By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Note: Due to its length, this column is going to be a two-parter. After reading this first half, please clip it from the newspaper, put it somewhere you won’t lose it (wallet, frame above mantel, safe deposit box, etc.) and then lovingly re-read it when you receive your next issue of the Henry County Enterprise.
My family got our first home computer in 1998, an HP Compaq Presario. It probably had less computing power than an off-brand smart watch you would win at a bland company Christmas party, but by the standards of the time, it was a mighty beast.
I was 13 years old at the time, and I remember that computer being almost magical. I remember the first time I heard its blisteringly fast 56k modem wind up, issuing a series of digitized croaks and groans as it connected to the internet. I remember getting my first e-mail account and actually being excited when I received an e-mail instead of cursing under my breath like I do now. And I fondly remember the early days of the internet.
When we look back on the things we loved in our youth, there is a tendency to say they were better than the things we enjoy today. On rare occasions, it’s even true. However, I won’t claim that the internet of the 1990s was better than the internet of today. Sure, the internet of today is turning us all against one another and will inevitably destroy society, but you can also watch footage of rally car accidents in glorious 4K resolution and order virtually anything on Earth within five seconds, so you take the good with the bad.
The internet of the 1990s was not useful. Back then, there were generally two kinds of websites. The first kind was the Terrible Corporate Website. Every major corporation seemed to realize they needed a website, but they didn’t know what to do with it, so they created some hideous, slow-to-load monstrosity that provided no useful information and at least one unplayable video game where you had to help a Dr. Scholl’s shoe insert through a maze or something.
The second kind of website was the personal homepage, where any weird nerd willing to learn HTML coding could tell the world what was on their mind (spoiler alert: it usually involved “Star Trek: The Next Generation”).
I was 13 years old. I was a weird nerd. And I had the free time to learn HTML coding. That same year, my website was born.
If you would like to check out this website, I have some wonderful news: It no longer exists. It somehow managed to slip through the cracks of every single internet archiving service and there isn’t a scrap of it remaining on the web. For this, I am eternally grateful.
Whenever a humiliating internet video goes viral, usually featuring some poor kid screaming about video games in a cracking, prepubescent voice, I think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I consider myself fortunate that YouTube didn’t exist when I was a kid because I probably would have uploaded videos so painfully embarrassing they would have been used to drive gunmen out of buildings in hostage situations.
My website largely focused on comedy, or at least something resembling comedy. I don’t remember much of what I wrote for it, and what little I do remember wasn’t in the same zip code as funny.
Despite that, I received a handful of celebrity endorsements. I e-mailed Dave Coulier, TV’s Uncle Joey from the sitcom “Full House,” and he told me that my website was very funny (he’s a nice man). I received some kind words from “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams back when he was a funny cartoonist and long before he became a deranged pseudo-philosopher. I also received an endorsement from Larry Bly, co-host of the hilarious nationally-syndicated cooking show “Cookin’ Cheap.” I challenge you to name a more iconic trio of celebrities.
In addition to the people I personally forced to look at my website, I even had strangers view it. I got a few messages over the years, including my very first death threat (you never forget your first).
The single most interesting story involving my website, however, took place in the year 2000.
I will share that story next week.