Do you remember how you first got online, when you first “hung out” on the Internet?
Not just sent an email or double checked a piece of info via text message. When you actually parked it in front of a computer and had whole conversations with someone who you likely had never met in the flesh. Was it over IRC? AOL chat room? Telnet? Or… did you MUD? Did you MOO?
If You Can Get to Buffalo, now playing at Son of Semele Ensemble, takes a wild and fun look back into those days of invented reality and the sweetness, as well as the danger, of a space with no rules.
Assuming you’re not one of those millennials who reached puberty around the same time that Myspace or Facebook came online, and you remember sending pings, checking whois, and developing the ability to read a rapidly scrolling screen as half a dozen people “talked” at the same time, then you really know what made the virtual world…”real.” Even though we had text _only_, no images whatsoever, we connected over what people had to say for themselves, strange, hilarious, kind, self-serving, depressive, excitable, sly, cruel, sweet or some combination of all these, it was all we had to go on. They could claim to be a 20 year old female college student, or they could be 35 year old male programmer etc… a. you could only take their word for it (and their server location…but that could be spoofed too) and b. asking a/s/l (age/sex/location) was nigh boring when the conversation was formatted around given subjects – a band, a political position or, in the case of MUDs and MOOs, a shared reality created whole cloth from the consensus of the people participating on the given channel.
Forgive me if this sounds curmudgeonly, but back then we could name ourselves anything that struck our fancy and create a backstory and reality that not only ignored facts but disregarded rules of biology and laws of physics. These days social networking sites (read: Facebook) demand real names and even punish people with names that sound fictional. The social networks of this day are built around the idea that you will only share your real self and your real experiences – with everyone, not merely with a self-selected group of strangers who share a variation of your brand of weird.
When did we lose the chance to create the world we wanted, no matter how mad or self-serving or frivolous? Who took it away? Was it when business people decided to build a platform they could monetize? Was it when the jerks showed up and exploited holes in the consensus for their own jollies? Was it fussbuckets who made fun of nerds who were enjoying themselves in a way that didn’t make sense?
Is there anything virtual left in the Internet as we know it today? Is freedom only a byproduct of naivete? Come party with us, we’ll explore LambdaMOO together.
If You Can Get to Buffalo closes April 12, 2015.