Yesterday I watched the documentary Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief, you can read my review here. Watching it took me back to the golden age of the internet. Twenty years ago it was a very different landscape than today. The World Wide Web was in its infancy, spam and scams were few and far apart. No one had an anti-virus program, because there weren’t any viruses.

Connectivity was almost exclusively by dial-up. The swankiest modems could manage a mind boggling 14,000 BPS (Bits Per Second). I loved the internet so much that I had a second phone line installed so that I would not interfere with making and receiving phone calls.

I mostly viewed the Web as a novelty that would be the hot thing for a while and then lose its luster like, Pet Rocks and Beanie Babies.

My use of the internet was mostly IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Usenet and WAIS.

There was lots of fun to be found in this playground. I met my wife through it, and made an incalculable number of friends.

Usenet was a huge bulletin board system, there was one for every interest. It was set up in a hierarchy, there were several high level categories, most were learned places where serious discussions were held about lofty subjects, rarely did I venture into those realms. I lived in the ‘Alt.’ world, the  wild west of Usenet. I used to love to read the antics in Alt.Scientology, this was a running battle between Scientologists and those that view it as a cult.

Legal battles ensued from Alt.Scientology and as the cult loves to litigate, I sat on the sidelines enjoying the fun. Every so often some piece of ‘official’ and therefore secret document would get published and the war would escalate.

A board that I did participate in was Alt.DrunkenBastards, this was a fun group. It was started by two brits Jaz and Leaf (Jason and Lorrain I think). The group soon became world wide, and the stories they told were the things of legend. Pouring Vodka on a keyboard and then setting it alight to burn off the alcohol and being surprised that after the flames had died out it  they were all perfectly normal people with real jobs, they just wanted to blow off steam and did it through Alt.DrunkenBastards.

Another of my ‘grazing’ places was Alt.Tasteless, it was well named, most of it was tasteless, but it was also home to some of the funniest (and tasteless) short stories I have ever read. Two students rent a small cabin, after a couple of weeks the kitchen starts to smell, as all of the plates and pans are full and the garbage can is overflowing, they come up with a unique solution, close the door and seal it with duct tape. The results are disgusting and probably one of the funniest stories I have ever read, I must dig it out and share it with you all.

The IRC (Internet Relay Chat) was also a fertile ground for getting into trouble. It was a myriad of Chat Rooms spread across many different networks of servers. Almost everyone used the mIRC client, it took the IRC from a ‘command line’ system to a full screen messaging agent.

It was way more fun than any of the modern messaging apps. The IRC was a war zone! Just like Usenet there were safe harbors, but it was the seamier side that was more fun. Each ‘channel’ had a hierarchy of users, Owner sat on the top, and there were various levels of underlings. It was rather ‘feudal’ in so far if you were farther up the food chain than someone on a lower wrung annoyed you, you could punish them haha. Kicks and bans were all the rage.

The Drunks had a channel #DrunkenBastards which was always good for a giggle. They even had their own ‘chat bot’ called Drunkrat, it didn’t do a lot but ran a wicked drinking game ‘100 in 100’, it was 100 ounces consumed in 100 minutes, an ounce a minute. It may sound easy, but it is not, it boils down to a standard can of beer (12 oz) every 10 mins for an hour and a half, 9 cans in total. It was fun to watch as the quality of writing became worse and worse and finally into incoherence.

IRC is still around, few ‘regular’ folks seem to use it any more. It has become a bit of a haven for less than honorable practices, digital piracy, hacking, and other illicit activities. Unlike most messaging services, it is very hard for the Fed’s to locate a specific person. While it is not the ‘Dark Web’, it certainly is very grey.

Yep the internet was a very different place 20 years ago. I liked the  old place. Sure it was slow, you couldn’t send an album or a movie is less than a minute, but somehow it was a warmer and more welcoming place.

 

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