I was a Teenage Klingon: A Brief History of Life Online
Hooray! I’m now on Google+, along with all the hip, cool kids and other assorted Facebook refugees, and I’ve been there almost since the very beginning. It’s exciting and daunting, this launch of a new and potentially very successful social network, and I’m glad I’m here to see it evolve. It feels a little bit like posting cat pictures into the very heart of the future.
On the other hand, I and many of the people I hang around with online are a little apprehensive about yet another social network demanding our time and attention. I mean, I spend only about fifteen hours out of every day socializing online, so how much time am I really going to have to devote to Google+? Exactly.
At this point you’re making a face and thinking This person is clearly a total loser. Whose social life is almost completely online? Does that even count as having a social life at all?
I don’t know. Maybe? How do we define social interaction, anyway? Does it have to be face-to-face, or even over the phone? Is Twitter an acceptable way to have a social life? I really hope so, because that’s what I do.
See, here’s the thing about me: I’m incredibly awkward when it comes to interacting with other humans offline. I’m the kind of person who, when someone greets me with “Nice weather we’re having, right?” I’ll automatically respond with “Good, how are you?” much to their confusion. If I go to parties, which I don’t often, I’ll find the nearest corner and set up base camp there, only venturing forth for beer and maybe some chips. This is how I’ve always been.
So when online interaction became available to me when I was in seventh grade, it was like a godsend. Our first internet-capable computer was an IBM 386 which could do two things: run “Wing Commander” really slowly, and connect to something called Prodigy through the phones. Prodigy was an early competitor to AOL, and had services like bulletin boards and probably some other stuff too. I found a home on the bulletin boards, and started interacting with other Star Trek nerds.
The Prodigy BBS had one strict rule when I joined up: “No role-playing games!” They enforced it, too. So you could talk about your starship and how big it was and give it a name (mine was the USS Starstriker, a Constellation-class ship. I also had a Klingon ship and a Borg cube) but if you tried to DO anything with it, your post would be deleted by the mods. We still managed to construct a thriving online society, which meant that there was a ton of infighting and flame wars with other groups. The Klingon-Romulan war of 1991 made life on the BBS annoying for weeks.
Bits and pieces of our online society even made it into the real world. I was a member of the Borg Club, which was a hilarious group of Star Trek fans who did nothing but joke about Jiffy Cube, Borger King and how everyone was totally going to be assimilated, dude. We were so cool that we had a newsletter, a real printed-on-actual-paper newsletter that arrived through the mail, called “Resistance is Futile” (in a stunning piece of irony, some of these are now online). The Borg, the Klingons, the 90210 Haters’ Court (don’t ask) and even some of the Starfleet losers were my social circle after school, and when the mods relaxed the “no-RPG” rule even more of my time was sucked into Prodigy.
I made friends. We sent letters (we didn’t have email yet): one boy I knew from the Imperial Klingon Empire sent me a paper airplane once. When my parents decided to ditch Prodigy after they raised their rates, I lost much more than a time-sink.
The next service we bought, Compuserve, wasn’t nearly as much fun. It did have chat rooms, though, and I had all kinds of anonymous fun in these (this was also where I discovered that you could download pictures of naked people, one excruciating line of pixels at a time, but that’s another story). It was ephemeral, sort of like the Twitter to Prodigy’s Facebook/Google+, but it was still fun. I alternated between many varieties of chat room and bulletin boards for much of the next decade.
I joined Livejournal in 2003, just when it was starting to get big. Some of the most enduring and meaningful online relationships I’ve ever had began on LJ. It was a place where you could have long, rambling conversations attached to long, rambling posts, and where friending someone seemed like an incredibly personal thing to do. I’m actually sad that LJ is in such steep decline; there really isn’t anything else like it out there, and I miss the days when my friends’ list was jumping with activity.
Twitter, when I joined in 2009, became sort of a lifeline for me as my life turned on its head. That’s where I met a huge number of other transgender people; they quickly became my support system. I don’t know what I would have done without them, and I’m happy to count many of the people I met there as some of my closest friends. Along the way I’ve met lots of other wonderful people, including writers, feminists, local political junkies and more. It seems strange that a dinky little worldwide chat-room with limited character counts could really be the basis for enduring and deep friendships, but there you go.
And as for Facebook? Eh. The less said, the better.
If you want to say that this doesn’t really count as social time, that’s fine with me. Increasingly, though, I feel like the only social space where I feel utterly at ease and completely myself is online. The format matters a little, I suppose, but what’s really important are the people who exist there.
Is Google+ going to be the Next Big Thing? Maybe. I don’t know for sure, though I know I like it. Let’s find out together. Come find me!