I've been online at home for the last twelve years now, initially on dial-up, and eventually in 2002 progressing to broadband. I felt dead posh when the little broadband server arrived in my houseshare in North London, I can tell you, though I tripped over the countless wires leading into the thing from various people's bedrooms more often than I'd have liked to.
I'm reminiscing about all this for the pure and simple reason that I logged into Yahoo Messenger a few days ago. Yahoo Messenger used to be the chat facility I favoured above all else, and it doesn't really seem to have changed that radically in the last decade. It looks the same, makes the same noises when people come online and go offline, and seems like a pleasant nostalgia trip to use. It very rarely slowed up or went wrong back in the old days, although I would occasionally find myself hiding my online presence purely to avoid certain friends who were slow typists. A simple conversation with them would end up taking an entire bloody hour.
Recently, I logged in and my friends list was devoid of life. Deserted. A ghost town. I'd be willing to bet that the last time any of my friends used it was probably at the tail end of the noughties, all now chatting via Facebook as they do. The only sense I got that anything had happened since I last logged in was a couple of friend requests from accounts I did not recognise, who inevitably turned out to be online camgirl strumpets. In a way, it's a shame - I made many transatlantic friends through the service back in the days when I was connected to various Yahoo communities. It feels faster, simpler and cleaner than Facebook, and a warm and comfortable place to be. With the exception of various strange floozies attempting to get you to look at their nude photos through websites with Russian domain names, there's little or no self-promotion involved with a simple chat site - the stripped down rawness of it seems rather quaint now, but somehow refreshing despite its age. Everybody knows what everyone else is logged on for, and there isn't an overload of unnecessary information. Really, did we ever need to do anything more?
The death of personal blogging is another strange and sad area, particularly in the case of the ongoing demise of Livejournal in particular. At its peak in 2005 I can remember having a brilliant two dozen or so bloggers on my friends list who, without exception, turned out some very witty and very carefully written blogs. For a time, I dived out of online forum politics and treated LJ as a safe-haven from all the nonsense of trolling and hot-headedness, and had some fantastic conversations on here. Whilst mp3 blogs and strictly themed blogs are hanging on in there for the time being, the mix-and-match approach of a supposedly "self-indulgent" personal blog seems very much of another time these days. A few of my LJ friends are still continuing to populate this place with entries, but in almost all cases - including mine - there's a half-hearted approach to it, with all of us blogging once every week-and-a-half or so instead of every other day, and even then with rather less considered entries.
People may deem personal blogs to be self-indulgence, but I miss the kind of self-indulgence I used to read. I enjoy long, detailed thoughts communicated from friends or online acquaintances. Put a positive spin on the notion of self-indulgence, and you've got careful, considered communication rather than random thoughts just splatted on to the monitor screen. When I log on to Facebook or Twitter at the moment, I feel underfed and frequently none the wiser about what's going on in some people's lives. Account holders speak in code to each other rather than attempting detailed "locked" entries to certain individuals as we used to do on LJ. I'd much rather a long, personal wail of a blog entry than a simple little Facebook update which says nothing but "Meh! :(", and is invariably followed by one person replying: "Hey, is everything OK?!" prompting the pithy reply "Email me". (I'm singling nobody in particular out with this observation, by the way - it applies to so many people I've lost count).
I hate the 140 character Twitter update restrictions. There are actually very few things that can be said adequately within 140 characters without making the writer sound flippant or moronic, and surprisingly few jokes which come off well when we've such restraints to contend with. People re-tweeting other people's praise for their work may also be part of the Twitter culture, but I find it very difficult to regard it as anything other than Hollywood styled behaviour. When a dour, self-effacing stand-up comedian retweets half a dozen people telling him he's amazing, it spoils your perception of his act somewhat - suddenly the earthiness of his routines become sugar-coated and they seem like as much of a stage act as the David Copperfields of this world. I'd rather not take a peek backstage into the lives of cult performers if it turns out they behave in the same vain, self-celebratory and dorky manner as their Premier League peers.
What seemed great about the Internet when I first got it is that it seemed we were all suddenly in a position to self-publish, form communities of our own and do and say what the hell we wanted. In the intervening years it just seems that so many of us - me included - have taken the possibilities for granted and become idle. This isn't to belittle the giant strides the Internet has allowed us to take with political campaigning and the access of music and films, but we made a mistake in casting the warm, homely aspects of the online world to one side in favour of celebrity gossip and quick and dirty information. I do hope for a revival of ye olde blog and even the personal website, but I won't hold my breath.