Hold on, this is a weird one.
Liminal spaces and the Internet.
h/t to The God Disk for never ceasing to inspire me. You can read his always excellent work here.
There used to be a real comfort in the Internet, a comfort that feels all but completely absent these days. Internet Life and Real Life now feel inextricably woven together, even if you’re anonymous or pseudonymous. The Internet isn’t fun anymore. The Internet is a liability. The Internet is a ticking time bomb; the Internet is a curfew and you’re not allowed to own a clock.
The Internet used to be about the Internet. Today, the Internet is about you.
In those early days, the Internet felt like a place you could retreat to, not a filter perpetually layered over real life. The Internet was where you could build and maybe live out your second life, as opposed to reflect your real life.
Kokoshnik (or whatever name I chose at the time) wasn’t just me hiding behind an avatar. It was a vessel external to myself that I could use to explore an entirely different world.
The World was more important than the Person.
Of course you hear stories about people telling elaborate lies on the Early Internet. But still, it was different. There was some extra quality to it that kept it bound to the Internet. That made it an Internet thing. The Internet was the Internet. Even when it was part of your real life, it wasn’t in the way the Internet of today is. Even when what happened Online was traumatizing, or otherwise impacted you emotionally, there was still a distance you couldn’t cross.
You really could just close your eyes, turn your computer off. Today, you can’t.
As a kid, I loved to surf the Web. I loved to contribute to the Web, too. I made dozens of personal homepages. They were expressions of “me,” but they weren’t me. I was building a digital house; I was contributing an artifact to this Other space where hopefully other people would poke around and explore. It didn’t matter what I looked like or who I actually was. The Internet was a shared collective imagination.
Between 2009 and 2014, when the Old Internet officially became retro, and Net Artists began to spring up in the Art World, I think this is what they missed. This is what annoyed me about their portrayal of the Internet.
The Internet was a place, not an aesthetic alone. The aesthetic was incidental.
For a long time, this sense of place and separateness was everywhere in American life. We don’t have enough vacation days, but we really did have fantasy. Fantasy that was all-consuming but clearly demarcated as unreal.
I see the Old Internet, mall subcultures, comic books and cartoons, pulp fiction, science fiction, neopaganism, conventions of almost any variety, talk radio, the paranormal, late night television, and genre flicks as all part of this same continuum.
I’m still finding the language to describe it, but it’s something. It used to be there and now it isn’t.
It was once very important and now it’s gone.