Well of course I joined Threads because
I remember when the internet was young
To paraphrase Danger Mouse, wherever there is internet fuckwittery, I will be there. I think Threads went live on a midnight last week, and I climbed into bed at 1am and signed up, cos I know how to mismanage a sleep routine. Everyone was off the leash and posting any old random bobbins, like in the good old days of early Twitter, before Twitter gained sentience, and sentience brought snipers, and the skies turned dark. Threads, which has been launched by Instagram to rival Twitter, looked like fun - but oh my god the brands - so many brands.
They appeared instantly, like stray cats outside a seafood restaurant, their pleading expressions asking for fish. And however humorous Aldi’s social media manager is, I don’t want to have a conversation with Aldi. Aldi is a supermarket. I am a human being. We need to get a grip. The app has clearly launched before they’ve finished building it, to exploit the failings of Elon Musk over on the rival site, so you can’t get rid of all the brands in your timeline or really choose what you’re looking at yet.
There were people on Threads gleefully announcing that they were always the first, the early adopters, that this all reminded them of Tumblr - as if Tumblr was the start of the internet. Bitch, I was extremely active on Livejournal, where I wrote about the nights out we had in London in the early noughties. And my teddy bear had a separate Livejournal where he wrote about the people who came back to my flat after the nights out, and what their fur smelled like. And this was 20 years ago.
(Whitey P Bear gained a few followers actually, including some guys from Glasgow who seemed to like music a lot. They were starting a band and coming down to London sometimes. They signed a record deal! It was so exciting, for them and for WPB, to see all this playing out in real time, some of it discussed on their Livejournals. And then Take Me Out got massive and I don’t think they updated their diaries as frequently after that, but Alex Kapranos does sometimes ask me how Whitey is getting on, still.)
You can keep Whitey in marmalade sandwiches by getting a paid subscription here.
And it was Livejournal where I first met Loulou, who has illustrated this newsletter with a terrifyingly accurate recollection of our early forays onto the internet. (Loulou’s take on Threads is that “people on there keep saying they’re unhinged while doing absolutely nothing unhinged at all.”)
But before all this, in 1995 or 96, I had got my first email address. I was at university, where you had to be committed to the cause to apply for one, and most people in the Humanities dept at Kings College London didn’t bother or didn’t know. You had to go to the computer room in the basement, a room that didn’t contain many people like me, in my orange trousers and zebra skin clogs. And it was there that I discovered the internet for the very first time.
The computer room was full of nerd boys wearing black, who helped me learn to use DOS mode and run commands onto a black empty screen to make an email appear. You have to understand, this was nothing like any kind of word processing software or user interface that we have now - this was the sort of dark screen with letters popping up in the darkness that you see in a film about hackers in their teenage bedroom breaking into the Pentagon.
I was thrilled, and then dismayed when I found out that if you pressed return at the end of a line, the entire thing disappeared. You had to just keep typing, unable to even go back to correct any spelling mistakes. I was constantly messing this up, as I was used to having to press return at the end of the line on the basic offline computer that my parents had bought for the whole family to use during my A Level years. (Whitey Bear had written quite a few poems on the family computer, largely about the existential crisis that is being a bear, so he was ready for the internet, when it came.)
In that university basement, I so often accidentally deleted the whole email I had just written that I took to typing them very, very quickly, in one big furious Jack Kerouac-esque spree. Praying I could run the ‘send’ command before my precious thoughts disappeared.
My brother was at Cambridge at the time and would send me these neat, perfectly written replies that did not read as if he had typed them while trying to escape an elephant stampede. I couldn’t understand it. “Are you DRUNK?” he emailed me back once, when we found ourselves online at the same time. It was probably 11am. I was not drunk. I said to him welobvuiously youcantt coretc any spellling on here orteh wholthingdisppeaers?
Oh it turned out that you could at his end - all Cambridge students had been given an email address on arrival and they hadn’t had to learn computer programming or go into the basement to send one. They didn’t have to ask for help from people whose wank banks were filled solely by the Games Workshop mail-order catalogue. They had an email interface that looked a bit like Word!
I could have shit a brick. The injustice was real.
And now it’s 2023 and we’re on Threads. Or are we? I had a good time on there on the first night. Next day was a laugh too. I posted some out-of-date videos of my kittens - guaranteed surge of followers, it was almost too easy. Felt bad when an actual friend saw them and asked if she could come round and visit the kittens, cos they left our house months ago. On the third day I thought of looking at Threads again, but then remembered that I am a middle-aged woman whose child does not currently have any clean clothes.
Ah, but it’s something rather special to be from the generation of half-and-halfs. To have lived an entirely analogue childhood, followed by an entirely digital adulthood. We are the inbetweeners. The binaries. When I tell my child about the days before Google, when there were all these other search engines, like Alta Vista, Lycos, Infoseek, and how you would sometimes type in a search and nothing would come up, maybe one or two hits, or zero, I sound like I’m reminiscing about the Great War.
There was also Ask Jeeves, the search engine that pretended to be a butler and that never quite took off, despite its heavily promoted branding as Jeeves and Wooster from the PG Wodehouse novels. My memories of Ask Jeeves are tainted by the time a friend of mine, whom we shall call Daisy, got in a minicab home from a night out with some friends and asked the minicab driver to buy them some drugs.
The driver said to D and her friends what do you want me to get you, and they were all drunk, so they said, anything, any drugs at all - anything but crack! They gave him a wodge of banknotes and he drove them somewhere and went inside. Came back outside with a package and said well this is awkward, sorry, but they only had crack.
Daisy and co, who were not hardened drug users at all, went home with their (alleged) crack and with no idea how to take it. Were you supposed to - sniff it? Set fire to it? They did the only sensible thing in the situation. They fired up the slow dial-up internet on their home computer and chugged onto Ask Jeeves, to ask the butler character how he would recommend they consumed their crack cocaine. But he didn’t know either. So they put it in the oven and everything went a bit Breaking Bad after that.
Following this unfortunate event, the world simply had no option but to invent Google.
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