space than say an individual’s Facebook or Instagram profile. Again I believe this distinction can be attributed to the anonymity that the site enables and the absence of images, filters and other editing devices. After logging off, I wondered if in today’s society, which has witnessed, as Norberto Gomez, Jr. notes, the ‘commoditization of one’s own identity’ an anonymous online presence would be as effective? Would the separation between one’s identity and their words be considered too radical or would it provide welcome relief from the constant influx of private information being made public?
Ultimately the hour flew by. Despite the inherent limitations of a now out-dated site and the difficulties in adjusting to such differences, I found my time online to be a genuinely enjoyable experience. After all, at its core the site enables users to communicate and share ideas with other individuals, and if the conversation is good then everything else is secondary.
Screen shot #1:
Screen shot #2:
Note: Given that the conversation required my full attention due to the rapid pace at which it was moving, I chose primarily to take screenshots as a means of documentation. By doing so, I was able to go back and reread at least parts of the conversation as it occurred which, in turn, served as reminders of my experience. However, I also took the occasional note using the ‘stickies’ application on my computer in order to ensure that I remembered some key points I found interesting along the way. Further, the inclusion of two screenshots in this post emphasises some of my key points relating to the challenges the site presented, with the visuals providing the reader with a more vivid image of the chat room itself.