Last year I cried a lot for people I never knew. David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, and George Michael all passed away, and they were huge parts of my childhood. I’ve grown up loving Star Wars and listening to a diverse range of music, so out of all the celebrity deaths of 2016 these were the most devastating to me personally. They were also strangely enlightening.
These losses got me thinking about how I’d grown up, and the many odd events in my life that have led me to where I am right now. A moment of reflection, if you will. As I steadily hit the ripe age of 33, I realize I’ve now spent most of my life on the internet. For my (nearly) 15-year-old daughter, that’s just natural, and when I witness her sending off hundreds of Snapchats a minute it makes my daily use of Twitter seem sedate. Growing up on the internet is the norm for teenagers now, but when I was a teen I didn’t realize I was helping shape what the internet has now become. Nor did I realize I was leaving a digital trail.
I’ve been looking back to find early examples of my web life and found a truly horrifying discovery. I built a little web blog back when I was 16, and at the time it was known as a “rants page.” Here’s an example from the about page, read it and weep for me:
Hello there and thanks very much for visiting my site. This is the section where you can find out about me and this whole site.
Lots of people have asked me why I don't have an about me page .. well it was simply because I forgot and couldn't be bothered to put one in.
So here goes... enjoy!
My name is Tom Warren and I live in a small town in London. I like to hang out with my mates, have a laugh, get slaughtered (by drink!) and generally fool around. I live with my Mum and Dad and also my sister at home. I am only 16 years old, I say this because many of you think I am older and don't realise! You may notice (if you read the updates) that I still go to school also. This is a real bore for me and I can't take it any more so at the end of this year (after my GCSE's) I hope to not go back and start up my own business. Since I started making web sites I have had the dream of making them professionally and getting made thousands or millions for making sites for top companies. I would love this because this is one of my few talents that I possess. The basic reasoning for starting up this site was because of my friend Billy. He said "make a rants page" and I did. Before it I had a shitty one which you can view in the archives of this site. Since then I haven't looked back and this page has grown from 5 or so people viewing it to over 200 in a day viewing it. I have had people from over 40 countries visiting my site.
From this web site malarkey I have made a name for my self "cooltom123". I have every possible email address that I can with it. I am now also an Editor for some top search engines like Alta Vista, Hot Bot and Lycos. I hope my popularity on the internet grows in size so that more and more people know me and can get in touch with me.
Recently I have started a page named south London sounds. This can be found at South London Sounds. Its a brand new site focusing mainly on garage music in the London area. I like garage music as well as trance, techno, a little Indy and some rock. The best thing about the Internet in my eyes is the fact that I can download loads of music. Mp3 is the present and will be the future of music.
The design of this page took hours of hard work like getting the graphics in the perfect place and making sure it is user friendly by getting a few kids I know to test it out. I hope you like the main page because as I say it did take long! If you would like to know about how to get good looking pages etc or even if you just wanna know how to do something in HTML then feel free to email me at anytime. If I get a lot of response I may make a new page entitled "toms top tips"! Who knows!
If you are making a new page then good luck. If you are feeling bored and tired cause you can't get something write don't give up cause you can do it and after a while it will become natural to write any HTML you need.
I can't view your page that well!
Ok this page was designed to be friendly with Internet Explorer. I use things called scripts which don't always load as well in Netscape but bear with me cause you can still view my page ok with out Internet Explorer. Also my page may look "bulky", this is because of screen resolution. You are currently running a screen resolution of 1500 x 1000 1152 x 864 and the recommended screen resolution is 1024 x 768. Please change it to the recommended screen resolution or above. To also view my page you need 16bit or higher colours which is standard in most computers so not to worry there. Well thats all the technical jargon done with now get stuck into my page properly and I'll see ya around!
More of me I hear you cry! Email me if ya wanna talk to me more cause my hands are hurting now.
See ya folks!
Let’s break this treasure trove of cringe into some bullet points about my 16-year-old self:
- My nickname was cooltom123
- I used to like getting slaughtered (by drink!)
- I thought the best thing about the internet was free MP3s and not porn
- I was an editor of some “top search engines” called Alta Vista and Lycos
- My hands hurt a lot after I typed terrible English
- I wanted to be popular on the internet
If you were looking to employ me and found this cache of information, you’d probably roll your eyes before tossing out my application. I clearly needed an editor at 16 for my shocking use of the English language. But I haven’t decided whether my ramblings are simply embarrassing, endearing, or a combination of the two. What’s more interesting to me is that I was blogging before Myspace, AOL WebBlogs, Gawker, and WordPress even existed. I never wanted to go to university to study journalism or media, but I was perfectly happy to spew out daily updates about my school life and my many cool email addresses.
All fun aside, the bigger concern is that my diary still exists on the internet. It twice got me into trouble at a young age: a kid at school wanted to beat me into 2020 because he disliked one of my “rants,” and a big corporation forced me to sell my domain name because I’d used a popular font name that was protected. Lawyers aside, that was relatively small-fry compared to what could happen these days if a database of your chat history or photos leaked.
It’s far too easy right now to share a picture or a thought that you could later regret. I don’t regret the many mistakes I made when I was younger, but I still wouldn’t want people knowing that I’ve woken up with kebabs in my bed recently, or used to obsessively collect Beanie Babies when I was 15 and still have them in my house right now. These things are private moments for friends and family to laugh at, but not for the world to judge and ridicule.
I’ve shared perhaps more than the average for my age, living publicly on the internet as it grew to shape the world. I’ve seen the rise of Facebook and the iPhone, and the demise of MySpace and BlackBerry. Throughout all these big changes, the internet has been constant. Always there and always listening. Nothing will kill off the internet now, it’s as essential as plumbing and electricity to our daily lives.
When I was 16 it was horrifying to think you’d put your holiday pictures anywhere online. The thought of the mysterious man developing my film at a local photo processing firm was enough to strike fear into my heart, let alone a bunch of random people online staring at my flabby ass. It feels like everyone my age now shares everything on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Teenagers are even more excessive with their sharing habits, and there’s no sign this will change or slow down. As humans, we’re nosy, sociable people who want to know what our neighbors around the world are up to.
When is too much sharing too much, though? I imagine in my lifetime that you’ll be able to visit a bar and photograph strangers to find out their first name, interests, and earning potential, and we’ll all be accepting of this convenience as our busy lives continue to be consumed by the need to be connected and up to date. Facebook already has strong facial recognition capabilities, and your face is probably part of a database whether you like it or not.
I don’t want to look back in 16 years time at something I’ve written or shared and cringe again, but I know it’s inevitable. If there’s one thing I’m doing this year, it’s being considerate of what I’m sharing online, and keeping my thoughts about how cool I am firmly in my head.