Let’s talk for a moment about way back, when the internet was all fresh and still had that smell of new car about it; a time when the Web came neatly packaged on CDs stuck to the covers of computer magazines, courtesy of America Online, or – if you were a true geek – by way of the likes of Compuserve, and dished up on Netscape Navigator.
Back in those halcyon dial-up days, when the Web as we knew it was the new kid on the block, and the real internet dwelt on usenet, IRC and bulletin boards, if you’d anything more than a passing interest in this new-fangled fad, you’d have been considered a little strange, even a weirdo. These were the days where the popular image of the internet nerd – the one that, for some reason, movies still hawk today – was a pimply-faced, teenage boy, closeted away in his parent’s cellar, fingers-stained with cheesy-snack dust, and an uncanny knack for being able to hack phone systems to get free access, and infiltrating military grade hardware – for fun, rather than any interest in world domination.
That enduring stereotype probably didn’t reflect the reality. To begin with, some of the best hackers, crackers and 1337 gamers at the time were sassy teen girls, with a ballsy attitude and super-enquiring minds. Nevertheless, there was something isolating about the internet back then: Ironically, the .net – specifically created to connect people together, regardless of age, location or culture – often had completely the opposite effect. The internet was niche, elitist, and closeted – a hangout for the shy, retiring and introverted – weirdo central – but that was fine, because you were never going to meet, see, or even properly talk to any of the other strangers you’d connect to; you’d remain strangers, safe and secure in the knowledge that your true identity was masked more effectively than by any real life disguise. Perhaps that’s why so many top-notch haxors were girls: In the field of technology, traditionally a staunchly male stronghold, you’d have no way of knowing who sat behind the pseudonym Starmaker Neon, let alone any of their personal attributes.
I find it interesting that the Internet we have today, has actually – monstrously, in fact – become exactly what it set out to be, and if the likes of Alphabet and Meta continue to have their way, is inexorably heading down the path of total anti-anonymity. Today, the freaks and weirdos are those who don’t have an internet connection, and if you’re not sharing all your personal details, pictures, and all the minutiae of your daily life with a billion friends and followers on the likes of Farcebook, Twatter and TitTok, then you’re strange. The internet today is all about connecting and disclosing everything about oneself, whether it’s on social media, dating sites or whatever the latest trending hot app might be (don’t ask me what it is: I’m not on it!)
I digress. Let’s go back in time to when the .net wasn’t quite so intrusive, but had moved on from obscurity, say – for example – the early years of this century, (damn, that seems a weird thing to say – I’m getting old!), and the birth of a radical and crazy new concept – the virtual world, and specifically, Second Life.
Suddenly, with the birth of SL, all the dispossessed and lost souls for whom the .net had lost some of its allure and wonder, once again blossomed with the promise of a whole new way of networking; one which celebrated all those values they held dear… Anonymity, eclecticness, opportunity and creativity, and the chance to style yourself without constraints or any need for realism. Better than that, if you signed up to SL, you were quite definitely, strange. Our virtual world became the darkened basement, reserved for the odd and reclusive: A rarefied environment where only those in the know were truly ‘in’, and which the wider internet community struggled to grasp. It was virtual heaven!
And, despite the intervening years and Linden Lab’s best efforts to recruit the rest of the world, it’s very much stayed that way. Yes, there are a whole bunch of people today who form a veneer of respectability and vacuousnes to proceedings – they will not be reading this blog, instead they’ll be the ones subscribed to a dozen ‘fashion blogs’, and spending the majority of their time inworld at sales events, and the rest of their time trying on clothing. If you are reading this blog, it’s very likely that you fit into what I consider to be the real core users of SL, the latter day nerds and geeks who can tell a 28k from a 56k modem just from the sound it makes, and who yearn for the return of the frontier days of the .net, when men were men, women were also probably men, and men could quite possibly be women… But, without exception, they were all strange, fascinating and wild people to be around.
Those are my kind of people.
I like the strange and the odd, the misfits and the underdogs, the geeks and the freaks, because I’m one too. However, there is a fine line to be drawn between the harmless and inoffensive, albeit sometimes intense oddballs, and the psychos, pervs, creeps, users and abusers that hide behind the anonymity of SL to prey on others, and pursue their own selfish ends. And, I’ve met more than my fair share of those over the years too. As with the whole internet, right from day one, there has always been a seedy, dark and unappealing underside, one which far too many fall foul of, it’s a fact of both life and SLife, however those of us old-skool types, who grew up contending with the ‘real’ internet, can spot a wrong ‘un a mile off, and when we do, we’re brutal when it comes to putting them in their place! However, it’s not all bad… The vast majority of strange, weird and bonkers people I come across inworld are just that: strange, weird, and bonkers, but more than that, they are fascinating, fun and damn cool!
And, I’m more than happy to count myself amongst that number!
When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
Echo And The Bunnymen – People Are Strange