Double Density

Tech tales and paranormal primers

GeoCities And The Sands of Time

Hey all.

It's been a minute, hasn't it? Or in this case, almost three years, to be exact. The Double Density website has remained dormant and Angelo and I have often joked on the show about how one day we'll get around to updating parts of it—a promise that we've turned into a sort of perpetual joke... Until now.

Ironically enough, this "something new" (in the form of a blog post) is being created out of something old—20+ years old, in fact.

Here we are now, entertain us

For the last few months, I've regularly checked in with a tumblr account called One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op (OToKAPO). The account posts a few screengrabs a day of defunct GeoCities websites (I mean, given the fact that GeoCities hasn't been a living, breathing web entity in roughly a decade for most of the world, they're technically all defunct), sorted by their last updated timestamp. The Internet Archive had done a fantastic job of springing into action and saving every piece of web real estate when Yahoo! made the announcement of the domain's closure. Archive Team (another group of preservationists) offering up a 600+ GB torrent of all of the available data... And now, in 2021, there is a tumblr account that posts these little bits of forgotten web lore. A lot of these pages are just 404s but some truly offer a fascinating insight into how a regular web user was interacting with the world wide web during the late '90s and into the 2000s.

I've mentioned this on the show a few times but I got my start using a GeoCities WYSIWYG editor to create a rudimentary website (1) mere weeks before we entered the new millennium. A switch was flipped sometime when I first gained access to the internet in 1997 and when I became the family's web pioneer at the ripe of 12, one that made me want to actually.... interact with the content I was seeing. Countless hours were spent trying to forge some kinda web identity by setting up a homestead (pun intended), all the while hunting for MP3s stored on publicly-accessible web servers (2) (I wouldn't get access to private FTPs for another year or so) and also spamming the message boards on GameSages dot com, all with a view of boosting my post count—all with the endgame of using it like some kinda badge of honour.

Visiting OToKAPO always conjures up these strange feelings of my own habits on the web, habits that go back decades. Apart from the aforementioned activities I undertook, I also spent many a day on IRC servers DALnet and EFnet, and an immesurable amount of time spent on various social media platforms, starting in earnest with MySpace and onwards. (3) I remember the day I learned the word blog early in 2000 (while hanging out in the #beefcake channel on DALnet, hub to only the best South Park fans) and thinking that it was a weird way of describing a wooden log of some sort. It took me a bit of time to truly understand its meaning, and I spent

These weird reminiscence sessions also had me thinking about the shifting nature of internet content itself, and how the last few decades have truly evolved (or, quite truthfully in many examples, devolved) when it comes to the level of content we see and interact with.

Share a little love in your heart

Carving out a digital identity back in the day, being able to share of yourself used to be much more of a dedicated activity. Whether you took part in a listserv and wanted to argue the finer points of the newest X-Files episode or best practices when it came to planting flowers in the Pacific Northeast, or you wanted to create a webpage to share a hobby that you cared about immensely, you had to first learn the ropes of how to actually access these avenues, which were often arcane in nature and only through time lowered their barriers for entry to allow people of all stripes to join in.

Enter 12 year-old Brian, intent on fucking shit up in his little area of the web. Prior to GeoCities' free WYSIWYG editor, I hadn't truly wrapped my head around what coding a website could be like, or how I could get there. I do remember my mom taking out a book from the library when I was 4 or 5 filled with simple computer programs coded in BASIC that she inputted and allowed us to use on our old 486 CGA, but beyond that my access to that was very limited. And suddenly, the doors blew open and I was creating background boxes and throwing text of various fonts (my personal aesthetic as a pre-teen was absolutely chaotic neutral-fuelled) with reckeless abandon.

Yes, I did learn how to (badly) code eventually and even took a C++ class to understand more about how programming languages worked, but my resources at that juncture were very limited. And so I made what I could with what I could... And let's not even get into the storage side of things—I remember GeoCities' infernal 15 meg limit, which severely cramped my style. I also remember a time in the early 2000s when 50megs dot com was a thing and tried, in vain, to get a free account on there so that I could do more. Not having access to a credit card to get server space truly was a roadblock I had to somehow circumvent.

Let's circle back to intent for a sec. Or rather, the notion of wanting to create. The burning desire to share of yourself in a way that perhaps wasn't possible through methods of direct communication (be it via email or instant messenger, or an in-between piece of software like ICQ, which I truly feel was like one of the first bridges between the two modes of connection). You wanted to stake your claim, wanted to have a piece of virtual real estate that you wanted to direct others to. I've seen all kinds of interesting uses of a GeoCities web address on OToKAPO—everything from family reunion photos to professionals' CVs, fandoms of every shape and kind to lists of music bootlegs users were looking to sell/trade, there was a bit of everything, all with this weird homemade flavour to them.

The common link was that these people took time (in some cases, considerable amounts when you think of the coding they'd done) to share of themselves. Believing that their contribution to the world was a positive one. Wanting to weave together knowledge and love of a subject, building towards a more expansive (and in some cases, inclusive) web experience, creating an additive atmosphere for users and surfers alike. (4)

And now, we've taken that maxim of wanting to share to its highest degree.

That's dirty pool, mister

Fast forward to the modern content landscape, and it's easier than ever to create content of all sorts and share it to the web. You can grab your smartphone and point it at yourself and shoot, streaming live to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch or wherever you want. Your digital identity, the ways in which you decide to showcase yourself to the world, is only a few taps away. A lot of marketing around the turn of this century was dedicated to explaining how people can now become brands, and never has it ever been more present. That's all we are—personal brands, whispering sweet nothings into microniches and attracting sponsors to continue the feedback loop creators enjoy getting.

Somewhere along the line we've taken the credo of being "citizens of the web" (every reader of web news from the mid '00s should be wincing now when reading this term, as it was everywhere to describe the way Web 2.0 was "transforming the world" (5)) and cranked the volume knob to 10. We've taken to sharing way too much of ourselves in order to seek attention, validation and detractors. The additive attitude that creators used to largely inhabit has been kicked to its virtual curb (let's keep the web real estate metaphor going) and we've all moved into noisy high rises (hey, I never said I was any good at metaphors either, I'm just using 'em cuz I can), filled with way too much in way too little of a space. We're all a click away. We're prompted to comment, to share, to say more, as we hold the potential to partake in a million scuffles while endlessly scrolling. We no longer have to work that hard to seek more, or to find diamonds in the rough. They are all offered to us as marketers pay sites for our information to then sell us the things they think might interest us the most.

Perhaps we share so much of ourselves that the quality of our sharing is diluted. Or perhaps we share so much of ourselves that our concentration on what makes us truly unique and special, what we really should be sharing with the world, disappears. It's a levelled-out playing field where everything hangs out for everyone to see and Lord knows I am certainly guilty of that (plug plug plug, my Twitter and Instagram accounts are right here). I shitpost entirely too much. I don't have enough of a substantive web (and by that I mean purely web, not social media) footprint that I am proud of... And I'm not quite sure how (or if) I want to change that. Being on the internet for this long has certainly tired me out, and my shitposting has definitely taken a nosedive.

Obviously there are exceptions to all of this in that the internet still exists and individuals (or groups) run websites dedicated to every facet of interest imaginable, but somehow it all feels lesser, as people often treat these sites like the job they are (including the obligatory Amazon affiliate link) instead of the burning fire that rests within them.

What's that, over the horizon?

Over the past year or so I've started subscribing (and in some instances, paying to unlock more content) to several newsletters on various subjects that interest me. Somehow, these pieces of mail that land in my inbox feel like a connection to a bygone era of the internet where I could find out more about a topic, a subject or a person in a purer way. This concept of curated content, tied to an individual, makes me feel as though I am once again clicking through the wastelands of a web that wasn't absolutely dominated by terms indexed by robots.txt. It makes for a more direct approach to ingesting information, in places where I don't also have to contend with the commentsphere descending (or actually, let's be honest, ascending) upon me to share added "context" I didn't ask for. It's B2C, but it's for shit I care about.

These slices of web/life certainly evoke a sense of nostalgia within me for a time I know I can no longer take part in, in the way in which I want to take part in. I'm donning rose-coloured glasses based on 15 years of relentless content being pushed to me (and in some instances, content I myself have pushed onto others), of discussion, of discourse. Signs. Signifiers. Words, images, and their intended meaning. Reconstituted notions of what everything means. Words upon words. Videos upon videos. Flash video (RIP) upon Flash video (RIP2). To quote Bo Burnham, a little of everything, all of the time.

I admit that my experience on the web, the moment in time where I hopped on the WWW trolley, is specific to myself. Others who have either had a lifetime pass for decades, or who have only really hopped on the ride in the last 10-15 years, decided have their own views on how they feel about web content. I own my biases and understand they exist. I'm by no means a perfect user/creator, I'm just someone who exists, who has spent an unsightly amount of time ruminating on what was and what shall be. Cursed with brainworms when it comes to thinking about web content and the ways in which we all relate to each other, and the methods we use to share what's important to us.

At the end of the day I'm just out here on the curb, kicking rocks. See you around the bend, as I await the next onslaught of information to deluge me like a storm of juicy, stinky trash water.

(1) The webpage is a true eyesore, and for that I make no apologies. The idea behind the website was borne out of a hobby a friend and I had become obsessed with—our own fictional radio show, which we would create by gathering around my old Radio Shack boombox's tiny mic hole and just speaking Mad TV- and South Park-poisoned nonsense into. I do apologize, however, for the awful language and truly purile jokes we made as pre-pubescent boys.
(2) The first MP3s I remember finding (and being excited about) were Kid Rock's 'Cowboy' and Blink-182's 'All The Small Things'. Wonders never cease to amaze.
(3) I also used to maintain a Xanga blog for years and years and a recent dive into those torturous words of my youth brought moments of self-cringe so incredible that I could only take so much of it before clicking away (thanks, Internet Archive).
(4) I know this is an overt generalization and for the sake of the piece I'm willing to make this claim. I know that extremist groups and other morons have also used the web to communicate disgusting ideologies throughout the last few decades and this piece isn't mean to whitewash that—what I'm getting at is that the web was largely an additive atmosphere, and this sort of behaviour was truly in the minority.
(5) I often treated these terms in the same way as the Gabbo episode of The Simpsons, when they'd show the Gabbo preview commercials... GABBO. GABBO. GABBO.