Today is September 7,672nd, 1993.
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the internet was mostly email and Usenet. No Google. No YouTube. No corporations at all, really. The web (web pages) sort of existed, but there weren’t many pages, they were mostly text, and it was difficult to find things.
Usenet bears a striking resemblance to what we call forums today, except it was designed around the (at the time reasonable) idea that everyone on the internet was a responsible, well-adjusted adult that knew how to behave. Imagine your typical forums like many websites have today. Now imagine that there is just one forum for the whole internet, and that anyone can post under any name at any time to as many sub-forums as they like without ever needing to create an account or to verify their identity.
My first exposure to the ‘net was in November of 1992. I was working at Taco Bell and one of my coworkers had access to Usenet. He would bring me a hardcopy of the Star Trek TNG groupI’m not sure if the group was based in Usenet or a mailing list. Either way, it used a format that isn’t really part of the internet we have today. that discussed episodes as they aired. He’d bring me a stack of green bar printouts that represented a week worth of postsWhich means my first usage of the internet was via hardcopy..
I know the date because I specifically remember reading everyone’s reactions to A Fistful of Datas. I’d kind of grown indifferent to the show in the last year or so, but these discussions rekindled my interest in all things Trek.
Here were a bunch of academics and students having these long scientific or literary discussions about each episode. Everyone was friendly and polite and they all knew each other by their real names and signed their messages with their email addresses. There were no trolls, no spam of consequence, no need for powerful moderators. No “first post”ing. No empty “me too” posts. Everything was written coherently. No thread-jacking. No image spam. No porn. No inane memes. No advertisements. No security worries. No worries that crawlers were harvesting emails. No fear of viruses, hacks, scams, or phishing.
They didn’t know it at the time, but they were living in the Garden of Eden.
September was a big deal for the internet back in those days. As you can imagine, etiquette was important in a world where there were no moderators and everyone was on the honor system. Every September a flood of college freshmen would be given internet access for the first time in their lives. Then they would blunder online and make a mess of things by posting things to the wrong place, or typing in all caps, or failing to read the FAQ. They didn’t know how it worked and they didn’t know what all these new acronyms meant. So every September was this chaotic time where the net had to assimilate a few thousand newcomers all at once, and it usually took about a month for things to calm down again.
Then 1993 happened. September 1993. The September that never ended.
Online services like AOL gave regular folks at home access to this new internet thing. New users flooded the net like a ceaseless horde of ignorant cross-posting, flaming, bickering zombies. They didn’t read the FAQ. They asked questions without leaving contact info so you could reply, and then they’d show up the next day to rant about the lack of help and send it to the wrong people. They didn’t understand how URLs worked, they didn’t recognize email addresses, they didn’t know how to find things and they didn’t know what they wanted.
Instead of becoming a part of the existing internet culture, they eclipsed it and overshadowed it through sheer numbers. And they just kept coming.
I joined the internet in 1994, and went looking for that Star Trek discussion group I’d followed a couple of years prior. I found many groups, but none of them were as educated, articulate, or insightful. Instead of talking about the literary symbolism or comparing the work of one writer to another, they were engaged in tedious fan-wank shipping It wasn’t called shipping back then, but it was the same idea: Long arguments about which characters “should” be a couple. debates, and arguing about the Trek technology in agonizingly uninformed ways. They were rude and they didn’t proofread and the group was so big it was hard to have a focused conversation. I hopped from group to group, trying to find those fun people I’d discovered back in 1992.
The idea of the eternal September was first used by Dave Fischer in a January 26, 1994, post to alt.folklore.computersthis is how Usenet was organized, by terms of increasing specificity, separated by periods.:
It's moot now. September 1993 will go down in net.history as the September that never ended.
They were gone. Long gone. The original Trek-posters had vanished into the crowd and their voices were lost in a sea of noise. The number of internet users had jumped by an order of magnitude in just a couple of years, and the original internet culture was wiped away by a never-ending army of colonialist morons. And I was one of them.
I started this website nine years ago this month. It was a modest project. And while I didn’t mean to do so, we seem to have re-created that long-gone idyllic internet village of yesteryear. Everyone is nice, everyone proofreads, [nearly] everyone has something smart to sayBut sometimes Josh posts., and everyone is on the honor system.
Thanks to Josh, Chris, Rutskarn, and Mumbles for being part of this. And thanks to all of you for showing up, having smart things to say, and even supporting me directly. It’s been an honor.
We have a good thing going here. Here’s to another nine years.
 I’m not sure if the group was based in Usenet or a mailing list. Either way, it used a format that isn’t really part of the internet we have today.
 Which means my first usage of the internet was via hardcopy.
 It wasn’t called shipping back then, but it was the same idea: Long arguments about which characters “should” be a couple.
 this is how Usenet was organized, by terms of increasing specificity, separated by periods.
 But sometimes Josh posts.
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