My first memory of using the Internet goes back to when I was 5 or 6 years old. I used to sit on my mom’s lap and bug her incessantly to use AOL, an instant messaging service. She mostly talked to family members because, even for her, it was an exciting new alternative to talking on the phone. Once my hands reached the keyboard, I proceeded to spam my mom’s contacts with nothing but smiley faces and huge purple and pink text, as it was customizable. Most of the time, I’m pretty sure the person I was bombarding wasn’t even online, I was just permitted to do this so I would stop asking, and whoever received the messages was left to log onto a mess.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, AOL caused my first revelation when it came to new media. I experienced the networking experience that van Dijk describes in our class reading. It was a primitive understanding, but I did gather that out computer was connected, somehow, to my grandma’s computer and to my uncles, and so on, and all of their computers were connected to each other’s too…and I thought it was amazing! So amazing, in fact, that I constantly wanted to be on it, overwhelming people with my glaringly contrasting text colors and emoticon overuse.
This phase of amazement went on for quite some time. Instant Messaging was the only Internet activity I would participate in until I was nearly 13. Of course, I was doing it all the time, but that doesn’t gain one much insight into what else the Internet has to offer. When I was 12, though, my sister surprised me by making me a Xanga page. At first, I hated it, and stuck to my AOL chat rooms. But, then I realized I could make my Xanga look any way I wanted it to, and this became my new obsession. I would change my background every week, sometimes multiple times, all of the excess space was promptly filled with icons and a music player. The personalization aspect thrilled me, and still does to this day, although I’m not nearly as occupied by it.
So why, like me, do most people not consider the characteristics and potential of what we are using? The Internet is amazing, and instant communication and personalization are only a few of the things that make it so, but there are so many other factors we don’t explore. I hadn’t considered any of the characteristics of new media, before class, not even the ones I had shown interest in unknowingly in the past. A second inquiry would involve another topic discussed in class: When something is personalized and customizable on the Web, such as Xanga and Facebook, how free are we really? This subject was touched upon, but I have the feeling the templates we are allowed to manipulate offer even fewer options than I would first guess.