everything was fine, then came the internet

March 20th, 2006

As a teenager, I used to be very introvert. I didn't have a lot of friends, I didn't need a lot of friends, most kids didn't really seem worth spending time with to be honest. They didn't share my interests, they were immature and very fickle, there were a lot of phonies out there. Meanwhile, I was content to be on my own, I played computer games (to the point of addiction), I played with computers and I loved to play sports (but strictly the sports aspect of it, I never felt like part of a team, they were just people interested in playing the same sport and so we came together for that purpose only). I also played the violin for a while, but again I never bonded with anyone at orchestra or any of the social gatherings. Was I happy? I didn't ask myself that question at the time, I was content to be on my own and do my own thing, nothing felt more natural and right for me.

Then came the internet. I won't say that it was a big change, that my world was transformed overnight, nothing like that. In fact, it's only now in the last few years that I understand what a big impact it has had on my life, but the seed was planted some 10 years ago. As I try to remember how it all started, it's a foggy recollection, but one of the first things for me was trying to put up my own website. This was very fashionable in 1996, those of us who did felt like we had established ourselves on a level that most people didn't even know existed. Seeing those websites today would trigger some serious booing, by today's standards those personal websites were of stone age quality. Hell, animated gifs were all the rage back then. This was back when Netscape 4 was "the browser" (although since there was just one we didn't call it a browser), IE was somewhere in v2-3, email was huge and things like gopher and bbs were just becoming artifacts.

Right from the start, email became a really exciting new channel of communication for me. I didn't have a lot of people to email, most people weren't online then, but in 1997 I signed up on the ISFA Juventus mailing list. I think that's when email was really established as a technology for me, I would get daily updates about the club, I became friends with one of the people on that list (I even tracked her down some 9 years later, by which time she had moved across the Atlantic, married and settled down) and I would read opinions of people who shared my interest. A second communication tool was icq. I knew about irc, I wasn't a big fan, but icq was great. It had everything msn has today (and more), only it worked better and was far less intrusive and annoying. (May I remind you this was almost 10 years ago.) Again, I didn't know a lot of people on icq, so I didn't use it that much, but from time to time when some friends were online, it was really fun.

Why is it that email and icq was so much better than face-to-face contact? For one thing, once you start talking to someone you have something in common with, you may actually find the conversation stimulating. But crucially, the online channel would bypass all the bs of the real world. Everytime you talk to someone in person, you will have moments where the conversation runs short, where you don't know what to say, where it gets awkward, where you're wondering "is this over or should I try and change the subject?". The signal-to-noise ratio can be appalling at times. Especially if you're both awkward teenagers with little to say in the first place. When you meet someone online, you don't have to say "how are you", "what are you doing here", exchange troubled looks, no you just dive in and start a subject with no qualms. *That's* what makes online communication so great.

And that's where it all started, learning that there was a channel of communication greatly superior to real life, where I could encounter interesting people and enjoy myself. That's not how I looked at it back then, to me the internet was mostly about technology, about building websites and such, but the social aspect, as a digression, was there to stay. And it was a lot more rewarding than social interaction at school.

A few years down the road, after experimenting a great deal with web sites in various forms, I decided I wanted to consolidate two of my interests and build a website about Juventus. I had the experience to do a decent job and eventually Juventuz became the biggest English language Juventus fansite known to me. It was mostly about technology, but a bit about sports as well. Then something pretty insignificant happened, which would come to make a big difference in the long run - I started reading Xtratime. I was still on the mailing list at the time (in fact I only quit it last year, after 8 years), but the online forum, that was new to me, new and appealing. Here's a new way of talking to people that is more interactive than email, because on the forum people would often stay online for a while to read replies to their posts. And at the same time it didn't require the commitment of icq, of adding all these people to your list, then they would see you online and you would in some way be obliged to talk to them. But more importantly, the conversations developed in a different way than they would on icq or the mailing list, it would be an ongoing exchange of opinions that could go on for days. I didn't dive into forum life, I started gently and I was mostly just reading at first. But it appealed to me, mostly in a way of bringing more people to my website, so I decided to start a forum on Juventuz.

This was the start of something big. I didn't know it at the time, but the forum was about to engulf me. All I really wanted was people to come to the forum and keep coming back, I had no real vision about building a community out of it. That is, not at first. But once people did start to visit (and I basically spammed Xtratime, the mailing, bigsoccer and any other source I could think of on opening day to attract people), it became apparent that I would have to develop some philosophy. It didn't happen in the way that I describe it, as a necessity, it just felt natural for me to start thinking about what kind of forum I wanted to run. As much as I had never before done anything like this - keeping people together, encouraging them to get along, reprimand them on bad behavior - I got right into it as if I were destined to do this all my life. People did start to gather and pretty soon our small, tight knit community showed signs of anarchy. It was time to go beyond the case-by-case intervention, I wrote a set of rules for the forum. These rules stood for 5 years with a handful of tweaks along the way, I had captured my philosophy quite well. I really lived the forum, I knew everything that was going on, I knew everyone, every conversation, every problem. My goal was to keep the level of interaction at a high level of respect, to promote intelligent discussion, to eliminate juvenile behavior (from which I knew the road to taking liberties wasn't a long one).

It was just before I started the forum that I met Lisa, and we both played the role of moderators in that community. I was the host, the founder, the boss, I made all the decisions. But I wanted to consult with her as much as possible, her opinion meant more to me than anyone else's. For some reason or another, she was fine knowing that whatever I said was final, we always agreed on everything anyway, but what I posted was official policy. At the same time, I wanted to be a friend to everyone on the forum and I think I succeeded in that quite well, although people knew my word was law, I never abused that, I never made it personal, I got along with everyone. Well, inevitably, there were a couple of exceptions, but my success rate was very high. It was quite empowering for a 18-year-old, socially awkward high school kid to be *the* authority among say 50 or so regular visitors of all ages. But it was never about power, it was a passion for me to keep the forum friendly, respectful and above all, classy. It wasn't a VIP club, everyone was welcome to join us, but I made it quite clear what was frowned upon. And more than my influence, after being around for a while, people would embrace that culture and perpetuate it themselves. It was about getting the best out of people. It was a community where we all knew that although we could choose to "let ourselves go", it would be disrespectful to everyone else, and so noone did. At the time, I was so into this that I felt I could write a book about how to run a community, how to interact with people and influence them to give their best and how to handle and prevent conflict.

Of course, there was occasional dissent, people trying to rebel just to see if they could beat the system, there's always an instinct of anarchy found in us all, even if the moderators did a great job in keeping people happy, keeping them from seeking rebellion. But the rebels were never successful, we saw right through their actions and when you confront a troll, make the person aware that you know their game and talk to them intelligently, most people respect themselves enough not to perpetuate very juvenile behavior knowing that everyone knows what they're up to, it's no longer clever, it just looks dumb.

There is a lot to be said about years spent in a community, where I lived and breathed forum life, but this is all I will say. Lisa was the first person I really learnt to trust, I felt like I could tell her anything, and that was a magnificent change from my life before I met her. I was 18, she was 27, bright and classy, everyone respected her greatly, both on Juventuz (where she was authority) and on Xtratime. We really clicked. Before knowing her I wouldn't spill a word of my personal affairs to anyone, I was a master at keeping people from knowing me. Then she gave me a confidence to confide in her, made me feel comfortable and convinced me she could appreciate my problems. In the end, we parted on bad terms, but knowing her was an experience (quite aside from my forum life at the time), which changed how I looked at my life. I won't overstate the importance of knowing someone for about 2 years, but a lot of processes were set in motion in that period. And after Lisa, I found a replacement confidant, several in fact. This was effectively how I learnt to trust people with my innermost problems. Problems which were no greater in the scheme of things than anyone else's, but being so adamant about keeping my affairs strictly private, it was a monumental step for me. It was also a great relief to find that someone I *could* share with, feeling safe that she would understand and that noone else would know.

I made a lot friends through the forum, most of which have moved on, and as that became more important to me, my passion for running the forum was on the wane. After 2-3 years, I came to a point where I didn't care much about how things were in the community, the dozen or so people who really cared about the forum had all practically left. And since I couldn't find anyone passionate enough to take my role, noone really cared anymore. That was the beginning of the forum's decline and if you ask me what I think of the quality of the community today, it's shit. But I was entering a new phase of my life, I was seeking online relationships which surpassed the forum, real friendships. I was ready to trust people, to be open about myself, I had tried it several times and it was working. This was the point in my life when I had the most faith in online relations, I now actively pursued them. I also made an effort to meet some of these people in real life, to bridge the virtual/real gap and make the friendship more "authentic". My success there varied, it certainly was nice to meet the people I had spent hours engrossed in discussion with, but the fact is that they aren't the same people, online they will show you a different side of themselves than they will in real life, you're not meeting the exact same person.

But after doing this a few times, and notably one historical meeting in Stockholm, I stepped onto a path of gaining confidence in my social being. It was the first time I really felt socially capable and successful. Coupled with my addiction to stand-up comedy (and thus being able to recite quite a few bits, matched with a given situation), I realized that I was starting to become capable socially in real life, gradually to the extent that I had been online. To this day, I still am better at online relations than real ones, due to the mentioned 'no-bs effect', but I no longer stray from meeting people in real life and in fact I enjoy doing so. Which 10 years ago would be inconceivable.

What I have described, of course, is not the full story, merely bits and pieces of the most crucial factors which have led me to whom I am today. So what is the problem? Well, if you really take to something, you may realize that you come to depend on it. The social part of life has become so valuable that there are moments when I wish I could have the best of both worlds, where I could go back to being content being by myself, rather than wishing I had plans to meet someone and thus feeling unfulfilled. And what do I blame this on? The internet. :D

:: random entries in this category ::

6 Responses to "everything was fine, then came the internet"

  1. erik says:

    That balance would be a dream indeed...

    Nice review

  2. numerodix says:

    Thanks for reading [pretending to read] all the way to the bottom :D

  3. erik says:

    I was bored; I actually read all of it (also because I was looking forward to the mentions that involved me :D)

  4. ash says:

    I read all of it too, and I learnt a lot more about the mysterious "Em". Must also say that I didn't realise that there was a Juventuz.net part to the site until recently....for some recent I thought it was all numerodix. :wallbang:

  5. numerodix says:

    [4] It's no big mystery, I registered juventuz.net a few years ago, along with juventuz.com. I used it for my email for a long time, now I just use it for the domain of my site.

  6. Diana says:

    Quite intersting review