Have you ever gone on the Wayback Machine to look at websites of yesteryear? I love a good Internet archive. After thinking so much about Disney’s Zoogs, I feel all kinds of Internet nostalgia, so I thought I’d share what I’ve been thinking. This won’t be an exhaustive list of my entire Internet presence of my whole life–that would be weird. Instead, it’s a bit of a highlight reel, a “remember when” for the World Wide Web.
You see, I was in the first generation of children to grow up using the Internet. In my toddler years, computers were finally commonplace in people’s homes. Big, bulky desktops and monitors took up dedicated spaces on desks in the corners of many living rooms, bedrooms, or even separate “computer rooms.” I remember less about websites in my first years of life than I do about PC games (those will get their own post). I was the queen of the CD-ROM. But something magical happened with the rise of Zoog Disney: I could play all the games I wanted within this safe little bubble, full of my favorite characters. Once zoogdisney.com suddenly dropped the “Zoog” and became disneychannel.com, I was still satisfied with the games. A personal favorite is That’s So Raven pinball. When The Suite Life of Zack and Cody became popular, I would spend a lot of time playing “Pizza Party Pick-up.” Back when we had dial-up at my house, I would get so mad anytime someone would call our landline. Boom! Knocked off my game at a critical juncture.
DSL eventually saved the day and enabled me to game on Disney and other websites for longer amounts of time. In January of 2001, something really important happened in my little Internet world: Wikipedia launched. I was only in first grade, but a year or two later, I started reading about all my favorite stars on there. By middle school, teachers loved saying their new catchphrase, “Wikipedia is not a reliable source,” in every research paper lesson. Being a writer and future English major, my 11-year-old self lived for this stuff. Since Wikipedia was now reserved only for celebrity biographies, I dove into a magical world of online source material to complement whatever books I used. I consider it a blessing to be among the first elementary/middle school kids to use the Internet as a viable research tool. I can’t tell you how much that period of time informed the kinds of work I would love doing years later.
Remember when social media arose, but we weren’t really calling it social media yet? I do, clear as day. AOL chatrooms weren’t a huge part of my school friends’ culture, but everyone was on AOL Instant Messenger…except for me! Although I got an AOL email address, I was not allowed to IM my friends. I simply lived vicariously through them at get-togethers and sleepovers as they engaged in this fascinating form of instantaneous communication. Instead of IMing people, I had to sit there and email back and forth with friends (I didn’t have a cell phone until 8th grade, so I couldn’t text anybody at the time).It wasn’t until the high school days of Facebook chat that I would get my own taste of AIM. Another thing my parents wisely disapproved of was Myspace. It started in 2003 and was all the rage throughout my middle school tenure. I’m glad people who used Myspace can get a nostalgia kick out of it today, but I still don’t think it was the safest place for 12 and 13-year-olds back then.
I would be remiss not to mention YouTube, which launched in 2005. Remember when everyone quoted “Charlie bit me” over and over again? Remember the fallout of “The Miley and Mandy Show?” For me, the best part of YouTube was watching music videos through Vevo (launched in 2009). I could keep up at school by viewing new music videos (like Taylor Swift’s), and I could enable my nostalgia–even back then–by watching older videos (like those of *NSYNC). All this in between reading everyone’s Facebook status! Below is an awkward picture of me in high school on Old Facebook. I knew this one existed, but it sure took a long time to find!
Every little advance in Internet technology was almost like advancing through grade levels. Each year, something new came along. A new tool for learning, a new avenue for socialization in a digital world, a new platform to share ideas. BUT, it didn’t happen all at once. I am thankful that all these pieces of the Internet weren’t thrust upon me at once.
When I started writing this post this morning, I was thinking of leaving it there. However, I’ve been viewing the Internet as a blessing and a curse lately. That’s a common thought. We see people lifting each other up, sharing valuable information, advocating for those whose voices need to be amplified. At the same time, we see hate speech, bullying, and uncivil arguments (some of which would NEVER happen if the arguers were in person). We get caught in a trap of comparing ourselves to others and judging others, too. The good and the bad have coexisted pretty much since people could talk to each other online, which is a long time now. Nostalgia is often used as an escape or a fun distraction, but I also want to utilize it as a vehicle for pursuing a brighter, kinder future. The challenges of being a web-savvy middle schooler in 2007 have grown into other challenges for the kids and teens of 2020, and it’s still a difficult balance for adults. I’m no expert, but I hope we can all accomplish the following: have fruitful discussions, share interests, talk about differences of opinion, dismantle racism and discrimination, brainstorm good ideas, and please be kind as much as possible.
Stay tuned for a music-related post on Friday! 🙂 If you like reminiscing about old Disney Channel games, check out this article I wrote awhile back. What runs through your brain on the subject of Internet history?