What Are Your Earliest Internet Memories?

I’m not 100% sure if humanity was ready for the Internet. Here in 2020, we’re really approaching the nadir of Internet culture, in my opinion. So let’s go back to the “good old days!” What are your earliest Internet memories?

I remember surfing the Information Superhighway when I was about 12, which… holy shit, that was literally 20 years ago! Am I old? Well, probably not. Either way, being old is great! I love getting older. I’m so happy I’m in my 30s, they’re amazing. But I grew up with dial-up, and AOL, and buying an external CD burner so I could make mix CDs of all the great songs I downloaded off of Napster.

Some of y’all came of age when the Internet was already a THING, like you had social media in middle school, which sounds absolutely terrifying and I can’t thank Goddess enough that I am too old to have experienced what must be a hellscape for today’s youth. I am blessed there are almost no records of the things I did and said as a pre-teen, because I would be mortified (oops! Actually, the Wayback Machine remembers some stuff). Then again, youth today also have autostraddle dot com and literally limitless resources online to learn about, figure out, and be affirmed in regards to gender and sexuality, so…

And some of y’all were already adults by the time you got Internet access! You were in college going to the library to find information that was in a book and only in that book, and typing your essays on typewriters or maybe getting access to the PC. And now you’re watching the young people ruin their lives — and/or get fabulously wealthy and have incredible success and fulfillment — on the Internet!

I asked some of the team what they remembered.


Abeni: Y’all what are your earliest internet memories

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Drew Gregory: SmarterChild!!!
An entire generation’s first experience flirting was talking dirty to AIM bots with a group of giggling friends

Shelli Nicole: Mine is blackplanet for sure
I made a page on their and migente.com for some reason

Abeni: i asked out my first gf on AIM

Drew Gregory: My first serious crush and I went back and forth on AIM with a lot of like “Does your crush have brown hair?” “Is your crush in our class?” until finally we established that we had crushes on each other. Her screen name was Shamrocker17 but I also think I did a lot of this crush talk via her best friend who was GoodCharlotte42.

Abeni: OMG ok i just remembered downloading and printing out nudes of LARA CROFT when i was like 11

Drew Gregory: !!!

Abeni: i PRINTED IT OUT
and got caught lol

Drew Gregory: That’s so bold I’m so impressed

Shelli Nicole: Nooooooo!!
Also learned about clearing browser history due to porn very fast

Abeni: not the last time i’d print out porn lol. those pictures took like 10 minutes EACH to download you bet i was saving them under my bed for safe keeping

Drew Gregory: I just YouTube searched Girls Kissing a lot…

Christina Tucker: ME TOOO

vanessa: My earliest internet memory is crafting the perfect AIM profile and away message and talking to Jason O about how he wanted to date Jenna S
Also loved LitErotica.com, TeenOpenDiary, the weird celeb role playing community on TeenOpenDiary (I was Leslie Bibb and I “dated” David Boreanaz?), and this website called EmoBoysKissing

Drew Gregory: EmoBoysKissing!!

Abeni: emo boys kissing!!!

valerie: i loved away messages. and chat rooms. i may have mentioned this before but i used to be in Buffy role play chat rooms a lot.
we RP’d some gay shit
but i was like “this is fine and normal straight behavior”

riese: leaving song-lyrics as AIM away messages to communicate passive-aggressive points to my ex-boyfriend

Heather: i built a geocities website in 1997 called Heather Anne Land

riese: oh yeah Marie’s Awesome Website exists

Heather: and then i moved on to volunteer moderating the chamber of secrets forums on mugglenet

riese: Marie’s Awesome Webpage contained: quotes from my so-called life, an entire transcription of a monologue from ellen degeneres’s book “My point and i do have one,” and a ray bradbury short story

kaelyn: Before AIM chat existed, in like the mid-90’s, my one friend who also had a computer would get online (dial-up) at the same time and send each other silly email subject lines from our respective SHARED family email accounts.
A little later, like college age and in the height of AIM, I have salient memories of playing Neopets games late into the night instead of writing papers.

Archie: Yahoo chats for RPGs that somehow always became sexual
I also printed out a lot of porn (on a school’s printer/computer !?!) to take home in my backpack.

Malic White: I would pretend to be a pregnant teen in Yahoo chat rooms when I was 9. I also Cats fanfiction on the Broadway World message boards between the ages of 11 and 13.

Christina Tucker: Meeting sarah on a Chicago the movie fansite is truly one of my earliest memories of the internet

sarah: it was a catherine zeta jones website lmao

Christina Tucker: Okay but it STARTED in the Chicago forum then you created the SPLINTER cell

sarah: earliest memory: writing an erotic fan fic about catherine zeta jones and then realizing i was gay. some details: it was a section of a larger “interactive fan fic” which was constructed of many authors, and i just was the one who made it explicitly gay. i wrote it by drip feeding paragraphs through AIM messages to my online friend (kristintexas76)
oh. in 8th grade my friend brittany and i looking up “how to give a handjob” on askjeeves

Dani Janae: Alsooo sharing my angsty horny poems on allpoetry

sarah: omg all poetryyyyyy


What are your earliest Internet memories, y’all?

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA. Follow her art on Instagram @abeni.jones or check out her website at abenijones.net. Got a music recommendation, a positive trans woman story/news item, or wanna book me for something? e-mail me by clicking here!

Abeni has written 58 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. For several years in the early 00s I was a member of a small Radiohead fan message board wherein my alter ego was a furry blue two-headed dragon who pretended to eat other MB members when she got annoyed. We would sometimes organize in-person meetups in places like London and New York and Toronto which was great fun, and I still keep in touch with several of those people. We were going to organize a 20 year (!!!!) reunion this year, but it hasn’t really come together.

  2. My early internet memories are 1) reading a Harry Potter fanfiction with my neighbor while at her house, sometime before Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published (I don’t recall much about the story other than the fact that it involved leaving the Hogwarts Express by broomstick), and 2) using World Book Online for school.

  3. Gonna go ahead and extremely date myself, but:
    * My first online experience was via a friend-of-a-friend’s BBS, probably starting around 1994. That’s Bulletien Board System, for those of you youngins who don’t know. Literally, someone with a private server that could handle anywhere from like 3 to 20 dial-in lines, with a text-based system that provided group or private chat, plus a text-based RPG, and a few other odds n’ ends. I think I was one of the youngest people in the group and definitely exposed to what in retrospect I now understand were too many budding incels and libertarians, but also quite a few lovely nerds/weirdos/queers in my vicinity. Oh and we usually hung out in person on a regular basis, too. There are some delightful photos of us playing softball, which involved a lot of cigarette smoking, combat boots, and black trench coats.

    • 1. I am filled with shame over misspelling “bulletin.”
      2. My other earliest memory is of being a member of a hardcore Sarah McLachlan fan listserv (email) called the Fumblers. THAT is a whole story unto itself, though. <3

  4. Shout out to anyone who was on OasisJournal, the queer and questioning message boards for kids and teens. I found my old stuff on the Google way back machine a while ago and y’all I said some buckwild stuff!! Reading it now, I also should have come out as trans like way earlier. Oops. Haha

  5. LitErotica!!! I don’t even remember how I found it, but I read SO MUCH BAD EROTICA there!!

    I miss so many weird things from the 90s/early 00s Internet like Albino BlackSheep, Live Journal, Geocities. One of the funniest sites I used to go to when I got older was literally called like TheClitoris dot Com, and it was this super pink, fluffy, but also weirdly clinical site that talked all about the anatomy of the clitoris? Anyway, they had a section called “Stories” where people would write about their masturbation habits, in sometimes very dry and un-sexy ways, and that was enough to do it for 14 year old me. Thank god for actual porn now!

  6. Briefly, my memories heavily revolve around IRC, Geocities, Netscape Navigator, and dialup on Windows 3.11 / DOS. I spent a lot of time (slowly) downloading and playing PC games and getting involved in roleplaying MUDS (text-based precursors to MMORPGS). How I ever played Quake on a 33.6 dialup connection is beyond me 😂

    I also need to share that the cover image for this article is absolute perfection. Well done!

    • Literal first memory is Yahoo in the mid 90s being an actual directory of the web, and I loved the Astronomy section and would wait whole entire minutes for images of planets to load. Jupiter was my fav. This was my porn I guess? You all were much more adventurous as preteens apparently.

      Then in HS my friend and I discovered IRC and I cannot believe my parents let me tie up the phone line (singular) for as long as I did. Maybe they didn’t want phone calls, idk. My first MP3s (and intro to non-top-40 music) was dcc send over a 28.8 modem and my god we were a patient people back then because it took HOURS per song. Still now-IRL friends with a bunch of those IRC folks across the globe and everyone is some variation of married with children and it’s freaking wild when I stop and think about it, because we were all such over-active teen disasters.

      Thank god there was no social media.

  7. I remember emailing discovery kids with the help of my mom to have a Ghost Writer notebook or something of that sort. I also remember using ICQ and chatting with people in english and talking to those who had nice screen names. I was no older than 10 years old way back then…
    I was obsessed with my dog who was named Lucky, so all my screen names where variations of Lucky Dog and numbers I couldn’t remember – I kept getting new emails every few months.
    I also discovered fun sites like bored (dot) com or dumb (dot) com to find silly things to waste my time with, I was an avid lurker in mugglenet where I discovered the wonderful world of fan fiction and decided to write one myself in 2006 and I was so proud to have it published. It was before I realized I was gay and had the hots for Ginny Weasley.

  8. We had a computer when I was a kid, but only for my mom to do work on, so my first interaction with a computer didn’t come until I was in second grade, when I did the Mavis Beacon Typing Program. My first actual Internet experience was when I had to google pictures of dolphins to print out for my Science Journal cover in third grade. Good times.

  9. My first encounter that I remember was reading up on Comet Hale-Bopp as kid, and also being very excited about pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. This would’ve been late 1996/early 1997 or so.

    I also remember going through the science/technology section of the Yahoo! Directory (remember the days before Google?) and wondering what on Earth this ‘nanotechnology’ thing was.

    (Unsurprisingly, I’m now pursuing a PhD with a focus on astrobiology. Gotta start ’em young!)

  10. I’m trying to remember when I was first exposed to the internet, maybe when I was 12 or 13. I was heavily into AOL chatrooms and Instant Messaging. I also remember cybering with boys on IM and not being into it but doing it because all my friends did it.

    I was also really into *Nsync fanfic.

    Oh, and to really be nostalgic about the internet, I still have (and use) an AOL email! :D

  11. Ordered „The Well of Loneliness“ through a dial up connection when amazon was in its baby stages and when my mom asked what book I got I literally went out and bought her a book about dolphins and said that was it and that I meant to surprise her.
    I still somehow thought I was straight at the time, go figure.

  12. If I remember correctly we first got the internet in 1995 or so, but it wasn’t AOL, but whatever dial-up service our local phone monopoly offered. I would spend half my days on yahoo looking up Snaps, dirty dozens, meaning of certain slag words & seeing if said slag words can bring up porn. I also used the Altavista translator service to try to learn curse words in other languages, but sadly I can’t read many languages.

    A few years later I was part of the teen dating site matchmaker, which was a paid site for everyone but teens. It was not that good as most people either didn’t want to talk to me or because we were pre-teen to early teens we couldn’t ask our parents to meet someone online cause that wasn’t a thing in 1998-2001 era. The only reason I found about that site as I was illegally downloading software(new version of office or maybe it was a game) & accidentally clicked something that brought to that site. Also, how I learned about catfishing as a girl once called to tell me she’s a liar cause I was too daft & naive to understand over AIM. I was 13(?) at the time & the internet was still in the early days, I was still learning, but was knew enough to go by the name Allen.

    Related note in HS with a friend & I sort of catfished a dude. We pretended to be one bully-ish kid(b1) & messaged the other bully-ish(b2) kid, the rich cis-het white boy. He told us if all the places he & his friends harassed the b1 all over school & neighboring areas. One thing leads to another via aim & 10 mostly white kids in expensive cars showed up to an address half a block away from my house. All had gold chains(2001) on & were wielding bats or brass knuckles. He never messaged back after that. Side note b1’s brother(cis-het) was on MTV’s catfish(he got catfished) & b2 was assaulted by an MTV reality stars in a Hollywood bar on the show the reality star was part of. Turns out MTV told him to go the bar & they won’t let anything happen. lol

  13. I first got online when I was 11. I was really into VH1.com (this would have been 1999/2000 so before it was all reality TV) and Yahoo Groups. Oh, and Bolt. Am I the only person left on the internet who was on Bolt?! Fuck

    Got in trouble in 6th grade for printing Jay-Z lyrics off the internet

    Was a dedicated Xanga user for years

    Loved taking the BeliefNet quiz about ‘What Religion Are You’ – grew up going to church but was really agnostic the whole time, just didn’t have the word for it

  14. Back in 1999 I had gone to see Tori Amos play, and a few days later I decided to try an internet cafe for the first time.

    Found myself on a Tori message board, with people chatting about the concert:

    “It was a great concert but did you see some of the audience? There was a girl in a full wedding dress and veil. What was that about? It wasn’t the “Like a virgin tour?”

    Reader, can you guess who was dressed that way?

  15. My earliest internet memory is wanting nothing to do with it because the sound of dial-up was just that grating.

    If it wasn’t for Yahoo music and porn I might never have “joined” the internet.
    Oh and the fall of dial-up that was important.

    Y’all I drank so much ginger ale this week. I hate being nauseous VERY much.
    But good thing this week: I made apple chips with the good cronch.

  16. I remember building a Geocities (RIP) page that exhaustively catalogued my at-the-time knowledge of witchcraft. I was like 13. As someone who loves collecting and organizing information, The Internet was sure the place for me.

    Also trying to search again and again for info on wlw and getting NO GOOD INFO about crushing on straight friends. There was a very unhelpful website that was like “lesbians are women who are attracted to other women who are attracted to women.” Now, I realize how harmful this message was? Like I was so confused by it.

    I remember when Wikipedia was more unreliable than reliable, and not the digital effin Library of Alexandria it is trying to be now.

  17. So many of these things. Smarterchild, for sure, and just spending ridiculous amounts of time on MSN chatting with friends. Piczo sites to share all my selfies. MySpace top 5 ruining friendships. Neopets & did anyone else play Avatar High?

    So much fanfiction. I started writing femslash before I figured out I’m a lesbian, and then was like, wait a minute…

  18. My earliest memories of the internet are fighting with my siblings and having timers set to an hour max, so all five of us and our parents could have time to share the one pc in the living room.

    Also, never being able to ring my housephone because my mum was always on ebay or her message boards. Dial up was an issue!

  19. Neopets!!! (I think my first Neopets account was before I was 12 and I actually put in my real birthday and put in my mom’s email for “parental permission,” because it didn’t occur to me until later to just lie about how old I was.)

    Then Xanga (with soooo many online quizzes/personality tests), Fanfiction.net (mostly Harry Potter fanfic), Fictionpress, and Livejournal (in approximately that order). And an online forum set up by one of my middle/high school friends that we used for all sorts of conversations. No AIM for me (I wasn’t allowed), but everyone else used it a lot.

    Did other people actually talk about internet stuff with their friends? Like, a lot of my middle/high school friends traded fanfiction recs and joked about things like Movies in Fifteen Minutes and TV Tropes.

  20. My first computer memories are from when I was a kid in the late 90s. We had a bunch of educational computer games on CDs, but the first time I realized you could use this thing called the Internet to connect to something outside of your house instead just putting the CD in the computer, was when I was about 6 and my best friend and I were playing around on the computer and tried typing in “barbie dot com”, which took us to this super fun website full of Barbie related games. It was pretty mind blowing to realize that there was a website for literally everything.

    I definitely went through the Neopets stage and then when I was in high school I would come home from school and spend hours on the family computer illegally downloading music and watching TV. My introverted self was never really into AIM or message boards or anything like that.

  21. Mine are kind of pre-internet, but used tech leading that way. Depending on what you count, I could say my first internet-like memories are either playing games on BBS’s around 1995 or playing MUDs (multi-user dungeons; basically a text-based precursor to modern MMORPGs) from around the late 80’s (using college computer labs when they didn’t have many people in them, especially during times when classes weren’t in session).

    I definitely built a couple of Geocities pages around 1996-98.

  22. That awful dial-up up sound just to get to my aol email account that told me in a British accent that “you’ve got some letters.” Oh and the practice in patience that was downloading songs from Napster, you really had to want that song bad to wait 6 hours for it to download. It’s crazy how far technology has come in the last 20 years.

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