When I first was thrown up against the the internet, I was in graduate school at USC in 1993. Students were given electronic mail accounts, though none of us actually used them. I rarely sent normal mail, and I couldn’t understand how doing it digitally would make it any more palatable. I forget the particulars, but there was also a way to access an early version of the Mosaic browser, but again, I don’t remember much that you could do with it other than access the department’s phone numbers and office hours. The 300 baud modem I had attached to my Mac Plus didn’t add any juice to the idea.
I’ve never been a futurist, because I think nested within that idea is a sort of unbridled optimism, and that’s something I’m more suspicious of than prone to, but I could dimly understand the promise smarter people saw in the dissemination of internet access. People like me, writers, artists, musicians, would no longer have to create in isolation. We would be able to connect with each other ; work could become common to all of us, and each person would become an author of every work, a sort of rhizoid amanuensis.
I do remember one of the first websites I stumbled across though. It was a collection of vorarephilia fiction and art called something like Swallowed by a Whale. I read several stories that all centered around the extreme pleasure of either swallowing someone whole or being swallowed whole by another. My memory is famously spotty, so for these stories to be still so vivid today indicates how deeply they were scarred into my cortex. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was already the beginning of the end of the promise of the internet and the beginning of something much more familiar and disappointing.
Today, I write alone, in isolation, sometimes by hand, sometimes on an old typewriter, or sometimes with the wi-fi turned off — a firewall between me and the world — and the idea of others taking my work and turning it into something common to all sounds like a shitty smartphone commercial. I’m not nostalgic, and I’m not optimistic. I am however, determined to make whatever is left of the internet work for what I want to do. This is the beginning.