The first time I got on the Internet was sometime in 1991. I was teaching Computer Aided Composition at the University of Oklahoma, where I taught my classes to use computer software to write their papers, how to write with the other side of your brain (which is what happens when you go from pen and paper to keyboard and monitor) and how to converse on a message board.

That was about the extent of it. There really wasn’t much more to see. AOL was new and had some competition in Prodigy and Compuserve (which was later eaten by AOL), and all of them were little more than chat rooms and file sharing at 2600 baud per second.  I hadOriginally from:’t signed on with AOL yet in ‘91 but only because I didn’t own a computer at the time. My only real outlet was teaching Computer Aided Composition and running the English Department’s Macintosh computer lab. (The day we went from Mac Classics to Mac Quadras was huge.)

Needless-to-say, as a born again computer geek, I spent a lot of time in my computer lab, so I was there the first time the university ever connected to the World Wide Web.  I’ll never forget it. We signed on with Mosaic (Remember that? Probably not!) and there were TWO websites. That’s it…TWO.  One of my grad school professors and I huddled together with a few other people using the lab and looked on in wonder at The Web.

Of course, we didn’t call it that. I think we just referred to it as Mosaic or the Internet. To tell the truth, I don’t remember. What I do remember is my professor saying that it was going to be huge, and I believed her. By the end of 1992 there were 50 websites and by the end of the next year, there were 150.  That’s some amazing growth when you think about it, but it’s nothing compared with the exponential growth we still see today with millions of websites soon turning into billions. Back then, that old joke “you have come to the end of the Internet” page could have been true; today, I’m not sure there is an end.

In 1992, I got my first computer - a Mac Performa - and one of the very first things I did was pop in an AOL floppy (it was version 1.0a) and sign on. AOL had approximately 50,000 members then.

At that moment, my life changed forever. Those first few years on the Internet were, for me, magical — right from the get-go.

My very first night online, I chatted with my very first person online — a policeman from California. During the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was going to be teaching a group of policemen in my home town, Lawton, OK.  Surprised, I told him that that’s where I was raised and asked him who was picking him up at the airport. His answer was Bill Mathis, who just happened to be a very good friend of mine.

That was when I first began to understand that all our lives are just intersecting, expanding circles, which, if you think about it, is what the web is all about — the way we can reach out and touch someone we might never see in person.

Needless-to-say, I was hooked from the very start. My first AOL bill, at $2.95 every five minutes or something close to that, was $600; my second not much better at $450. By the fourth month, I’d been fortunate enough to meet the right person (who went by Rich00) who got me an interview with the AOL Guide Manger. She accepted me into the guide training program and changed my account to overhead (read: FREE)  In two years, I was the guide operations manager, directing hundreds of guides from my bedroom. I met and worked with so many people from across the country and even fell in Internet love with a man from New Jersey named Brian.

The early years of AOL were amazing. The impact you could have, the people you could meet, the opportunities for just about anything were boundless.  In those years, I wrote a helpful newsletter called “The Newbie News and FAQs” that was eventually disseminated to thousands of people (by request only) and ran the All My Children forum. Through those things, I met and became chat and/or email buddies with people like Michael E. Knight of All My Children (who I have always loved from afar), Rosie O’Donnell, who was a huge fan of All My Children (and who never uses capitalization or punctuation in her emails); I had a two hour face-to-face conversation with Todd Rundgren and Graham Nash at Mac World, because the three of us were such Internet nuts that we immediately became kindred spirits (Todd even game me his personal email address), I got help on my novel from Tom Clancy, who also had an overhead account (AOL gave famous people like him free accounts in exchange for help) and became a regular in our overhead chat room.

Together, my Internet friends from across the world and I invented a language of emoticons and shorthand.

I and my friends from my favorite chat room, The Flirts’ Nook, were on The Phil Donahue Show — virtually, of course. Around that time, I wrote a 12 page letter introducing the writing staff of All My Children to the Internet demographic that they were missing out on, and they actually began participating on our forum and in our chatrooms and even used one of my story ideas on the show.  ABC invited the forum regulars to the studio where we spent the day with the actors we adored, and eventually, ABC was one of the first major entities to have a space on AOL. 

In 1996, I went to work for AOL as their Communications Manager at the OKC office. While there, I spent the day with Steve Case, the company’s CEO, met Colon Powell, made more money than I’d ever seen in my life, and had more adventures than I could write about here. By the time I left the company in 2000, they had over 30 million members, and I had been part of something that will never happen again.

Today, the Internet continues to play a vital part in my life. Through email, I’m able to talk to my friend, Frank, who lives just outside of Dublin, Ireland, and through Google Maps, I can see his house.  I can IM with Hawana, who I went to gradeschool with.  I can write my thoughts in a blog that’s read by thousands of people, and because of that blog, I can get a surprizing email from my very first dear Internet friend, known back then as only Pinzon, who just happened to stumble upon my blog and somehow recognize me.  Oh, how we used to dance the virtual night away!  How cool is it that I should hear from him 14 years later? :)

Through the Internet, we can play massive multi-player role playing games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy where thousands of people get together in a virtual world to quest and do battle. Such games allow those who are infirm and crippled to lead virtual lives of greatness, adding immesurably to their quality of life.

The Internet has been and continues to be a wonderful part of my life. I could never imagine a world without it.  We can only guess what the future holds for our Internet lives.  I’m so thankful that I got to be — and continue to be — part of it. :)