It was a Sunday morning when I first heard the high-pitched squeal of dial-up as it came through my computer. I was fifteen.
When the homescreen appeared, my first thought was this was some sort of fake test page. It sounds ridiculous now, but I remember that being my first reaction. Because it couldn’t be real. It couldn’t. The headline, which seemed huge across that 17” screen, said River Phoenix was dead.
It seemed impossible.
But so did the Internet.
Would the day I got my first email account and officially joined the Information Age have had such an impact if it hadn’t crossed paths with the death of that amazing boy? Probably not. But I still remember the goosebumps. The disbelief. Info still coming in about what happened. Details not entirely clear. But there it was. Data traveling at dial-up speed, faster than anything we’d ever known.
My first day online I looked forward to sending emails to friends, to joining them in chat rooms, to surfing the quaint and less complex web. I’d promised my parents I would watch the clock – every minute was money spent. (Technically, it still is, although who’s counting?) Instead, the day I got my own IP address was also my introduction to what has now become a huge facet of the online experience: collective grief.
Fast-forward eighteen years, and there is an entire generation that doesn’t know what dial-up was. Or River Phoenix.
I would think that this generation would approach the web with a bit more savvy then we did. We who happily paid per minute to surf and download and log on again and again each time the modem dropped out.
My friend Morgan once wrote a great tutorial explaining the Internet to users d’un certain age. For them, this is a brand new world. But how to explain why today’s fifteen-year-olds don’t understand the impact of half the things they do online? This worries me sometimes. There are repercussions and responsibilities that come with a Facebook page, a twitter handle, an email address of one’s own.
Once you’re online, well, it’s hard to go back. Life online is like glitter. As Demetri Martin said:
The thing about glitter is if you get it on you, be prepared to have it on you forever, because glitter doesn’t go away. Glitter is the herpes of craft supplies.
I’ll never forget that Sunday. I’ll never forget how powerful an introduction it was to this new world. How I called friends to tell them what I’d read. What I’d seen online. There was no Facebook on which to post, no twitter platform on which to tweet. We called, we cried.
My thoughts for those now fifteen-year-olds online? Respect yourself and your privacy. Think before you type. And be sure to have an offline life. The Internet is a wonderful thing. But much of it is a vicarious experience and you might be missing the chance to do some incredible things in real life. Read real books, watch movies in theaters, go to concerts, shop in stores. Connect with people, who will also connect you to more incredible things online. It’s a very cool cycle.
And google River Phoenix. Watch Stand By Me and Running on Empty and The Thing Called Love, amongst many more. He was incredible. He was talented. He didn’t have to die so young. Don’t do what he did. xo a.
In keeping with the spirit to OWN THE BRAG, I’m posting my favorite post as part of Alison and Ado’s 1st Blogoversary Bash.