At twelve years old, there were three reasons to be home at 6pm: Grounded, dinner, or too dark outside to kick a football about. At thirteen, I’d likely be home at five thirty in preparation for 6pm. I’d mull around upstairs in a room that had not been used for anything other than a dumping ground for paperwork, chairs and clutter of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Despite years of neglect and with zero redeeming features this room was about to become one of, if not, the most used in the house. Just before six, I would check that my mum wasn’t on the phone – the revived and rejuvenated box room upstairs didn’t allow for phone calls anywhere in the house when in use. The trusted telephone that had served our family for years was now becoming an afterthought, limited, shunned and playing second fiddle to a new form of communication. As the clock pushed six, I’d push the over sized button encased in a semi-hollow shell which looked as dense as a brick. I’d wait impatiently for the system to start as it sluggishly progressed through it’s concealed gears, eventually settling into a calming, hypnotic drone which would persist until commanded otherwise. And as the clock hit six, I’d hit ‘connect’. With one click of the mouse I was ‘dialing’ to the internet. The noise was familiar, as I had heard something similar before in this room years ago, loading up a Spectrum or an Amiga 500. But I couldn’t recall it being so incredibly loud and obnoxious. Even the phone downstairs would echo out this chorus of ear rape, despite being relegated to nothing more than useless plastic and numbers. It was as if a bitter ex was giving a big ‘fuck you’ because of how quickly you moved on. But still, this was it. The sound of the future. The sound of my early teens. The sound of dial-up internet on the new computer.
As ‘surfing’ the internet (is this still even used as a phrase?) was free after 6pm, I would spend much of the evening online. My early memories of this were confusing. I would often wonder, one: should I be looking at this? and two: what the fuck am I looking at? Worryingly, fifteen years later, not much has changed.
Despite my eagerness to log on, I still had no idea where to start. It had not been something in my life that I had longed for nor was it something that I understood or really seen before. But I was intrigued and fascinated. I had also begun to find solutions to problems that only a thirteen year old could have in 1999: I no longer had to listen to the charts on a Sunday afternoon, waiting patiently for my favourite song to come on so I could push ‘record’ on a blank cassette. I now had Limewire to cater for all my music needs. I would scour Kerrang, Scuzz and P-Rock on the hunt for new pop, nu-metal and punk rock songs to then go on and download. Access to music in this way, despite still being at a fairly primitive stage, was incredible. Some songs could take up to an hour. But that was the least I deserved for being a little pirate whore and listening to Saliva.
I also no longer had to hide porno mags under my mattress; I now had to figure out how to hide files. If I wanted to see Pamela Anderson make Tommy Lee famous on a private yacht, I Just had to give it a few hours (over the course of several days) to download. Video preview didn’t always work either, so it could be a bit of a gamble. I would soon get accustomed to the disappointment of expecting boobs but getting balls, in the form of an episode of Jackass or some weird shaky cam footage. As a consequence, this meant being forced to run the gauntlet of adult websites in the hope that they were free – again, something I didn’t quite get. For all I knew, as soon as my knob was out, the local pimp would come bashing at the door demanding payment.
I assumed my parents were too dense to find out. That said, I was also naive in regards to viruses and the like and soon learned that such sites had the tendency to pounce at anytime with a sexy pop-up ad or some flashy banner. I ran out of excuses and reasoning for these and ran out of mates to blame. So, yeah, they probably knew.
Flash animation was a thing in the late ninety’s and early 2000’s: For me, this was the original time waster. Barring that irritating Badger song, Joe Cartoon’s crops to mind. Interactive animations such as ‘Gerbil in a Microwave’ and ‘Frog in a Blender’, where you could seal the gruesome fate of insulting, talking animals with a click of the mouse, was like heroin for teenagers. They would also form the foundations for most of the shit that was spoken at school: “Who’s your Daddy? Me! Wanna know why I’m your Daddy? Cuz I did it to your mamaaaaaa!” Thankfully, this craze would soon pass to be replaced by other forms of online entertainment.