Where It All Began
My dad installed America Online on our noisy Windows 98 eMachine. Up until this point, I was contently unaware of the existence of The Internet. For me, the World Wide Web was the great outdoors, fads were spread between elementary schools via your cousins, Halloween was the only convention for cosplay, all fandom news came from magazines like Disney Adventures, and the school halls and your street were the forums on which to share your fanfiction, artwork, and theories. To me, the installation of AOL meant it was time for another of Dad's Classes On How To Fix The Computer When He's At Work Because Your Mother Doesn't Understand New Computers. So I pulled up my red swiveling bar stool and watched. He showed me how to email my uncle (as if having to talk to him on the phone wasn't enough), download and play games, search effectively*, recognize, avoid, and destroy viruses, chat with my grandma on AIM, and all about MESSAGE BOARDS, the latter of which mystified me.
My CD-ROM games were abandoned as I spent my allotted only-hour-per-day computer time stumbling around AOL by myself, struggling to break past all my Child's Account restrictions and venture into the unbridled internet beyond. There were very few sites I could visit; about 80% of what I could access was a bunch of dumb AOL-provided content that I wasn't interested in. I hadn't yet figured out that all my dad's passwords were variations of our dog's name, so there was no way I could get in and lift my restriction. So I ventured into what AOL had been trying to bait me with: a bunch of dumb games and heavily-moderated kid's message boards.
The message boards were choking on masses of posts by people who seemed to have very little grasp on the English language. I was only in 4th grade, but I was disgusted. I wandered into the pet boards, thinking I'd brag about my cats a little in what I thought was perfect syntax, and then go back to my CD-ROMs. One of the sub-boards was specifically about "Lizards and Snakes!" Oh gross. In my experience of barely a decade, people who liked lizards and snakes were rude, nasty boys whom I usually hated. They were here, too. I felt something that, years later, I can only describe as my first case of INTERNET RAGE. I went into that forum with my head held high to tell them what I thought of them. I still have the post.
"Why do yall like someting as gross as a bunch of slimy lizerds and snakes??? Theyre nasty!!"
Whenever I said something like that at school, it would start a fist fight. I sat around for a few minutes, eagerly awaiting the internet equivalent of a fist fight. Nothing happened. I felt like I had wasted my time. So I reused my comment on the playground the next day and was rewarded with a kicking fight, which I won. It was The Best Day until the recess teacher found me kicking the spit out of some boy behind the climbing wall.
Days later, my dad charged into my room, yanked me up by my arm, and dragged me to the computer. This was nothing new. Usually when he'd teach me something new on the PC, I'd do something he didn't know how to fix or end up wasting all the printer ink on my latest MS Paint picture book. He'd get really mad and yell, then either make me fix it or cough up my savings for new ink. I was pretty jaded by then. But this time, as I stumbled down the hall to keep up with him, I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong this time. Maybe he'd somehow figured out how many times I'd tried to log into his AOL account. Darnit!
He was practically purple. "Did you say that a bunch of lizards and snakes are gross??"
He showed me all these emails he had gotten, notifying him of the replies to my post on the message board. At first I was mad that all my activity was showing up in his inbox. Then I started reading the replies.
"lizurs n snaks r not gros tats rude!!"
"u shuldnt say that lizards are cool not slimy"
"u suck stupd!"
"sNAKES ARE AWESOME I HAVE ONE. tHERE DRY NOT SLIMY"
"Shut up you are dum!"
My dad tried to explain that posting "mean and hurtful" things on the internet wasn't okay. But I barely heard him. Reading those replies was like coming home for the first time. It started a fire in me that, so far, has hardly been quenched. After a couple days, I figured out my dad's AOL password and unchecked the box that sent all my message board activity to him. He thought I had listened to him and that the spanking I'd received over it had ensured my obedience. Oh, Dad.
I spent the next year flaming the ever-loving bubblegum out of those message boards. Then I figured out how to lift my account's restrictions and proceeded to spread my terror throughout the internet. It was beautiful. I like to imagine that my rampage is still remembered by someone out there who took me seriously.
* These methods are now outdated, as typing "can I use dish soap instead of laundry detergent" works just fine. PS don't substitute dish soap for laundry detergent EVER no matter what the internet tells you.