Growing up in the 90s, I learned to use the internet at the same time I was entering adolescence. Arguably, the internet was also entering its teenage years: that awkward, teeming period when modems ceased to be the exclusive perview of geeks and big business and started finding find their way into private homes. After listening to the ludicrous crrrk bing-bong! bing-bong! ksssssshk of 56k dial-up, I’d log in to MSN Chat, check my various Hotmail accounts, surf poetry forums, look at fantasy pictures, type search queries into Yahoo: all the preoccupations of my thirteen-year-old Gen-Y self. Then as now, there were legion free sites and services to join, which I, glorying in the creative freedom of multiple online handles, was only too happy to test-drive, only rarely contributing under my own name. The internet being what it is, many of those sites no longer exist, the accounts I created and any content published thereon long since vanished into the electronic ether. But twelve years later, despite the myriad accounts I’ve let lapse, a handful still remain.
Like salmon returning upstream to spawn, I find myself revisiting these earlier haunts. To my now twentysomething self, they are cringeworthy reminders of my teenage years: that penchant for writing everything in lowercase, the often-bad poetry, the meaningless rants and banal social commentaries. But rather than abandoning these realms altogether, I find myself logging back in, culling the crap and instating new, up-to-date bios. Partly, it’s because of the book: I’ve worked long and hard to become a published author, and am therefore unable to resist shouting my triumph across every available server. It’s also a kind of catharsis, closing off the old efforts my younger self made towards the goal I’ve subsequently achieved: validating her efforts, even though she-then, as distinct from me-now, will never see it. Mostly, though, I feel a kind of allegiance to these places. I owe them the honesty of an up-to-date status, even if it’s only to proclaim the reason for my absence. Call it a strange, personal scrap of netiquette, but I find it disquieting when someone I’m following online in whatever capacity suddenly stops updating without any mention of why. It’s like holding a phone conversation in which the line abruptly goes dead at the other end. To delete the account, rather than locking it into explanatory stasis, would be like pretending the conversation never took place at all.
I still sign up for things and forget about them, of course. Everyone does. By and large, it’s harmless. Either the site is large enough that you can eventually come back and unsubscribe, or small enough that when it dies, there’s nothing left hanging about for unwary friends to find.
Unless, of course, you wrote an ill-informed, poorly constructed rant at age eleven and posted it to a site which, though many years dead, is still Googleable, left to drift eternally through the seas of Internet like some Goddamn Marie Celeste of prepubescent idiocy. Of course.