The Taming of the Internet

The internet is not what it used to be. Once upon a time, it was this crazy thing that existed only on computers, populated almost exclusively by Anonymous and pseudonymous. Now my cell phone has the internet, my television has the internet, and everyone and their cat (sometimes literally) has a Facebook page.
In my high-school computer classes, my teachers told us never to tell anyone on the big, bad internet our full name, and especially not where we lived. Admittedly, that went out the window approximately two months after I got a computer at home and ventured into a chat room, where I promptly made friends. Who knew there were other people out there who liked so many of the same bands I did? Who so often shared my viewpoints? But I was careful, and for a long time I didn’t use my last name anywhere, only telling it to friends after I’d been talking to them for awhile. At the time, it was just how things were on the internet; hardly anybody used their real name as a screen name back then. Everyone had a website and they were mostly as inconsequential as a high school diary. I used to stay up online until two, three, even six in the morning, talking to people over AOL or Yahoo or MSN Messengers while the lava lamps flowed and whichever music player I was using pumped out whatever music I couldn’t turn off for the moment, working on those inconsequential websites or reading friends’ sites or just browsing.
Bit by bit, internet friends and offline friends went from totally separate to there being almost no difference — most people have the internet now, and it’s just as easy to email someone in Australia as it is someone across town. I blame Facebook, which started out as a very limited, college-specific site where such a setup made sense, and then it spread like glitter and herpes to become as ubiquitous now as a phone book was two decades ago. But then we took it one step further; made-up screen names are falling out and screen names derived from your actual legal name are falling in, leaving you one quick Google search away from anyone who has ever known you in your entire life. You know what the nice thing was about moving away from the city where I grew up? I didn’t have to see any of the bullies I went to school with ever again. Why the hell would I want to throw that opportunity away? I still cringe at throwing caution to the wind, making my Facebook public, and setting my Twitter handle to @FirstnameLastname. I don’t want the people from my first grade class to be able to e-mail me or try to friend me on Facebook or at-reply me Twitter comments about the dumb things I’ve said or done. I don’t want every random person I talk to online to be able to search my name and find out where I live. I like a little compartmentalization, but the consensus is against me. I guess I’m going to have to learn how to get over that, sooner or later.
I was e-mailing a friend some time back about a website she was planning, and something she pointed out that stuck with me was how much everything’s changed — nobody goes on AIM, neither of us are even sure how to go about getting hosting for a website that isn’t a blog, and it’s just not as much fun as it used to be. I miss the fun. Maybe it can get that way again.