How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet
So, Friday night, I laid down and passed out at about 8 PM, intending to only take a short nap. My wife came in and tried to wake me up but apparently that wasn’t gonna happen. I’m even stubborn in my sleep! About 2:30 AM I heard my daughter coughing and when I woke up, I knew I was up, that was it- I only get about 6 hours of sleep on a good night and my body was just ready to be awake. Luckily, my good friend, Seattle artist Nikki Burch (she’s really good, pay her to draw you something!), was also online, as she’s wont to be late at night. We got into an IM conversation that got me thinking about my history with the Internet, and I thought it might interest regular readers to hear how I ended up doing what I’m doing, when I certainly didn’t plan to end up in this field or even this state! So, Nikki, thanks for the inspiration. I would have just played Battlefield or something if we hadn’t talked :). This is gonna be a long one, twice as long as normal, so get a cup of whatever and settle in. Personal stories incoming!
Growing up, I had 3 younger brothers. We lived in Grosse Pointe Woods, which is a very shi shi suburb of Detroit, even though our family didn’t really have the means or the pedigree to be there. We’d moved there after my parents got sick of driving the 3 hour round trip twice a day from Port Huron so that we could attend a very exclusive school my next youngest brother and I had partial scholarships for. Point being, we didn’t have a lot of money for entertainment type stuff- but I do remember my parents buying an Apple IIc for Christmas of 1984. I’d been lucky to have been exposed to computers starting in first grade- hey, this was the early 80’s and all this stuff was still new. Right away, I was fascinated with writing basic programs that could ask for an answer and return a response based on the User’s input. Then, the games came. First, we started out with “educational games”- I still remember a pilot-able red blood cell named Arby Sea from some inside-the-body adventure game whose name escapes me. Now, my cousins had always had Nintendo from the get go, and my brothers and I would beg our parents to stay the night at their house, 45 minutes away in Brighton, so we could play Punch-Out, Pro Wrestling (Starman was the shit!) and Top Gun. My parents hated it though, and thought gaming was a waste of time. However, with the easy ability to copy programs on the IIc, I was able to try out classic games like Hard Hat Mack, Conan the Barbarian, Spy vs. Spy, and California Games– are there any other hacky sack simulators on the market, even now? I even remember the old Commodore 64 command to start playing Beach Head with my buddy Dave- *,8,1. Oh, and can any of us forget the Konami Code? I know you’re remembering it in your head right now, ya geek!
We sort of lost interest in the IIc as we were exposed to more and more powerful computers in school. I remember taking a “computer graphics” class where clone stamping the eyeball part of a picture of a face and then dragging around the screen could actually get you points on an assignment. I remember doing graphic images of Stonehenge at night and a pool table with the balls in motion that would embarass me mightily now- I think my mom still has those in her living room in their green frames, almost 20 years later. I had a CAD class taught by the football coach that only required one drawing a semester. I finished the drawing the third day and promptly looked for ways to start getting in trouble, and it just so happend that the students at my school had hacked the fledgling network to include not only some fairly disturbing (to a 9th grader) porno but also a playable copy of Out Of This World. So, from then on, I was playing Out Of This World 5 days a week in 3rd period, and that was it. I was hooked.
The Internet didn’t really start to come into mainstream fruition in America’s rube belt, the Michigan-Ohio-Kentucky corridor, until I was a senior in high school, around 1994. Now, my family didn’t even get cable TV until I was 16, so there was no way we were going to get AOL or whatever that thing was. In addition, there was a concurrent severing of the marital estate happening and if you think a family of 6 is probably pretty poor, wait until the parents get divorced. There was never enough money for anything; however, I do remember using Prodigy and Netscape Navigator to access BBS and message boards from friends’ houses, and they started trying to teach us to use the Internet to do research at school, too- but they were out of their league. The kids knew more than the teachers did, and they usually still do.
My first ever email address was firstname.lastname@example.org, assigned to me by Michigan State University in 1994. Lookit that monster! My noobishness at the time is evident, as that same year I made my first every Yahoo! email address- using the username “irwinfra”. I’ve never updated it, because it’s nearly 20 years old and I have a soft spot in my heart for Yahoo!, even if their new email interface is atrocious and the company continues to slide. My first experiences on the Internet were applying for financial aid, emailing professors and TA’s and doing chemistry homework on their online system. Then I moved off campus, and Starcraft happened.
I should explain my living situation at the time- I lived in a house with 12 students who’d come to the States from Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Japan. Naturally, they took frequent trips to Toronto- it’s apparently a hub of Asian culture on the East coast, or it was, at least- and would come back with modded Playstations that could play discs that had 200 different fighting games and whose .iso’s were free to download, and I would be completely agog that anything like that existed. They knew a lot more about Starcraft and PvP gaming than I did- though I’d had a lot of exposure to things like Command and Conquer and Civilization II in the dorms, until they throttled gaming bandwidth- and were able to set up a LAN that allowed us to play huge 4v4 games that would go on in spite of class, Thursday night drinking, girls, dates, homework, whatever- it didn’t matter. Between Starcraft and Ocarina of Time’s water dungeon level, I probably ended up staying in school a whole extra semester than was necessary. I know for a FACT that that damn stone you have to remember to swim under after you flood the temple with water owes me 6 credit hours’ worth of tuition.
I still wasn’t using the ‘Net socially, however, until I finished school and moved back to the southeast part of the state, this time to Detroit. I landed in some weird roommate and money situations where I didn’t have much of an entertainment budget and so I turned to the Internet- what the hell was a message board, anyway? The turning point was Kevin Smith’s magnum opus, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back– there’s a message board referenced in that movie called ‘moviepoopshoot.com’. The site has gone through several revisions now, first becoming Quick Stop Entertainment and now A Site Called Fred. Anyhow, I decided to see if moviepoopshoot.com was a Real Thing, and lo and behold, it was. This was my first true online community where there was actually a core group of 20-30 regulars and it really FELT like a community- there was a mod that actually did something- what’ s up Chris Ryall– and regulars, a pecking order and power structure, special rules for ingrained members, etc. etc. You know, all of the stuff that makes a message board simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst things ever?
As it happened, one of the other posters on the board, Denyse, who I had never seen and knew only by handle, was going to be in Chicago for a recruiting drive. I had already met one of the other dudes on the board, as he lived in Michigan as well, so we made plans to drive to Chicago and meet Denyse and two of the other girls from the board who were going to be there. I didn’t know this at the time, but this was an utterly cold-blooded ambush. My now wife needed to see if I had three heads or any other weird deformities. I’m not a huge believer in true love- Denyse, sorry honey, if you’re reading this- but this was the closest damn thing possible. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed about this kind of thing, so after several clueless hours it dawned on me that maybe she liked me? We stayed up most of the night talking and laughing, and three days later I was flying to California using her frequent flier miles, to stay for a week. Then, she flew to Detroit two weekends in a row, I flew back to CA for another week and met her friends (I was a teacher at the time, and on summer vacation), she came back to Michigan- and then we realized we were out of frequent flier miles. We decided one of us needed to move, and I decided that Orange County, California had better job prospects than Detroit. WOW, WHAT INCREDIBLE FORESIGHT, RIGHT?
I packed all of my stuff into a cargo container and shipped it. I shipped my 2 cats on a flight, Denyse picked them up and took them home (where they promptly hissed at and hid from her- which they are still doing, 7 years later), then she got on a plane and flew to Detroit. We had breakfast with my family and then drove back to CA, leaving Detroit at 8 AM Friday and getting into the OC (don’t call it that) at about 5 PM on Sunday, after sticking to Denyse’s absolutely brutal driving pace. I remember wanting to stop and Denyse stating over and over “30 more miles, 30 more miles”- and then it was 6 hours later and we were still in the car. She’s such a trooper. Love you babe! Anyway, after a year spent living together making sure we weren’t going to kill each other over hairs in the sink or something, I proposed at our good friends Dan and Tracy’s annual Halloween bash, and she accepted. I had reached the end of the Internet, there was nothing left; I mean, after you meet your spouse, anything else you can do online is going to pale in comparison, right?
In the meantime, there had been some drama on the moviepoopshoot forums, I acted like a big baby over some stupid things that happened and actually left the boards and the ‘Net for a while, only using my connection to the world to play Everquest and Age of Mythology. Luckily, the relationships I built with friends I met there transcended that board, and many of those moviepoopshoot.com denizens are still in touch. I had sworn off of social media as a silly waste of time, and I didn’t give myself any credit either- my obsession with checking the forums first thing in the morning, or first thing after work had had me thinking that I couldn’t handle an environment where no one really took it seriously- because I take everything seriously! Just because you “meet” someone on the Internet doesn’t mean they aren’t real! My life is living proof. Here’s a picture that our awesome friend Tracy got us for our wedding, drawn by Movie Poop Shot’s resident cartoonist at the time, Bryan Lynch, who made this, that proves it:
I had already taught middle and high school science and computers, and had learned to have a stage presence (teaching is acting) and of course nearly- nearly– limitless patience. I actually got to use that Communications degree (don’t laugh too loud, please) for the first time, giving training sessions to first 3 executives, and then 400 plumbers, all on the same day. That taught me the rush that comes from really giving a good speech or presentation. I rediscovered my interest in social media when working for a small job board, GoJobs.com, a few jobs into my second career after teaching school, which started as a trainer. My boss at the time, Jonathan Duarte, basically encouraged me to learn as much as I could about SEO, which led me to my current path, which led me to be more social than I ever would have planned to or wanted to be. I never in my life thought I’d be writing a blog- my gosh, the ego needed!- but here we are. I never thought I’d join another message board, but I’ve found a home with a good one I dare not link to- most of you know what it is already, anyway. I never EVER thought I’d need a Twitter or be so excited to get an early invite to Google Plus. I’ve rediscovered the social side of the Internet, and I’m glad, because it’s here to stay. How long will it be until we’re all connected to the Internet and each other with implants that attach directly to our brain stem?
Trust me, I’m not just a perv what likes anime. This image is relevant. It’s coming. It’s gonna suck, but it’s gonna be awesome too.