My Relationship with digital Communication - the Beginnings

Sep 24, 2023

tech mentalHealth

Reading time: 7 minutes

Around 1999, the future arrived in our home: From then on, we had internet access, and quite unusual for the time, not via modem, but via ISDN with a terrific speed of 64kBit/s! While the others were still using their ancient 56k modems, we were already surfing the information superhighway with the speed of tomorrow!

… ok, to be honest it wasn’t that much better, but an interesting long-term effect is that the typical modem noises don’t trigger any nostalgia in me because I never even got to hear them.

The beginnings: e-mail and ICQ (and a little bit of MSN)

The first digital communication medium I used was the good old e-mail. At first, I used the e-mail account we got from our provider until I registered my first e-mail address, which I still have and use to this day.

A little later, ICQ came along, because a few school friends were using it. And what a fascinating thing it was, a whole new world! Suddenly you could just go online, and the people you saw all day at school were also online, and you could just chat with each other, for hours! It was terrific. Even though I lack nostalgia for modem sounds, the “uh-OH” ICQ notification sound triggers heaps of nostalgic feelings for me.

MSN was also there somehow, because a few people had it, but I can hardly remember it at all. There’s only one thing I still remember: you could make phone calls via MSN, even videocalls if you had a webcam. The quality was awful of course, but it was still cool and somehow futuristic, suddenly you could see the person you were talking to!

At that time, mobile phones were not yet very widespread, and as a high school student I had no money for one and no need for one anyway, so sending text messages and e-mails was only possible on the computer at home, which was in my room.

The mobile age: mobile phones and SMS messages

In 2003, at the age of 21, I moved out into the world, i.e. from my tiny village to the city, to start university. Up until then, I didn’t have a mobile phone, nor did most of my friends. There was simply no reason for me to get one.

That changed quickly at university, where you meet lots of new people all the time and they all have their mobile phones and exchange numbers and form networks this way. So I got one, too, and for the first time I could be reached outside of home too, both by phone and by text message.

As a side note, in the early days you could also send a limited number of SMS messages via ICQ (for free!), which I used a few times in my school days to arrange things with friends who already had a mobile phone.

At that time, mobile phone calls were still quite expensive and each text message cost 19 cents if I remember correctly, if not 39 cents - usually you got a few free text messages from your provider and then you had to pay.

And so I always had my mobile phone with me, but I used it very little (compared to today), maybe a few dozen text messages and a handful of calls a month. Mainly just to quickly agree on a time and place to meet up with people, but not to have longer conversations.

For more extensive text communication, I still used ICQ at that time, and a little later also the chat feature of Skype, and of course e-mail was still the medium of choice for longer letters and I used it to keep in touch with old friends who had moved to other cities or stayed at home.

So my digital communication slowly intensified, but it still mainly took place on the PC, which was now a laptop, but (as laptops of the 2000s were) it was big and heavy and bulky and therefore it mostly lived on the desk in my tiny little students apartment.

And that’s how it was pretty much through my entire time at university and into the 2010s. The laptop and mobile phone were replaced by more modern models at some point, but mobile internet was insanely expensive in Germany in the 2000s, and text messages and phone calls weren’t exactly cheap either, so I stuck with what I knew: ICQ, Skype, e-mails from home, SMS and the occasional quick call on the go.

Brief Interlude: StudiVZ and Facebook

Sometime in 2006, “StudiVZ” arrived in my life, a German 1:1 clone of Facebook (and consequently there were sued by Facebook for it).

And we all went completely nuts. It was the first “real” social network to appear on my radar, and also the first (and only) really usable one for me, because for a short while virtually everyone I knew was on there.

But StudiVZ went down the drain relatively quickly, partly because of Facebook’s lawsuit, and Facebook also took over and started to dominate the market here in Germany. I also made an account there, but I never felt particularly comfortable on the platform, and when they made the switch to an algorithmically sorted timeline, I had enough and I left the network.

Also, beginning with StudiVZ and even more so with Facebook, I started to be more and more concerned with online privacy and I became much more sensitive to what I was actually revealing about myself to the world and to the owners of the platforms I was on, and in whose hands these data would end up. So even back then I was careful not to share too much of my life online.

And then smartphones came along and changed everything. But this article is at a 1000 words already, so that will be a story for another day.

Post 006/100 of the 100DaysToOffload Challenge

This is a translation of the original German post made by DeepL and then manually adapted to (hopefully) sound a bit more human