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A Brief Guide to Internet Nostalgia

Were things better when the internet was shit?

Gavin Haynes

Gavin Haynes

Hot new trend alert: Getting misty-eyed about how the internet used to be.

The Future Laboratory are "trend forecasters". This means they are paid by big companies to plunge their meat thermometer into contemporary society and then tell them what the new thing is going to be. They are so serious about this that they even wear white lab coats during presentations: just to emphasise that this is scientific futurology, not merely forlorn thumbsuck glued together with adland buzzwords.

“NOT/STALGIA”, the release for their summer conference, says: “Digital natives are reacting to an increasingly complex world with a hankering for the early days of the web. We will look at Hand-made Digital, the Rise of Tumblr and Digital Archaeology.”

That's right. The on-trend way to react to a complex and ever-changing world is to start blubbing over the days when the internet was the land where the men were men, the women were men, the kids were FBI agents, and if a cat wanted a cheeseburger, he knew damned well how to frame that desire within a grammatically correct sentence.

Problem is, a lot of people were too young for that sort of nostalgia. And those of us who were there probably weren't paying much attention. It was all so confusing back then – like trying to swim through Lego – that your best bet was probably just to sit tight and wait for someone to invent Google.

So, for the benefit of the misinformed, the mis-remembering and the never-remembered, we have collated some of the highlights of the early internet into a crash-course in netstalgia. Stick with this and in next to no time all your base are belong to us.


The Hampster Dance



Back before there were memes, the primitive savages who inhabited the barren outcrops of the internet would gather together in the evenings, and usenet each other wondering whether low-quality cartoons of animals would ever be set to annoying music. Then one day they were. Cue thousands of people peering in the window of this little menagerie of cavorting rodents.

Should I Be Nostalgic About It?
No. This would be like getting nostalgic about your own limbs. Assuming you still have all of your limbs. The internet is still built of this stuff, so it is impossible to feel a sense of loss for its passing.

What should I say about it?
“Janice was annoying me on FB Chat so I Yousendited her a 6G .zip of 50000 versions of Hampster Dance.”

What's the Modern Day Equivalent?
Pop Tart Cat.


AOL

AOL were... Well, actually no one was sure what AOL did. Except that they had a website. And that they were supposed to be worth a trillion dollars or something, and would definitely come to dominate the whole thing forever just as soon as someone could figure out what it was they did.

Should I Be Nostalgic About It?
Yes. AOL symbolised a time when the internet was full of people giving money to meaningless companies for no other reason than that they seemed to have a lot of spare money and nothing much to do with it.

What Should I Say About It?
“On BBM the other day Janice said 'AOL', and I thought she meant 'Aargh-ing Out Loud', but I looked it up on urbandictionary, and they used to be a company.”

What's the Modern Day Equivalent?
AOL.


Ask Jeeves

A fake butler would respond to your requests for information about Ugly Kid Joe lyrics by trying to direct you towards sites about recipes. Symbolised an era when computing was assumed to be "scary" so you had to have digital serfs and anthropomorphic paper clips to act as spirit guides.

Should I Be Nostalgic About It?
Yes. Weep like a baby – Google knows you too well now, and so you will never again have the opportunity to arbitrarily discover how Sally-Marie from Tucson gets her egg whites so fluffy.

What Should I Say About It?
“Me and Jeeves used to be tight, yo. The first time I ever saw a girl wank off an ox it was thanks to that guy.”

What's the Modern Equivalent?
The Encyclopedia Britannica, written in pink lettering on a blue background, opened at a random page.


Chat Rooms



Picture the scene. You arrive at a venue. Someone takes your coat. You are presented with five doors. You choose between them based on the type of conversation you wish to have within. You enter the first room: TV And Films. It is empty. “Hello. Anyone here?” you say. Twice. Someone walks in, and seeing that you are alone, walks back out. So you leave, and choose Sports And Fitness instead. Inside, eight men you don't know have abandoned the pre-ordained topic of conversation and are trying to hit on the one girl. Or are they? Isn't that a glint of an Adam's apple? And why exactly is she walking with such gammon-legged swagger? “Tits or GTFO,” you interpose. But the girl in question is enjoying the attention too much to even hear you, as she subtly adjusts her crotch.

Should I Be Nostalgic About It?
Yes. As with Jeeves, nowadays the internet is so smart it keeps trying to get you to meet people you actually have something in common with. Back then was the last chance you ever had to get groomed and murdered at a motorway service station.

What Should I Say About It?
"Hey – we're having a chat room party next month. Yeah, totally retro: I'm coming as 'Moderator'. Janice is going as 'n00b'. There's gonna be a man at the door who's gonna announce whenever someone enters or leaves the room!"

What's the Modern Equivalent?
LiveJasmin.


Badger Badger Badger



The Jesus Christ to Hampster Dance's John The Baptist.

Should I Be Nostalgic About It?
Yes. These dancing badgers were your first proper opportunity to be unwittingly reminded of Hampster Dance and dream about just how far we'd come. Thus, Badger Badger Badger was the first moment when you could LOOK BACK NOSTALGICALLY AT THE INTERNET.

What Should I Say About It?
“Janice Rickrolled me to Badger Badger Badger the other day, so I went and changed all the gifs of River Phoenix on her tumblr to Salad Fingers.”

What's the Modern Equivalent?
The entire internet, minus The New York Times and The Economist.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes