• "At the turn of the millennium, the internet seemed full of heartfelt pitches. Millions of users singing the praises of their favourite things – crowding around them, talking about them, calling for others to recognize their charms. Not the sturm und drang of social media: just clear-throated whoops, and echoes. Strangers like Pedro logging on to share their passions, not just once but every week, long after they had earned their Into the Grove membership rights, as if they couldn't help themselves."
  • "That is how the internet first appeared to me: as shared experience of make believe and dreams. And while much has changed in the decade since: that slipperiness, those mutable boundaries, the capacity for experimentation and imagination still is here. The internet is made of dreams."

Nostalgia for the MUD

21 April 2013

In a Belgrade bar, over a dark lager, Joanne interviewed me for Nostalgia for the Net – the oral history of people’s first encounters with the Internet that she and Melissa Gira Grant maintain.

My interview is now online. In it, I talk about my first online encounters before the Internet proper – over Wireplay, BT’s dial-up gaming service that simulated IPX networking for DOS games of the mid-nineties. And, more specifically, my time in MUD2, their recreation of the Essex MUD.

It’s a story I’ve told before, but I don’t think in public, so I don’t feel bad about repeating myself. You might enjoy it.

I have fond memories of the time I spent in the MUD. Reading old transcripts, I see player names I haven’t seen for years but have vivid memories of – as vivid as you can get, when you only have text to go on. The graphics were years ahead of their time, so to speak. It was a small community, but a tight one, and very friendly. It didn’t have the feature of MOOs, but still rewarded creativity in your interactions and encounters. And there was something about it – in the Land, in the writing, in the world, in the interactions – that felt very… British. Our own little corner of the net.

A small community still exists, playing in a Land I can map almost from memory (though I’ve forgotten the route through the mines to the Dwarven realm now).

Happy memories. Nice to share them over a beer.

Adam Gopnik’s “How The Internet Gets Inside Us“, in last year’s New Yorker, is a remarkable read. This leapt out:

…at any given moment, our most complicated machine will be taken as a model of human intelligence, and whatever media kids favor will be identified as the cause of our stupidity. When there were automatic looms, the mind was like an automatic loom; and, since young people in the loom period liked novels, it was the cheap novel that was degrading our minds. When there were telephone exchanges, the mind was like a telephone exchange, and, in the same period, since the nickelodeon reigned, moving pictures were making us dumb. When mainframe computers arrived and television was what kids liked, the mind was like a mainframe and television was the engine of our idiocy. Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind.

…but really, the whole thing is half an hour well spent.