The Earliest Years
My first exposure to the internet was on Dad's PC that was kept in our basement. Dad worked with computers, building and coding harddrives, which allowed us access to new technology faster than most people had during the 90s...So the most advanced computer in our home was kept in the basement. And that basement was scary. It was an old-fashioned stone basement of an antique farmhouse--the floors leaked and the cement walls were bumpy and cracking. Descending down those creaky stairs into what seemed like a shadowy abyss to play computer games felt like a forbidden ritual. I once scared myself while trying to play a My Little Pony game because I thought I saw faces in the cracks in the walls. I swore that place was full of ghosts...
So I was probably about five or six years old. And Dad sat me on his lap and started up the modem (yes, it had that horrible-but-oh-so-memorable screeching sound) and asked me what I wanted to look at on the internet. "Mary Kate and Ashley! My Little Pony!" I answered, and he brought up some very archaic fansites--but at the time I was awestruck! I remember seeing the pixelated images and being amazed. "You can find websites about anything," Dad told me. Later I found myself looking around at household items and wondering if there were fanatic pages made about them on the internet--"Is there a website for spoons, I wonder? For TVs? For toilet paper?"
Here's a smattering of some of my earliest memories from then on--little things that I won't be writing full articles on, but I feel that they're worth noting ;
In grade school, alongside teaching skills like typing, we had 'Internet 101' lessons in computer class. We were taught how to use Google, Ask Jeeves, basic email, internet safety, etc. Email was so novel to eight-year-old me! My dad let me use his Microsoft Outlook to send silly emails to my friends sometimes. As I grew older and savvy enough to have my own yahoo account for email (I distinctly remember my username being Neopet-related, and it confusing any adult I ever told it to), I would exchange random updates and little fanfictions involving us and our classmates typed lovingly into Notepad. One of my friends downloaded one of those "free smileys" toolbars to add some ~super unique~ emoticons to our emails...and I was so jealous! (But also, as an adult I now understand that those things are obviously viruses, haha)
Once I understood how Google worked, I could look at random sites for hours. I really enjoyed fantasy-related things back then, so I would google "cool dragon", "unicorn", "fairies", etc. and enjoy some carefully handcrafted Geocities and Angelfire sites filled with sparkling gifs. I still remember random bits of unicorn lore and stories written by dragon roleplayers. It was easy to find tons of fantasy nerds through webrings, which would lead to a wormhole of galleries full of epic dragon battle paintings. They would give each other little awards, like "Most Creative Page", "Best Site Ever!"--Secretly, I always wanted one, haha.
Some examples of site awards found on GifCities.
I would also spend hours looking at game-related websites, be it the official site or fanpages. SpyroHints.com was one of the first game-related sites I ever looked at--I poured over the cheat code section so many times while playing the original Spyro trilogy with friends. Is it weird that I can still remember sections of the walkthrough because I memorized it while playing? Besides classic Playstation stuff, simulation games were my jam. Zoo Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon, virtual pet games, The Sims, etc. My first encounter accidently stumbling across something lewd online as a kid was when I accidently found someone's erotic Sims fanfiction...LOL.
SpyroHints is still technically up-and-running! The last site update was all the way back in 2003. :o
Overall, my childhood memories on the internet are pretty comfy. I spent most of my time playing games on Nickelodean's site (Clickamajigs, anyone?) Neopets, and just having fun being a kid. I was probably a bit too glued to the computer screen for my own good, but I swear I got outside enough, haha. :p It was a lot of fun, and if I had to go back I wouldn't change a thing.