I used to be a hardcore modemer. I acquired the habit sometime in the middle of grade 10, when my boyfriend at the time frequented a couple of the local BBSses. His modem friends were so much more interesting than his real life friends, and I itched to know why. So I went online. it ended up being one of the best features of my teenage years.
I didn’t tell him I had, but he sussed me out within a week. Apparently I had a recognizable ‘voice’. Also, any new female modemer was the object of pretty intense scrutiny. There weren’t many of us.
My dad was delighted with my new hobby. Here was his artsy daughter playing with the technology in the basement. My mother was worried, but that was her default setting for, oh, say, my entire life. Here was something new for her to worry about: Faceless predators beguiling her easily-led daughter into Sordidness and Bad Choices. Meh. There were no predators, although there were a couple of creeps. However, there were a lot of teenage boys. That was most fun.
Big events were ‘Meets’. We’d usually meet at Robson Square and mill around for an hour, posturing in our requisite trenchcoats. Or the guys did, anyhow. I was heavily into Indian cotton hippie skirts, and another of the girls was studying Druidic tradition. She wore a lot of cloaks. Yet another was determined to dress exactly like Madonna did in 1987. Anyhow, we’d mill around for an hour, a strange parody of the parties the cool kids from school went to. Then we’d decide to go to Denny’s, or Pizza ‘N’ Sudz, and sit around for a while, drinking coffee or eating pizza and talking. Many of our curfews were pretty early, so the meet would peter out and we’d all go back to where we came from, feeling a little less isolated and unpopular than before.
My school friends just sighed and rolled their eyes when I said I was going to a meet. The indefatigable Jenny once decided to come see what the fuss was about, but I had to set fire to someone’s pants leg as he was being inappropriate to her. He was on dog tranquilizers, but I would like to point out that he was absolutely not the norm.
Most of the modemers were clean, quiet, nice, middle-class boys who had not yet grown into the confidence of adulthood, or into their own bodies. Two of my favourite exceptions were my first modem boyfriend, who was the satellite child of an Indonesian diplomat, and another guy, who was just too burly, even at 16, to fit the mold. He continues to have the soul of a poet and a well of angst in which you could drown the world’s supply of unwanted puppies and kittens. A part of me will always adore these two boys.
Modeming grew up. The eight-line specials of yore have been replaced by t’Internet. I’d venture that the ratio of the sexes chatting online has shifted dramatically. Now there are boards for everything under the sun, and there are faceless predators stalking this uncharted territory. Nevertheless, when I hear someone talking about how the Internet has created spaces between us, how people can’t have ‘real’ relationships anymore, I think of those meets at Robson Square. I think of the support I got from modem friends, by typing, and how it made me a more confident person. I think of the word, Internet: The net between us all.