Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Nerds Ruled the Net

When I arrived at college in the early 90s, I had limited experience using a computer. I had a couple of classes my junior and senior year using non-networked 286s running MS-DOS. The term "Internet" was foreign to me, as well as most of my peers.

My first semester, I had a class programming in FORTRAN. This class required me to spend long hours in the computer lab using a local network called UK PRIME. It was unix-based (I think) and connectivity to the outer Internet was difficult unless you understood a complex vocabulary of command prompts. Nevertheless, through all my time trying to program, I learned this vocabulary from nerds in the lab. I quickly learned how to "telnet" to other networks, how to determine the true identity of a user ID (finger), how to "ping" an IP address, how to chat in a local chatroom (all full of nerds discussing Star Trek, programming, and other nerdy topics), and a bulletin board system.

Once I discovered the bulletin board, I knew I was stepping into the realm of the Nerd. The most active BB topic was Star Trek. As a dedicated Star Wars fan (this was years prior to the new incarnation of shitty Star Wars movie), I decided to jump in the fray and insult the Star Trek fans. Using the handles Han and Chewie (never claimed to not be a nerd, just a more discriminating nerd), a friend and I proceeded to spam (a term I learned after the fact) the nerds with posts ridiculing the Trekkies and championing our beloved 'Wars. This is where I learned some basic 'netiquette', such as ALL CAPS=YELLING and the concept of a "Flame War."

The chat program was quite popular amongst the nerds in the lab. You'd see 4 or 5 nerds sitting next to each other in the lab chatting in the same room. Topics were generally nerdy. This is where I learned that one could "hook up" on the net, when the guy in the dorm room next to me met a nerd chick in one of the rooms and invited her over for some nerd sex. I thought nothing of it at the time, other than it's nice that the nerds have a place where the nerd guys can talk to the nerd girls and they can get together. Little did I know this nerd-man-whore and nerd-harlot would evolve into the freaks looking for sex on Craigslist.

So, by the time I graduated, the net evolved into something much bigger with the advent of the World Wide Web. Now, you didn't need to be a nerd that understood a complex series of command prompts to find information or communicate. The keyboard became less important than the mouse. You did not need to be literate to do damage with a computer and an Internet connection. As processors became faster, cost went down and the hoi polloi came online. That's when it all started to go wrong...high speed Internet, smart phones and ultimately Facebook came along to virtually destroy the nerd domain.

After a day of challenging Facebook statuses fueled by ignorance, I long for the days when the nerds ruled the net.

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