In 1997, The Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen” hit the charts, gripping JNCO-wearing, Y2K-bug-fearing listeners from its weary opening statement: “When I was young I knew everything.”
In 1997, I was 10 years old. I had frizzy hair and wore denim shorts and tourist T-shirts and had suddenly grown taller than all of my classmates. I lived in a brick house in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in a small Texas town. No one I knew had a cell phone or a car phone, though I had seen Jerry Seinfeld use one on TV.
A year or so later, a man would roll up to our house and install our first dial-up internet connection. These cables leading from our computer to our modem and from the modem into the wall would come to define my young years. The internet expanded my social circle beyond the cliques of my school, beyond the highways and gated communities of my hometown.
Gradually, the digital world opened up, like heavy clouds, raining information down upon us all.
On summer days when it was too hot to go outside, I stayed in the air conditioning and taught myself the basics of HTML. I set up my own websites on Angelfire and GeoCities. I cursed under my breath every time the house phone rang, knocking me off the connection. I learned to send emails. Listened to MIDI files. Played games on Yahoo! Logged onto chat rooms. Downloaded ICQ messenger.
As I typed and clicked and moved from one technology to the next, I began to feel the ominous winds of change on my back; I detected that the temperature had begun to shift. And gradually, the digital world opened up, like heavy clouds, raining information down upon us all.
Before the internet, if you wanted to know the lyrics to a song — say, “The Freshmen” — you either had to listen closely when it came on the radio or buy a CD and pray to whatever deity you believed in that the liner notes included…