Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…

This evening, I intended to go to a new writers’ group. I found it in some local listings, and it’s been on my calendar for more than a week. I printed out copies of my piece and everything. I thought it would be a good chance to workshop a piece that’s getting ready for submission and to meet some new people at the same time.

I didn’t end up going. My day changed shape at the last minute – my boss turfed me out several hours earlier than expected, and I had a wide open slab of time to get some errands done I’d been stressing about finding time for. And by the time I’d gotten all of that done, I was on the wrong side of the city and had burnt out all of my energy.

There’s always next time.

And what ended up happening instead was so much more magical.

Back in late 1995 or early 1996, when the internet was just learning to crawl, I was a regular visitor to an mIRC channel. Internet Relay Chat. It was kind of a precursor to Twitter, I guess, but instead of individuals making statements, it was a giant conversation that everyone on the channel participated in. And there were no character limits. The channel I was a part of was all about Babylon 5, a science fiction television show that was airing at the time. That was meant to be the main topic of conversation, and it often was, but we talked about anything and everything. The people in that channel became good friends of mine, back in the day when people looked at you funny when you said you had friends on the internet.

I was a regular in the Babylon 5 channel until late 2000, when I moved away from home and started travelling with my job. I didn’t realise until today that it was a part of my life for five years. I’d never counted before.

In recent times, some of us from the channel have been finding each other on Facebook, and a couple of weeks ago a conversation with one of them led me to go exploring and see if mIRC is still a thing. It turns out that it is. So tonight, we decided on the spur of the moment to meet up on mIRC again. We rounded up as many of the old guard as we could. I was impressed and amazed at how many of us had stayed in contact, if not as a group, then in small pockets.

It was… mind-blowing. The program, for all intents and purposes, has not changed AT ALL in nearly 20 years. It still looks exactly the same as it did in 1996. Everyone reclaimed their old nicknames, and… it’s hard to explain. It was like a family reunion. Or a glimpse back in time. We talked about people I hadn’t thought of in years. We resurrected in jokes and old habits that were 15 years old. We struggled to remember commands and shortcuts that had once been second nature. (It’s as if, some time in the future, you found yourself struggling to remember a hashtag for the first time in two decades.) And I began to remember the physical construct the channel had once taken on in my head. It had an architecture, a geography. And furniture. There was a couch, a big couch in the middle of the room. And a tree. And with each comment, with each “do you remember…”, a new piece of that construct would come into focus. I could feel my brain stretching to find the old dusty files in the back corners of my memory. It was a wonderful experience.

And I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it. It was an excellent reward for my laziness.

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2 thoughts on “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name…

  1. Wow! I actually have a similar story. Around the same time frame, I was in an IRC channel devoted to the book series Animorphs… Not all of us chat nowadays — we definitely had personalities and cliques — but we keep in touch and still consider them good friends. One of us got married a couple of years ago and we #animorph kids had our own table!!

    • That’s awesome! There’s not quite anything that does what IRC did. It was a way for people with similar passions to come together and celebrate the thing they loved. It’s so nice to know IRC is still out there, waiting to welcome us back.

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