What the Internet Was Like Pre-Y2K


Years before it was possible to spend hours at a time stalking exes and exes of exes on Facebook, there was just the straight up internet. Specifically, AOL – anyone who used Netscape or ICQ made me feel uneasy because… well, how simple was it to just use AOL? It was obviously the superior internet provider. They wanted you just as much as you wanted them – stopping at nothing to ensure that you were supplied with enough “40 FREE HOURS!” CD Roms to last a lifetime. AOL CD Roms came in the mail so often that they might as well have been ConEd bills or those yellow ass envelopes from Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.

Email used to be a game – something you did for fun; not something you only acknowledge because you can’t stand to see your smartphone flashing at you disapprovingly. Oh, to be young and hear “You’ve Got Mail” without wanting to shoot yourself in the face! AOL was like your friendship with a grade school BFF, the one who moved away and didn’t keep in touch. You can’t have it back, and you also can’t forget. Here are my favorite hits from the ‘90s.

e-Zines: In the dark ages, email was email – there were no custom fonts; and an option to type in colored text didn’t exist. The only way to make your signature stand out was by adding symbols to it, ala ~*Your Name Here*~. But once AOL’s email interface got a makeover, a slew of colorful, “grrl power” e-zines began to crop up in tween inboxes across America. I subscribed to at least seven. A lot of them were literary based and sponsored by ‘90s staple brand Delia’s (or Delia’s ugly stepsister, Alloy). I once won an e-zine poetry contest with a poem I’d “borrowed” from a friend, accepting a Delia’s picture frame as bounty for “my” award-winning poem. A kleptomaniac roommate stole the frame from me my freshman year of college – poetic justice if I’ve ever experienced such a thing.

Recording Your Instant Messages: As an adult, the thought of having every single one of my G-Chats on file is nauseating. If I had a nickel for every mile I’d have to move if anyone read those transcripts, I’d be able to afford a vineyard in Tuscany. But as a kid, every minute conversation was worth recording. Chats with boys were copied, pasted, and distributed to 25 of my closest friends for dissection. Shit talking sessions were so comical that I’d rather die than have to recall the conversation from memory alone.

Dead Internet Speak: While people cringe at the modern use of LOL, the internet used to be full of cheesy lingo. {{{}}} was how you hugged it out, <g> was how you giggled (or grinned, if you’re my dad), and @–>->— was how you gave someone a rose. Is this corny trip down memory lane embarrassing you yet? I know I’m <blushing>. :::feels lame for using :::’s:::

All About Me! Surveys: All About Me surveys were sent between you and everyone you’d ever met. Aside from the first one you participated in, the surveys never revealed any new information about anyone. The same 50 questions were recycled ad nauseum, but you’d continue to fill out any survey that came your way because the questions were in a different order or in a new font. What else were you going to do, homework? Play outside? Hang out with the friends you now knew 50 times better than you did the day before? PSH. Bitch, please.

Private Chat Rooms: Public chat rooms were old news by the end of the ‘90s. Public chat rooms were Rick’s Saloon on Lexington Ave, and private chat rooms were Studio 54. After private chat rooms had been around a bit, you’d start using them to announce that you were signing off for the day. You’d invite everyone on your buddylist and write “NO CHAT – gOiNg tO BeD! NiTe :P.” In turn, you’d receive about 20 of these chat invites every night announcing various mundane developments in your friends’ lives. Welcome to AOL circa 1999, home of the circle jerk.

Threatening Chain Letters: Never has there been a more deceptive email than the threatening chain letter. Nigerian email scams pee their pants in admiration when confronted with the OG email scam. Threatening chain letters used to be a master of disguise. One day, they’re a passage from John 19:17, complete with a macro of Jesus that was constructed from @ signs and # symbols. The next, they repurpose themselves as a poem about a girl that was killed by a drunk driver. At the end of the poem, you discover the drunk driver was the girl’s father – bleak! These emails play on your vulnerabilities – and when you’re at your lowest low, they sneak attack you: FORWARD THIS EMAIL TO 12 PEOPLE BEFORE MIDNIGHT OR YOUR TRUE LOVE WILL DIE! And you think, “Shit. Is that true? It can’t be. But I don’t want to take any risks.” It’s not a big deal – you were new to the internet. It happens to the best of us. That’s why, decades later, these chain letters are alive and well – thanks to people like your grandpa, who don’t “get it” and don’t want to “chance it.” Bless their hearts.

Building Your Own Website: You were an internet nobody if you didn’t have a Geocities or Angelfire site. How would anyone know that you love Counting Crows and glittery horses if you didn’t build your own page? You’d make sure all of your cyber guests felt welcome by placing a sparkling 3D “Welcome to my page!” .gif front and center – the one that rotates 360 degrees on loop. Don’t forget two glitzy shamrocks – screw it, you’re not Irish, but every homepage needs shamrocks. Don’t ask me why, I don’t make the rules. Any page missing a guestbook and one of those alarm clock ass, green and black visitor counters gets an incomplete.

Thank God that’s over with, right? The Internet can hijack your life if you’re not careful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have fourteen pending Facebook event invites to ignore and several hundred e-blasts from Vistaprint that need deleting.

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image – Madison Guy