I can remember being a fan of various shows as I was growing up. There were special shows for which I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime (“Fame” and “Dempsey & Makepeace” I seem to recall). There were shows that during my teens allowed me to escape teen angst and the growing pains of, like “Quantum Leap“. (Weird teenage hormones … couldn’t decide if I was watching it because I fancied Sam or Al the most … eh?!!), but those were my pre-internet days. In fact, it got cancelled before I got so hooked on it that I realised I was such a fan. Then they started re-runs. And I started writing spin-offs in my head. I guess that would be what is now known as Fan-Fiction. I did a LOT more of that, before I came to learn of the term ‘fan-fiction’.
Due South was my first passionate following, and it happened to be not only right when the internet was making it big, but when I had my first full-time job, which happened to give me constant computer access (I worked in the 151 faults call-center for BT at the time). Remember, this was the days before Facebook (What? You mean there was a time Facebook didn’t exist? O.M.G.!); the days before seemingly everyone had a computer at home, a laptop in their bag and a computer-phone in their pocket.
Yes, I know, these days it seems like so long ago. And recently when someone reminded me it was TWENTY YEARS … yes, 2-0 years, since Due South first aired, I realised that, yes, it actually WAS so long ago. When I was little, it seemed like an age before I would be 20. Now I’m so far past it, it seems like equally an age ago.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the early days of what we now think of as ‘The Internet’. Not the REAL early days, when simple binary message were being sent from black screen to black screen in robotic green typefaces; but when there were forums and chat-groups, and long before any type of instant messenger (remember Yahoo Messenger when it was WOW and NEW and FAB?), when a whole conversation consisted of one-line emails … and I had nothing else to do on the internet; in between calls, on quiet days (for example, it was my first full-time job, I was a moody young person, not yet 20, who couldn’t WAIT for an excuse to escape the good old ‘family Christmas’. So I volunteered for the Christmas Day shift. I sat there for 10 hours and took 2 calls. And one of those was trying to order a takeaway but got the wrong number…).
Do you remember the first ever thing you ‘looked up’ when you got the internet? (Come on, I don’t think there was even Google back then, so you couldn’t have ‘Googled’ anything. I’m pretty sure Yahoo! was EVERYTHING. Unless you were in the U.S.A and had AOL. )
Well, I’m pretty convinced mine was Due South. Seriously, I can’t think of ANYTHING else I was doing on the internet in those days.
A couple of years before, I’d actually expanded my fandom into getting in to contact with other fans, via that old fashioned medium of ‘snail-mail’. There was a short lived, international magazine called E-TV, which specialised in niche-TV shows, like emergency shows and cop shows (E.R., NYPD Blue,). My parents ran a newsagent at the time and I found this on the shelf one day and this particular edition had an article on Due South in it. On the ‘letters’ page (remember those?) there was some guy in Canada who was looking for international pen-friends. I don’t think he was specifically talking Due South but I just cottoned on to the ‘CANADA’ underneath his letter and decided to write. I can’t believe that was so long ago. We sent articles back and forth in the post, about UK shows he’d heard of and seen, and he would write back about Canadian stuff, and Due South.
So, back to the internet. So, I looked up ‘due South, and found a mailing list (I suppose the modern equivalent would be a Facebook group!), which basically consisted of group emails flying about. Discussing Due South, the storylines, the characters, the actors and their other work. And anything remotely related. There could be hundreds of emails a day, I’d have a separate window open behind my work screen and be carrying on a conversation. Don’t forget – of course it would be against everyone’s ‘Internet usage at work‘ policies by now (probably thanks to me!!) but back then, there was no precedent for this. And, even back then I was quite good at multi-tasking, I was still getting pretty good call-handling and file-updating targets and whatever else, despite carrying on an email conversation about a Mountie and a deaf wolf at the same time. Pretty sure they knew … they’re not stupid, but since it wasn’t interfering with my productivity; and to be honest, it was probably enhancing my PC literacy skills beyond anything they could teach me!
I didn’t do it all on company time, however. There was an Internet Cafe nearby. It’s where I would go after work, spend an hour or so. I had an electric word processor at home, which I used to write on. I figured out how to convert what I wrote on there to ASCII text, on a floppy disk. So, I could save a load of emails, mainly the longer ones; at the internet cafe, onto a floppy, take them home, read through them, write some equally long and insightful responses, then on my next trip to the internet cafe, (After the man at the desk had dutifully scanned the floppy for viruses) I could upload the ASCII text files, copy and paste them into an email and that was my contribution to the mailing list…without spending paid for hours at the internet cafe typing it all out!
Goodness, until I started this post I’d not even thought of that little place in years. It wasn’t one of these glossy chain places you might see these days. It was upstairs above an old betting shop or something, a rickety staircase into what was probably a converted living room, with some old tables and creaky floorboards and cheap industrial carpet. There was a castle across the road so the view from the small pokey windows was quite cool.
As a result of that first venture into internet fandom, internet groups and the like, two of my oldest friendships were formed. Well, three, if you include the guy from Canada. Who is still there. I’m still in touch with him; he joined the same internet DS group, and since Facebook (well, hasn’t everyone?). I’ve still never met him in person; but even if I never do, I’d consider him a ‘friend’ rather than an ‘acquaintance’. Incidentally, he occasionally dips is toe in the blogging waters too.
But on the other two counts, we have met. Three of us, girls (ladies) of similar age; similar tastes in TV and literature. We have sporadic but almost regular ‘meet-ups’ (when I’m not living in far flung corners of the world). All because we started chatting randomly on this email list some 15-16 years ago…
Sometimes, well, not so much any more, but I used look at events like ‘Comic Con’ and other fan-centric conventions as being solely the domain of ‘geeks’ and ‘nerds’ … well, they are, I suppose but being one of those is becoming more popular and less … erm… geeky (Don’t ask). And a few years ago, probably wouldn’t have admitted to having any part in ‘internet fandom’ – surely geeking over something online is just as bad as doing it in ‘real-life’. Except, they’re both ingrained now. whatever happens on the internet can so easily be ‘real-life’. And usually is. And, in western society, rarely does anything happen that is not somehow related to the internet, the use of the internet, or else be photographed or written about on the internet.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m grateful to have been there from the early days. Maybe not the very start, but close enough. Before the madness REALLY took hold. What brought this home to me, really, was an older relative, after I showed him how to use his newest smart-phone, asking how I’d learned computer and internet stuff. Because he’d done ‘a computer course’ (and we all know, computer courses aimed at the older generation consist of how to turn the computer on, set up a Hotmail address, send a basic email, use Word and maybe another MS Office program… but even then, I had to show him once how to add a photo as an attachment to an email…). And really, there was ‘an IT room’ in school but we didn’t really delve into I.T. that much…it hadn’t really caught on that much before I left school (am I showing my age now?). I mean, I did a secretarial course, which included word-processing on a ‘computer’ (yup…black screen, green robotic writing…); but the only time we spent in the ‘I.T.’ room was some of the lads drawing rude phallic pictures on ‘Paint’, and using the time to type up essays and print them out.
So, basically, I have DueSouth to thank for my modern take on computer and internet literacy.
Oh, and if you were wondering if I ever worked out who I fancied most out of Sam or Al … Nope. Jury’s still out on that one.
But, maybe, not quite as good as this one: