Gakuranman is ten years old today!
Okay. Technically ‘Gakuranman‘ is much younger, since I only started writing under this alias a few years ago, but my first steps into the world of online web-logging really began on this very day ten full years ago!
It’s little frightening if anything, and looking at my records it certainly must be some sort of proof that time is no measure of experience, nor quantity in any way knitted to quality. Go back far enough in the archives and you can find posts from my dark, teenage days on Livejournal, including the opening entry to my foray into writing online – Just Another Day (still a fine Oingo Boingo song, even today).
Digging through my archives, I find posts here and there offering curious glimpses into my state of mind at the time. Especially conspicuous are the random highlights along my road towards fluency in Japanese (to which lofty heights I do not yet consider myself having risen). There’s something quite special about having held a presence online for this long… Way before ‘social media’ was the hot topic and people were poking one-another on their favourite networking platform. I find myself wondering what the internet will look like in another 10 years. Hopefully this site and its archives will still be alive and kicking around then, and the internet will be all the
richer more cluttered for it!
Today though, I want to take a trip back in time and examine my history surfing through the many pages of the internet. Considering how much of my childhood I spent playing computer games and using the world wide web, it seems rather important to at least attempt to document these years of my life. The virtual places we inhabit increasingly matter as much as the real, physical experiences we accumulate in our lives.
The Golden Age of Animated Gifs
Despite this being my 10 year anniversary of writing and maintaining a personal presence on the internet, I was active online much before the archives of this site suggest. Probably for more than 15 years in total now. Way back when 56k modems crunched and whistled their way to coma-inducing connection speeds, animated gifs were de rigueur (I’m fondly thinking of the 7th Guest beckoning skeleton hand and throbbing puzzle brain) and freebie software came on CDs attached to magazine covers.
On a lost floppy disk somewhere back home in my childhood UK bedroom is the beginning of a short e-book I planned to write called ‘A History Through the Pages’ about the various stages of my internet life. My earliest recollections go back to around the time I started secondary school, browsing for pictures of Gillian Anderson (I was a little bit of an X-Files fan) and pictures of my favourite computer game characters. Google didn’t exist then, so I used search engines such as Altavista and Lycos. Considering the high-speed marvel 56k modem only arrived in 1997, I suspect my earliest days were actually spent browsing on a 28.8kb/s connection. I remember downloading and printing out dozens of colour pictures to stick all over my binder for art class in school (of iconic Worms World Party imagery – not Gillian Anderson!), and my desktop screen resolution was a spacious 800x600px, which is now smaller than the resolution on a modern smartphone.
It wasn’t long before I was building my first website, ‘Famegame’. A hideous lime-green coloured website in homage to my favourite computer games of the time, such as Super Mario Bros., Rayman and Monkey Island. It was littered with delightful animated gifs I’d laboriously created and also those I’d collected from around the internet. Not one to disappoint masochistic readers who enjoy basking in horrific ‘retro’ internet design, I’ve resurrected the mess that is the Microsoft FrontPage creation of my youth. Take a trip back to 2001 and visit Famegame!
One notable memory I have of my early years online was scouring Napster for music, particularly ‘Yume E No Position’, some random Japanese song I heard and somehow and had to own. In those days, downloading a 3MB mp3 song took around half an hour, depending on whether the seeder was on a high-speed 128kb/s ISDN connection or the blistering ADSL 512kb/s broadband connection. I also was quite savvy in file-sharing, using services such as WinMX and Morpheus, mainly acquiring content to feed my newfound interests in anime and game music (played through Winamp, of course). As you would expect, such pursuits necessitated a good understanding of firewalls, anti-virus software and an archive of Windows troubleshooting knowledge to get around the many problems that arose. I was no hacker, but it helped immensely that I built my own desktop computers using parts picked up at neighbourhood computer fairs, as I would often need to re-format and tweak both software and hardware settings to do what I wanted.
As I grew older, technology too kept advancing. After participating in a neighbourhood petition, we finally had our local exchange ‘upgraded’ to 512kb/s. That’s a full half megabyte of speed! It was now possible to download video clips, thanks to the demise of the fickle dialup modem. Gone were the beeps and crunching, random disconnections and 10.30pm bedtime curfew. Okay, the curfew was still in place, but it was a lot easier to sneakily connect late at night without all those beeps! We were brought into the modern era, at least enough that I could play Worms World Party online with other gamers and start my own clan, MDX. I was a ‘Proper’, a portmanteau of pro + roper. In the Worms world, that meant I specialised in time-attack matches using the ninja rope to pick up an item, attack an enemy worm and hide myself somewhere unreachable on the map so that the enemy could not get to me in time. I got pretty good. And then 3D Worms arrived and killed the fun. Not unlike the recent lacklustre 3D boom…
During my early teenage years, I also spent a fair amount of time posting experiments in Photoshop 6.0 on Graphic Forums, where I also did some of my first freelance client work. I sketched a drawing of a whale shark and had my nan (who has sadly since passed away), do the watercolour painting. I was outsourcing before I even understood what the concept was!
Watashi no Kanojo wa…
Before the advent of social networking services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, online chat software and message boards were the way to find people with similar interests. I was a heavy user of MSN Messenger, using it to communicate with friends outside of school and having some of my first webcam conversations. One memorable experience involved hacking a friend’s Hotmail account (note to Mr. BacardiBreezer, the answer to your secret question ‘What is my favourite drink’ is insecure). He got quite a surprise when he saw himself signing in and having his MSN Messenger status changed! Ah, youth.
I also spent a lot of time on the ezboard known affectionally as the AAF, or Anime Artist’s Forum, with its ‘Escher Room’, ‘Real Life Rant’ and ‘Role Playing’ boards. Although I rarely drew much of my own art, AAF was very active in its heyday and I even rose to the unimpressive rank of ‘Mini-Mod’, overseeing a couple of the sub-sections of the website. I would also have my first online relationship with another member of the forum who went by the name of ‘Aikyo’.
I say ‘relationship’, but it was really just unrequited infatuation on my part. Attending an all-boy’s grammar school, I seldom had the chance to communicate with members of the opposite sex. We would email back-and-forth, used AOL Instant Messenger, participated in online anime role-playing stories and even recorded a few voice messages for one-another, where I became infatuated with her melodic American accent. I think that was first time I realised how much Americans seem to love British accents too! In one cringeworthy forum moment, I called Aikyo my online ‘sweetheart’ in terrible Japanese (which actually translated to ‘my girlfriend’), leading to this cute little drawing she sent me. Ahh, memories.
Although we said we’d meet if we ever crossed the border between our two countries, we never did have the chance, and she’s happily married now. We’re still in touch though, via Facebook!
What began with an interest in anime and manga through my friend Dave quickly grew into something much bigger. I found myself studying GCSE Japanese after school twice a week and learning more about the culture and language than ever before. I formed a close circle of friends and, little-by-little, started coming out of my shell. We even had our own little group online – Kyousha-ken, the Crazy People’s Heaven! Weekly Japanese classes would consist of bizarre impersonations and sharing mad things that we found online. Weebl and Bob featured heavily. It was around the time I started learning Japanese my friends and I started creating memes. They would take images and produce creations with witty wordplay, such as ‘Oh, the Huge Manatee!‘ for the Hindenburg disaster. I distinctly remember a friend of mine creating that, but I wonder if it was his original idea…
Which brings us, very roughly, to the start of this website. Livejournal was the platform of choice to document my life towards the end of secondary school. It was mainly just myself and my real-life friends pinging each other and occasionally ranting about something affecting us. An altogether different sort of experience to having thousands of largely unknown internet followers today. Eventually I left Livejournal and started my own website on WordPress, as I alluded to in my very first entry. You can see the progression of that here, right from ‘Knowing Nothing – Sentiments with a Breath of Philosophy’, through ‘Gakuranman – illuminating Japan’ to the present ‘Gakuranman – Adventure First’. Gakuranman Website & Logo.
Writing this piece brought back a lot of fond memories, and quite a few embarrassing ones too! There’s more than a few things I couldn’t bring myself to post out of sheer frustration at my younger self. But that’s hindsight, and I’m sure I will look back at the current period of my life in a similar way. Perhaps it’s just a sign of growth.
One discovery I did make from writing this post is that many of the websites and services that were dear to me growing up now no longer exist. This is especially the case with online message boards, where I spent many hours of my time communicating with friends from around the world. All those memories, gone. I happened to save a few of the message board threads in a moment of clarity, or perhaps just due to my gatherer instinct, and I’m really glad that I did now.
If there’s one piece of advice I could give to readers, it’s to save local copies of any webpages, pictures, Youtube videos, chat logs, emails and other things that are special to you, and even some of the stuff that doesn’t seem that important right now. We take photographs and write diaries to recall our lives in the physical world, but often forget to do the same with our digital existence. If you take the time to save a few things now and back them up to a second hard disk, in the years to come, you’ll be able to look back fondly through these archives. Finally, if you’ve spent a decent chunk of time living out your life on the internet, consider writing your own ‘History Through the Pages’. I for one would love to read it!
I’ll leave you now with a couple of ancient videos: one showing kids how to use the internet and the other showing how the internet works.
Oh, and a question: What are your fond memories of your time spent growing up with the world wide web?
Image: Book, Shutterstock