I have a hard time discussing the impact of online publishing since I grew up on an internet where user-created content is old hat.
I have been asked a few times what I think of online publishing, ebooks, etc. I become very uncomfortable since I feel like I should have a well-researched, scholarly answer and all that I can come up with is “this is everyday stuff for me.” For instance, I just glanced over at my neglected LiveJournal account and found out that the first entry is from 2005. Prior to that I know that I had at least two previous online journals. The only site I can remember off the top of my head is TeenOpenDiary which I somewhat frequently updated throughout high school (2000-2004). I have copies of my journal entries from these sites since I’m a bit of a digital hoarder. So let’s flip back and look at my history of online experiences.
The first time I saw a computer was in 1991. I was in the first grade and the computer was an Apple (oh, how I loved that rainbow stripped logo!) in a computer lab. We used it to learn to type. Next memory is of the single computer in my third grade “pod.” It used actual floppy discs, not those small hard ones. I don’t think I actually touched it, but the students would gather around it to see what the teachers were doing with it. Once a week, we would go to the computer lab in the trailer and practice our typing. I might have the printed out dot matrix sheet naming me at the best student typer for that week. :-) Next, the school purchased a classroom set of some red and blue computers that were brought in to teach us typing. The teachers would hold paper over atop of our hands to keep us from looking down. I’m proud to say that all these years later, I still type w/o looking down! Touchscreens drive me nuts since I have to type with one finger.
Note: I moved around a lot as a kid so these were different schools.
What is the Information Superhighway?
The first time I heard of what we now casually call the Internet was in the fifth grade (1995-1996). The teacher awarded extra credit points to whoever could go home and do research online. I vaguely remember seeing commercials on TV referring to the Information Superhighway but did not know what they were referring to.
My First Computer
In sixth grade, my dad brought home an old computer (1989 or 1990) and it ended up in my bedroom. No one else knew how to use it, but I stumbled through using Windows 95 enough to use it to type short stories. I must have had over a hundred on there before I was through. I did research from home using a set of 1974 encyclopedias which the local elementary school had given us. This was the year I purchased my first desk for $20 from Walmart (you have no idea how long it took to save up that much when you receive no allowance and don’t have a way to earn money!). It was about 1′ x 3′ in dimensions with a single cabinet below the right side of the desk. I kept my notebooks and pencil cup in there. That computer later disappeared thanks to family troubles. I do not know what happened to it.
Computer Competency Test
In the state of North Carolina, you have to pass a computer competency test in order to avoid mandatory computer classes (and shaming) in high school. Or at least this was the rule in 1999/2000. My middle school had one computer lab upstairs on the 8th grade hall that we visited only once or twice a year to practice on. Since this was my only hands-on exposure to computers (I did take a keyboarding class on these massive dinosaurs of typewriters but that was not a computer), I passed with a score of 76%.
The First Time I Saw the Internet
In the spring of 8th grade (2000), word was starting to spread through my friends about personal computers and something still called the Information Superhighway. A couple of my friends were fortunate enough to have parents that purchased them a computer. Though the first indication I saw of the existence of these home machines was people having printed out anime/manga pictures (of Sailor Moon characters!). I had vague notions of something called “dot com.” One time after school, a teacher let my classmate and me get on a computer (since I didn’t understand what was going on, I just watched) to visit the site Altavista.
My friends would not let me type on their computers but I remember these things: AOL (20 hrs/month!!!!), dial-up, the awful AOL interface, watching my friends visit AOL chat rooms. I remember asking if it was okay for my friend to save all these pictures she found on the internet. Wouldn’t the people who posted them know about it and get mad?
When I Got Online
Some major things happened in my family which resulted in my dad purchasing me a Dell computer through PeoplePC which was also our Internet provider. I remember him first asking me if I was interested in having a computer and then him bringing home print-outs from work showing me the different computer models and features that were available. The computer took over a month to arrive from the time of ordering. The CRT monitor was about 13 inches, the hard drive about 9 GB, had 64 MB of RAM and ran on Windows 98 Second Edition (SE). He paid around $1200 over the course of two years for it. While waiting for it to arrive, I planned out my perfect online identity and was saddened to discover that someone else had already claimed that AIM screenname. I tacked on some numbers onto my ideal name.
The monitor and speakers arrived first. Dad let me look at them and I remember crawling all over the living room floor around the boxes in awe. Then the Mountain State Fair came to town that September and the rest of the computer arrived the same day. So, I was not present for the opening of the tower since I had already promised to go to the fair with my friend. When I came home that evening, I found out that Dad had spent two hours looking for the space bar.
I was in ninth grade at this point and my friend Shiver (her online name continued the word Shiver and I knew about 10 Jessicas at that point) helped teach me about the basics of information that I needed to know about my newfound computer. Thanks to her I got on AIM, joined an online community where I posted loads of poetry, she taught me about email, she scanned my drawings for me and would then email them to me. I don’t remember if she was the one who introduced me to the concept of building websites, but I built my first fandom-related website in 2001 using Homestead. It had a drag and drop-interface. Ah, yes, Shiver also introduced me to the concept of digital music when she sent me One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy.
I had read about a new start-up called Google in a teen magazine which called the company a “geek secret.” My first personal email account was with gURL.com though I later switched to using the PeoplePC account. I don’t have the emails from the gURL account, but I have every email (and I mean EVERY email) from the PeoplePC account.
Computer Access at My High School
Each classroom had one computer for the exclusive use of the teacher. There were two computer labs: one for the computer class (learning…I don’t know actually) and the other located on the English hall. Your English class would go there once a year to type. Otherwise it was locked up. So the only free-range access to computers was in the library. There were about 10 computers in there that had Internet access. I believe there were two for looking at the catalog and one or two for looking at databases. The online computers were so filtered that I could not even do research on Pearl Harbor for a class project.
A Lesson in Backing Up
As previously mentioned, I wrote a lot of poetry and posted it on one online forum. I finally convinced Dad to get me some (hard) floppy discs so I could back them up. I mentioned this fact on a forum and that’s when trouble struck. I had become quite…popular with my poetry and had knocked off her pedestal a user who had been the top poetry person before I arrived. She was “online dating” one of the site’s admins. Her revenge? She had her online boyfriend delete the entire writing/poetry forum. I cried for days and the now-empty forum was filled with people mourning the loss of the older posts. It has been 10 years and I still haven’t recovered my desire to write poetry.
In high school, everyone who was anybody had an AIM account. My friend list had over 300 people that I personally knew (many of the names were multiple aliases though). The girls had this habit of looking up images of little known models and then copying the URLs of the model’s photos into their AIM profile and pretending to be those girls. At school, the girls would giggle over how many people they had tricked. I spent most of my time reading fanfiction, writing in my various online journals, and chatting with my friends. After Dad bought me a scanner in 2002/3, I started posting my pictures to my Deviantart account. I was pretty obsessed with updating my AIM profile to include funny online quotes. My friends also liked to tweak the HTML of their online journals and for a long time, my friend Ash was the expert I’d go to to find out how to do this and that. Later, OKCupid would become popular for my high school friends to join. We did not go on there seeking romance but to use the online quizzes to compare our interests and so-called compatibility.
My sister wanted to talk in online chats. So she would use the “find a user” (by interest or region) and talk to people. My encounters with talking to perfect strangers online was very few. One time someone messaged me and then talked for two straight hours about their lost beloved who had left them. They just wanted to talk to someone, so I let them and gave a little advice. Then there was this guy in NYC who I don’t recall how I started talking to him. He was an immigrant working on his citizenship who had an online girlfriend that lived in Florida. After awhile, I talked to both of them individually and in group chats. My conversations with them were 100% innocent. The guy sent me photos of the Twin Towers site after 9/11 happened. He walked past the spot every morning on his way to his school (he was about 5 years older than me and was in college). In 2004 right before I graduated high school, my best friend introduced me to a quiet Australian guy on OKCupid. Again, this was not hanky-panky stuff. Peter and I are still friends all these years later. We sent each other international snail mail as he traveled the world. He’s a musician turned singer turned comedian with a cute newborn son. :-)
I purchased myself a brand new custom-built part computer in Fall 2004. I was a freshman in college and Shiver helped me pick out all the parts. It came pre-assembled. The following spring, Facebook started making the rounds for college kids and the day my school was allowed to join, over 1/2 of the students had logged in by the end of the day! I avoided getting a Myspace account until January 2006 when I got an account to keep in touch with a coworker. I barely logged in. Sometime around then is when I got my first prepaid cellphone which I did not use for texting!
I only lived in the college dorms for one year (2004-2005) then I commuted to school from home (the university was 10 miles away on the other side of town). When I moved back home, I paid for us to get a DSL line which I kept till I moved to grad school in 2009. My dad was thankful to finally have his phone line back!
When my computer had problems, it was up to me to fix it. Thanks to the lack of funding, I learned how to do all software and hardware troubleshooting and fixed my computers by myself. In May 2008, my computer died within days of me turning in my final college project. I spent about $450 at Newegg.com to purchase an assortment of parts to build my computer myself. I had the parts delivered to Shiver’s apartment since she was home all day while I had to work. We tracked the packages online and then I ran up the stairs to meet the UPS guy as he delivered them. Shiver and I knelt on her living room carpet trying to figure out how to get the CPU glued to the motherboard. We sent text messages to her roommate to ask for help. After the computer was built, I purchased my first web hosting space from 1&1 in June 2008.
After a fruitless job search of over 70 applications, I applied for library school in November 2008. I moved to Greensboro on August 1, 2009. I brought along my computer. Earlier this year, I purchased $400 worth of parts and upgraded my computer. I now have two flat-screen monitors (22″ and 19″–I purchased the 19″ from Shiver), a Wacom Bamboo tablet, a new scanner, an old printer (black ink cartridge $10!), a netbook (purchased in March 2009–I used it extensively for grad school), and now the Nook Color (purchased May 1st).
In January 2010, I was awarded the position of a graduate assistant for the library department. My position entailed me redesigning the LIS website and building an international website for an IFLA-funded grant project. It took me 6 months to build the IFLA-funded site since I had to learn Drupal. The LIS website was designed between meetings while working on the other site, but I finally slammed it together within 3 weeks so it premiered on the morning of the August 2010 orientation. The LIS website is now the model for all the School of Education websites (the LIS department’s parent school) which humbles me.
I have come a long way in my computer/Internet literacy since 1991. What amazes me is that the structure that would become the Internet was in place in the 1960s during a time my mom was living in Virginia with outhouses (my great-grandma died in 1991 and she never had indoor plumbing). A peer of mine just posted on Facebook that she’s downloading some iPad2 apps for her newborn daughter. If my friends and I had had digital cameras and cellphones in high school (I was the first with a digital camera–a used one my friends purchased off ebay for me. It came into my hands on the day of our high school graduation, June 4, 2004), we would have made the world’s dumbest videos and photos. We were energetic and creative. I do not think we would have fallen into the “here are questionable photos of me!” category that my sister and her friends were fond of in the years after I left high school.
I had little inkling growing up that I would be a dabbler in online technologies. I wanted to a Disney animator! Now I am applying for jobs that list digitization and/or web design in a library setting. My journey to this point has been organic and not pre-defined. So when I sit across from an interviewer and they ask me how I think ebooks or online publishing is changing libraries, I don’t really know what they mean. I’ve been online for nearly 11 years and have been creating user-driven content the whole time. I was posting on social media sites as soon as they were available. Ebooks? I’ve been writing electronic texts before I even saw the internet.
This seems to be a problem when looking at potential employees. I am the last generation which remembers a time before computers and cellphones were everywhere, before digital cameras, that grew up without the Internet. My online experiences are not something that I have to study—this is home.