Let’s go back… waaaay back… before Facebook, before Myspace, even before blogs. Before most people knew what an email address was.
The year was 1995; I remember it well. Grunge music was still at its zenith, the Clinton administration was still scandal-free, and I was being dragged kicking and screaming into puberty. That Christmas my father was feeling benevolent (I believe he was running a fever) and bought us our first home PC.
For the most part, I only used it to doodle in Microsoft Paint or play solitaire. But after I entered 9th grade, I started hearing some schoolyard talk about this magical place called “the world wide web.”
After much cajoling on my part, my parents bought the family dial-up internet service. Like most adults at the dawn of our new digital age, mom and dad began by telling me “only 30 minutes a day.” And I could not stay online if anyone was expecting a phone call. So, I used my time in the most productive ways possible: trolling newsgroups and participating in geeky role-playing games on mIRC. I even got an ICQ number. (Somehow, I still remember all 8 digits but cannot remember my romantic partner’s phone number.)
One morning as I was sitting on the bus to school, someone sat next to me. Normally I disliked this, since I didn’t want anyone trying to talk to me while I was reading my Star Wars expanded universe novels (The Courtship of Princess Leia STILL needs to be a movie; I don’t care what Disney says about canon). This kid noticed my book, and we began discussing nerd stuff — specifically, making websites.
I got home that afternoon and the first thing I did was sign up for a Geocities account. A whopping 2mb of space, and it was mine, all mine! I went to create my first website and was perplexed by the seemingly indecipherable lines of HTML. But I was determined, in the way only a 15-year-old knows how to be. Most teenagers desperately want trendy clothes or a new car; I desperately wanted a website. I lived in a town of 10,000 people — how else was I going to meet others who shared my (what I thought was obscure) loves of 1980’s gothic fashion, fantasy-based role playing games, and Japanese comic books? I set to work, and after acquiring a pirated copy of Paint Shop Pro, began teaching myself how to write code and create graphics.
Quickly, the “30 minutes a day” rule got tossed out. My parents never complained, though — I think they were happy I was spending my weekends at home on the internet instead of out doing meth in the Kmart parking lot, or getting pregnant in a peanut field somewhere.
The internet, in many ways, shaped my teenage years. Having an analog childhood and digital adolescence has now become a defining characteristic of my generation. I’m actually not sure where I’d be right now, had I not gotten online and discovered that a whole world does exist outside of rural southwest Georgia.
As I neared my 16th birthday, I was running out of space on Geocities. I knew it was time to upgrade and pay for my own hosting. I ask you, what red-blooded American teenager doesn’t dream of saving their allowance money to buy a website? My first domain name was something Sailor Moon related, because all my “computer friends” had Sailor Moon sites back then.
In 2000, shortly before graduating from high school, I purchased Unladylike.org. I chose it because I wanted to come up with a short, simple site name, and that was the best adjective I could think of to describe myself. I was tired of hearing people using the word as a pejorative, and my goal at the time was to create a community for folks who could relate to it in some way. I had a “Webring” (remember those?), some personal pages, some anime fan pages, and for a while I ran a fairly active discussion forum (back when BBS was the place to hang out; the original “social media”). I’m still friends with several folks I met on the Unladylike Forums.
When I got to university, I almost majored in computer science, but chose fine arts instead. I’d tried to get a web design job right out of high school and was told to go to college to “increase your earning potential.” Adults told me I should pick a stable career, and I was afraid that making websites, a relatively new field at the time, wouldn’t be as lucrative as print design. (Hindsight is a terrible thing, friends. NO RAGRETZ)
For many years, Unladylike.org was dormant. Eventually, I wanted to get back to the original reason so many of us “elder millennials” (a.k.a. “generation Y”) had web pages as teenagers: to facilitate sharing the things we love with like-minded people, and to keep a record of memorable events in our lives.
So, if you’ve managed to get this far, keep reading — hopefully it’ll get better!