Here is another blog entry that I’m reposting without making any alterations to it. Instead I’m tacking on this little preamble as a sort of summation and update to what I still regard as one of the few things I wrote for the blog that is a truly “successful” piece of writing. Successful in that I feel happy enough with it not to want to change every sentence and also because I think that it had something of an impact with others (probably more than anything else I’ve ever written which isn’t saying much to be honest). The subject matter of the entry is the real time chat room that was at one time linked to the disinfo.com website and the oddball little community that grew up around it that ended up having a really important impact on my life during my early 20s. Those were the years of my late-late adolescent crisis, a time when I became deeply alienated from almost everyone around me in the “real world”, and so the sense of belonging I began to feel online meant a great deal to me. The chatroom also happened to be my first real *initiation* into the internet, a good few years before Web 2.0 took centre stage, and back when ipods and androids were scarcely a glimmer on the horizon: the sense of adventure and the chaotic inventiveness of the web of the early 90s, and most of all the innocence still hadn’t completely dissipated. After about a decade or so of hosting the room, however, disinfo decided to disable its chat function, finally putting paid to our wee group which had been dwindling for lack of interest anyway. Still regardless of how quiet it had been near the end, quite a few of us were upset by the end of the chatroom and so we tried to do something: we wrote an online to disinfo to bring it back as well as searching for other forums and chatrooms where we could recreate something of the spirit of the old room. In fact in the end, a couple of years after I wrote this piece, me and a couple of ex chatters started using the facebook group chat function to talk to each other, and for a brief moment it almost seemed that we had recaptured a little of what we had lost with the demise of the chatroom. Alas, for me anyway, it wasn’t to last long. I had a particularly bad falling out with a couple of chatters (I’ll spare everyone the gory details) and finally realised the futility of my past efforts to bring back the chatroom, or to be more precise to re-engage with the old community of chatters I had once been so close to. More than anything I felt I was now too old to have patience enough to engage in the endless mindgames and trolling that had been a large part of the former chatroom — and which I’d conveniently forgotten about during all of my rose tinted reminiscences on days gone back. The irony being that the new facebook group chat actually turned out to be too successful a revisitation of those earlier times….
— AFK, 5/3/13
I remember when I first started coming to the chat room. It’s definitely been over 10 or 11 years now. At that time I didn’t have a computer at home and the concept of the internet was still essentially a novelty. It wasn’t inevitable that it would become as all pervasive as it has, that it would have such a dramatic impact on the way we shop, listen to music, what we watch, or how we take in the news – on pretty much everything. Those were innocent days.
I was in my first year of uni and hadn’t really got the hang of making friends (still haven’t), so I spent a lot of my time on campus hunched over a PC terminal “surfing” the web in the quaint terminology of yesteryear. I stumbled onto disinfo.com by accident, following a link from the black dog website (the black dog were an influential techno collective whose music I was obsessed with for a few years).
I liked the content on disinfo; it was my kind of thing, since by then I was really taken by the idea that “official”, “consensual” reality was more than a bit of a sham. I’d started reading stuff by Chomsky and a few other countercultural figures at that stage and the articles written by Richard Metzger, Alex Burns and others discussing them and their ideas piqued my interest; I also started commenting on the forums pretty quickly. It took me a bit longer to click on the chat button I’d noticed at the corner of the page. But I eventually did (BTW from now on I use ‘disinfo’ mainly to refer to the chatroom and not the main site).
I remember the first nick I used: ‘David’. It was a friend’s name. I was a bit hesitant about calling myself anything too crazy, like my own name :P, because I really didn’t know what to expect. But what I found that first time got me hooked and kept me hooked till the room’s untimely demise 6 or 7 years later.
I had, or so I thought at the time, stumbled into an online underworld frequented by an exotic array of misfits who seemed to be constantly in the midst of tempestuous ordeals with drugs, sex, and magick – and who were at the same time pouring all this sordid stuff into this little black chat applet box for my delectation. This shit they were talking about was way beyond my narrow and mundane life experience.
The allure of the chatroom at that point was obvious for a wee eejit like me who’d lived a sheltered life up till then. These were artists, creative people — musicians, writers, poets, philosophers, scientists, scholars, designers — with a profound scorn for the banal and the commonplace; fired up by the possibilities unleashed by iconoclastic visionaries Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna they aimed for the poets’ systematic derangement of the senses.
Inevitably, given the concentration of artistic types, these were also deeply emotionally unstable people with often severe mental health issues; we had at least two cases of diagnosed schizophrenia and one of advanced multi personality disorder. But fuck it, we tried to accommodate serious personality issues whenever we could; we were none of us under the misapprehension that we were normal or that we fitted in — although neither was the abnormality contrived or just an act. It flowed naturally, unfettered by the niceties or conventions of other online spaces or indeed of real life. (But it was also true that near the end of the room’s existence the mentally ill people had begun nudging out the interesting people more and more.)
On a good day/night all this of this would come together in a terrific surge of chaos and pandemonium. The result was a hot cauldron of incoherent profanity and semi-coherent profundity; garbled, conspiracy laden drug talk, alcoholism, and psychosis, mixed in with esoteric symbolism, sadistic bullying, and of course copious amounts of cybersex — and to top it all off the inevitable descent into pure noise: flaming and flooding. It was a thrilling and frustrating introduction to the potential of the chatroom as a theatre, as an inspired arena of performance.
When things were quieter I had the opportunity to take part in slightly more lucid discussions on philosophy and literature, names would arise, authors I just had to read, musicians I just had to hear, films I had to watch. To a large extent the course of my intellectual life for the next 10 years would be determined in this forum, informed largely by the shame I felt at not having read Jung, Marshall McLuhan, R D Laing, James Joyce, Timothy Leary, the I ching, PD Ouspensky, Aleister Crowley, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Wittgenstein, etc, et fucking cetera.
You will have noticed that I’ve been using “we” when referring to the disinfo chatters. It was a tough slog and it took a wee while but I eventually became accepted as part of the group, eventually settling upon the moniker “Fletch”. To start with I was a bit antagonistic toward the regulars. This was partly due to inevitable teenage “issues”, but it wasn’t just my spotty insolence at play here; the regulars around at that early stage weren’t the most friendly to “newbies”. The mute button function and private rooms were for sure routinely abused to exclude all but the familiar names, and this exclusivity caught my ire, but it also drew me in.
Perversely I remember this as being the most exciting and edifying period in the chatroom’s history, according to my acquaintance with it of course, and it would set the standard of discussion and interaction by which I measured the room’s subsequent decline; they were halcyon days. And it soon became obvious that the reticence in accepting newcomers was a (misguided) attempt at preserving the beautiful dynamic that these people had built up amongst themselves –they weren’t just being crabby bastards for the sake of it. There was a feeling that you had to *earn* your way into the circle, to prove you weren’t some slavering dunderhead neophyte.
That semi-stranglehold weakened after a number of the older regulars started to leave and there came a concomitant influx of newer people. With the make up of the room having shifted, the atmosphere became much more tolerant and I was able to insert myself as a regular without too much hassle. Then when I had my home connection, I got into the habit of staying up into all hours of the night chatting on disinfo, sometimes in a frenzy of typing, but mostly wide-eyed, my retinas frazzled from sitting in front of my screen in expectation that something interesting would happen.
At its best the room gave me a sense of group belonging which I had rarely found elsewhere. Maybe I should’ve switched off the PC more often and gone off to look for people around me who shared my interests, at university, in my locality. But at that time I was too bound up in and constricted by my shyness and self consciousness; chatting on disinfo was the path of least resistance when it came to any form of meaningful human contact. And at least on disinfo I was bound to find fellow travellers, right?
The decline of disinfo was gradual. Like I said by the time I really became a regular the room was suffering from the departure of some of the older regulars. But it was still pretty active and there were great conversations still to be had thanks to the interesting folk attendant. These were the familiar nicks upon whose entrance I would light up in anticipation: mouse, horus, alfie, fuzz, 23, sappho, alt, mamen, spirare cogita, zany, erica; a motley bunch of characters amongst whom you could count a wizened and sagacious Dutch astrologer; a prickly, dogmatic feminist academic; a hilariously eccentric Spanish housewife; a pompous, pedantic goateed savant who was also a graphic designer; and a precocious young writer who was going to devise a new quantum information theory and who cited Georges Bataille as his literary antecedent.
Again after a time, these regulars began to drift away, their appearances becoming less frequent. The room became more and more barren as fewer new people took their places and decided to accept the creative challenge of filling that drab empty black and grey box with exciting words and ideas; and so the momentum of the room lurched to a heavy crawl. It also seemed that the idea of chatting online in a real time forum in which you were apt to meet a variety of new people and to be challenged by a whole host of new and uncomfortable thoughts, ideas and personalities – as opposed to the less arbitrary pastime of messaging people you knew or kind of knew – had become passé. Web 2.0 was shinier and had more spaces for you to type in your credit card details but it had lost a great deal of its soul (although I believe people were bellyaching about something similar ten years ago when I’d started coming online)
I stopped coming to the chatroom for a year, 2003-04. On my return the room had undergone a profound transformation. So many of the people I known before had offskied, and these were regulars who had been there since the beginning. The character of the chat was markedly different from anything I had known before — now much, much diminished. Weirdly, it was around this time that I started getting to know the three disinfo chatters who I would end up being closest to — and who I would come to consider real friends as opposed to just people who gave good conversation: Lynne, Claire, and Rev Spook. But for the rest around at that time they were, almost to a man or woman, obnoxious dimwits.
The room had then hit one of its fallow periods, and perhaps, yes, it did happen to be a particularly bleak one; but it was never in so much misery that it had to be put out of it – it was still viable. However, the next time the site was given one of its periodic overhauls they left out the chat function as surplus to requirements, leaving so many of us homeless. Indeed, the good people at disinfo.com seemed to have been scarcely aware of the disparate and (broadly speaking) loyal community that had made the chatroom its focal point over the course of almost a decade — and when they were made aware they didn’t particularly care.
But we weren’t gonna have this.
Spook organised an online petition. We got 59 signatures, which was something at least. And to be fair they listened…and came back and tried to fob us off with this shitty little insult of a dedicated meebo room, which we soon gave up to the bots and the 5 year olds which comprise meebo’s core audience.
Quite a few of us had migrated over to the irc chatroom affiliated with deoxy.com. Maybe it was the next best thing to having our old room back; certainly some of my favourite people were regulars there or at least occasionally made an appearance. But…no. The monotony of the chat at deoxy made me despair: whereas we’d had our fair share of drooling drugged up loons at disinfo, talk about drugs didn’t absolutely saturate the conversation like it does at deoxy, to the exclusion of anything else. Start a conversation on philosophy, art, or heaven forbid, politics on deoxy– and if it isn’t a prelude to some kind of description of getting stoned or of how you’re preparing to get stoned, or a real time account of being stoned then it’s just utter futility to expect anything approaching enthusiasm: merely earthly concerns hold little interest for these folk.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s a nice place to visit sometimes, an amusing aviary crowded with exotic breeds their glittering rainbow plumage always on full display; but it’s not somewhere I can personally tolerate for long.
So what now? I had given up on the whole thing, finally consigning it to the past. But it seems Rev Spook had other ideas and that there may well be life in the community yet over at revspook.com: there’s talk of a decent dedicated chatroom, and lots of other cool stuff. Maybe we can revive some of the old spirit again. We won’t have what we had then but perhaps we can have something better.