Nostalgia Is Bullshit
an essay or something by Rin (evenstar AT gmail DOT com)
(If you'd rather view the graphic site for extra context, click here.)
So. Web 1.0 design nostalgia. Like all nostalgia, it's bullshit.
Wait, wait! Before you pitchfork me to death, let me explain.
Gonna make a few enemies here -- maybe, I don't know, perhaps I have an overinflated sense of my own presence -- but a lot of folks aren't quite getting it.
Let me just preface this with a disclaimer: I do not care how you design your website. Or, well, to put it in a nicer fashion: I do not mind. What I prefer in a site is utterly immaterial -- you do you. You're a fucking webmaster, baby. Nobody has any right to tell you to design your site [x] way. Concrit and code corrections, when given in good faith? I'd always lean towards accepting these gratefully, even if I don't implement them. (Bad faith concrit can GTFO, natch.) But at the end of the day, nobody's gonna die because your personal site looks the way it does and you like it like that.
(I mean...probably. As far as my research has suggested, there have been very few fatalities caused by personal digital aesthetic. I've looked at some of my older layouts and gotten hives, but I'm not dead yet. I digress...)
But. Let me tell you, fellow Neokitties, the common accepted picture of web nostalgia is bullshit, because it's not real. What you're feeling "nostalgic" for never existed in the first place. I don't mean that we ignore the bad parts of the past when recalling it -- although that's certainly a thing that some people do -- but because it's become almost packaged in a way. How To Web Nostalgia For Dummies, you know? It's templated.
The whole point of what we need to revive from Web 1.0 is anything but templated.
I made this layout in 2002. I promise. I originally made it for my weblog and it was meant to be hosted on what was very temporarily "my own" domain, undomiel.nu. (Long story. It's mine again these days, though! All's well that ends well, aside from the emotional scars?) I made it using a combination of FrontPage Express, Windows98's Notepad, and the graphics were made with Jasc Paint Shop Pro version...I think 6. (I also think IrfanView 3.90 may have been used for some random bits here and there.) As far as is possible, I left the code exactly as I found it on my EHDD. It makes me cringe and want to scream and burn it all and oh god we hates it precious, but the code you see is genuine 2002 web hobbyist code, mint condition. (Some graphics have been slightly edited to fit its current purpose, and this text is using HTML5 coding out habit -- I've literally forgotten almost all syntax for HTML 4.01 -- but otherwise, this was it.)
It looked really good at the time, and if we ignore the obsolete code and non-responsiveness, it kinda holds up well today. Nineteen bloody years later.
Aesthetically pleasing web design existed in both the 90s and the 00s. I promise you, it did. Not everybody's webpage was a starry background, lime green Comic Sans text, a thousand badly-aliased moving .gifs, and a godforsaken background MIDI chewing your ears up. This was considered bad, browser-hanging webdesign even back then. It wasn't lauded, and if you were serious about your HTML hobby (hands up who wanted to eventually have a career as a 'webdesigner' as a teenager?), you moved the hell past that as quickly as you could. Hell, you didn't even have to be 'serious', you just had to have made more than one site and been a regular websurfer.
I'm not saying this to be an ass (er, well, not on purpose), but rather because I was there, as Web 1.0 took its final gasping breaths, and I was designing my head off all through it, solely for the fun of it. Much like now. And because the standard uniform "old web nostalgia" look is wrong, boring, done to death, and really does a disservice to those of us who were neck-deep in the 'teen domain scene'. People made amazing works of art! There was elegant simplicity on one hand and DHTML monsters that had butterflies fluttering across your screen on the other. There were coloured scrollbars on the left side of the screen and transparent layers and you knew you'd truly learned to kick ass when you made your first layout in PHP. People experimented and learned from each other and messed around with code, and having a layout that hung someone's browser every time it loaded wasn't a feature, it was an annoying bloody flaw that you stayed up until midnight dealing with. It was fucking gorgeous. I don't want people to think that the ONLY aesthetic of Web 1.0 was your basic Geocities site with an index and three broken links, because it I promise you it wasn't.
The community wasn't necessarily all hearts-and-flowers-and-loveliness (ohboy, let me tell you a three-year-tale of cyberbullying and stolen accounts), and honestly, I still roll my eyes at people who suggest that Web 1.0 was "simpler" than Web 2.0; it wasn't. It was just different. It had a different set of problems to what we face now, but they were just as huge and annoying back then, too. When I say I miss what Web 1.0 was, it's not empty nostalgia: I'm not looking at this through a rose-tinted monitor. People could be just as catty, petty, and downright evil on Web 1.0 as they can now, with social media (perhaps worse so, even, because there were fewer repercussions). I don't miss that. Probably because I'm still living it, now, as is everyone else.
What I miss was the creativity. The way you could do a wander through, for example, websites about one topic (for me, it always came back to either Lord of the Rings or Sailor Moon!) for hours on end and see something new -- or something old presented in a new way -- with every different site. People used their layouts to express themselves in some form or fashion. There was no template, neither literally or figuratively. There were definite trends, but there were people breaking said trends, or bending them ever-so-slightly -- just enough to make them theirs. You can't do that today, not with social media being about as customisable as...huh. Is there anything less customisable than current social networking sites? I swear to Lain my birth certificate has more options than my Twitter profile...
But yes. I'm not saying that if you want to use that "Geoshitties" (yes, it deserved that title, because my GOD how often did that service just randomly eat your files?) aesthetic that you're bad, or DOIN IT RONG, or anything like that. Those sites definitely existed! But they weren't the only aesthetic that was around during the brief life of Web 1.0. And if you really wanna indulge in "the old internet"? Take that aesthetic and run with it! Change it up according to what jives with you. Web 1.0 was handmade, baby. There was some fierce and wild creativity out there in the Wired. No way did you have to stay under 280 characters or use your real name. The heart of 1.0 was its imaginative randomosity. That was what made the internet what it was -- and still is, even in its current weird state -- to those who truly lived with and in it: home(page). Let's bring that back, and remember: the Wired is wild, and wildness doesn't belong in a uniformed cage.
Or, y'know, you could keep producing Xerox'd fake nostalgia sites with unreadable text and broken code and endlessly annoying background MIDIs just like all the other Neocities BNFs, but hey, what do I know.
the webmistress pka Rin September
1 may 2021;
updated 3 sep 2021
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
(This piece was originally written with a Neocities audience in mind, and was also originally hosted there. I've long since grown totally disillusioned with Neocities' userbase and their constant talk about how they're taking the web back...mostly because they aren't. They're wallowing in fake nostalgia and I'm sorry, but it's really, really boring. If you've seen one nostalgic Neocities site, you've literally seen them all. No one is offering anything new, or interesting, or even going out of their way to learn better design -- and to make it even worse, they're brushing off the criticism of the disabled folks who are having a hell of a time trying to navigate their tiny, tiny text or pages of animated gif vomit. Don't tell me that's a tribute to Web 1.0. It's just carrd.co with no templates is all. Spare me the lazy bullshit, do something that's actually creative. If any Neocitizens are offended by this, then try proving me wrong. I fucking beg you. And make your pages accessible to EVERYONE, jackasses.)