Building a better internet

A look at how we communicate

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Dragon Ball Z was still fresh in the United States when my mom first signed us up for the Internet. We had 28.8k with a monthly limit on the hours we could spend online and an abrupt disconnection the moment someone tried to call us. Nothing better came around for years, but I was young enough to never consider such a thing existed. I followed my mom’s example and spent time in chat rooms, telling everyone everything about me. Gained a girlfriend who lived in Canada and promised me her dad worked for the government. She told me Mountain Dew contained dead bat juice because her dad saw secret documents in his job proving so. We broke up later because my mom wasn’t too happy about the nearly $1000 phone bill I ran up calling her. Luckily, the phone company showed some empathy and waved the charges.

A new kid moved to our town around this time. Turned out he was as much a fan of Tekken as my mom and I. One afternoon, he invited me over because he’d printed off a bunch of secrets from and wanted to give them to me. I’d never heard of this site before, but it’s remained as the first site I still go to when looking for a quick reference to a side quest or strategy.

My sophomore year of high school was the first and only science fair I’ve experienced. The partners I ended up with were uninterested in the project, having already planned to attend alternative school the next year. So, with only a week left before the fair, I reached out to the gamewinners forums for help. The topic I posted asked for methods of fixing a scratched CD; I had at least a dozen responses in the first day, all of them wishing me luck on my project. I marked down six that I knew I could get materials for, pleaded with the librarian to let me burn a dozen copies of Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue, and stayed up all night scratching discs and trying to fix them.

(In case you’re wondering: the best way to fix even a heavily scratched disc is to apply a dab of non-abrasive toothpaste, rub it lightly in a circular motion as you spin the disc around, then rinse with lukewarm water before wiping gently with a washcloth. Creamy peanut butter also works well when applied in the same manner, but isn’t a long-term solution.)

Around this time is when I discovered and the wonderful world of role playing. My name was The Sixth Dragon, which obviously brought inquiries into where the other five went. I took part in the multiverse on the site with a character known as Drago Darkfire — a terrifying name befitting of a terrifying man with a flame-embroidered trench coat holding two swords and a sawed-off shotgun. I made a few friends in the couple of years I spent there. The greatest accomplishment I can remember was a physical map representing one of our role play worlds. Took a month to do, but I had help from my art teacher with a supply of realistic parchment and fantasy maps for inspiration.

Have you noticed the one thing I haven’t mentioned in any of these memories?

Harassment. The only times I remember dealing with people being mean occurred offline, in school, from kids in all the years close to mine. It took years for me to ever hear about the Internet being a terrible place one should never experience. I didn’t even know 4chan wasn’t a website for a TV channel until after college. Reddit took even longer to come across my radar.

The last few years, however, have shown me all the harassment I was missing out on. In fact, I even participated in some of it at certain points. Those fond memories I have of growing up with a kinder Internet — and my own misgivings over the times I made life worse for someone else — are the basis for a collection of interviews forming a new series here at Amala Network. In articles to come, we’ll be interviewing people who’ve faced harassment both online and offline; examining causes for harassment and where the line between online and offline becomes blurred; looking at changes which could bring relief to those targeted by abusers; hearing the perspective of those who’ve engaged in harassment; living a tiny fraction of the experiences which have affected so many people throughout the world.

Our next article will cover my own thoughts on positive changes we can make on platforms and in the ways we communicate. We’ll revisit these ideas at the conclusion of this series to see how they can evolve with the new information provided by the experiences others have shared.

We’ve already began interviewing people for this series, but we’re absolutely looking for all the insight we can get! If you’d like to contribute your own experiences and ideas, contact me via email or Twitter. And don’t forget: you support Amala Network on Patreon to help these stories get told!