Once upon a time, The Curmudgeon was a happy digital denizen of America Online. He remembers those days well: the busy signal that prevented him from getting online (remember dial-up?), another busy signal preventing him from getting online, and then, finally, mercifully, that hideous, dissonant, static-riddled sound we already associated with fax machines (remember fax machines?) that eventually became music to your ears and would momentarily lead to the announcement of “You’ve Got May-ul.”
One of the great discoveries for a newcomer to the internet and someone who had no idea what awaited him there was the chat room: you name it and someone created a chat room for it. Most of them, of course, were for men looking for women, women looking for men, men looking for men, and women looking for women (and one, The Curmudgeon recalls, called “Shemales for Females” that The Curmudgeon entered out of curiosity and ignorance, inquired about the meaning of the room’s name, and was promptly deluged with photos that still come frighteningly to mind when The Curmudgeon is running an especially high fever). Many of these romance-oriented chat rooms were thematic, based on mutual interests: people who liked to camp, people who liked Alanis Morissette (this was, after all, 1998), people who liked NASCAR, and other such things. The Curmudgeon once idly speculated that he could create a chat room called “Gay, Left-Handed, Red-Haired Dwarves” and that fifteen minutes later, the room would have twenty-three participants regaling one another about their experiences with this very special fetish.
To facilitate people getting comfortable with one another, AOL allowed its users to create brief profiles of themselves: you filled out a short form with some basic information so that anyone who saw you in a chat room could learn a little about you before attempting to engage you in chat room conversation or instant messages. Eventually, AOL decided to give people additional, free space to share more about themselves, and many took advantage of this opportunity to post photos and bits of information that went beyond the “just the facts, ma’am” of the profiles.
The Curmudgeon, ever-opinionated, thought he might take advantage of this space, and the knowledge that more than a few people were looking at his profile in those early chat room days, to offer something more substantial than “I like puppy dogs (which would have been a blatant lie), long walks on the beach, romantic dinners overlooking the water, the Beatles, and kung pao chicken.” Specifically, The Curmudgeon thought about using this free AOL space to offer commentary on some of the issues of the day. Two subjects seemed most amenable to curmudgeonly commentary for this Philadelphia native and resident: politics in Philadelphia and the press/media in Philadelphia.
At the time The Curmudgeon had a girlfriend, a Kansas City beauty who was way out of his league, who had both training and a background in journalism and, no less important, knew HTML, which way back in the twentieth century was still necessary to operate a web site. Said girlfriend thought using the free space in such a manner was a good idea, so The Curmudgeon decided to spend some time deciding whether to launch such a venture – and also, it became clear almost immediately, to do so not by using the free AOL space, which would by definition have a very limited potential readership, but by establishing a free-standing site on the web.
The Curmudgeon thought about it for a few weeks. He loved both subject ideas, for sure: they were his passion, he knew a great deal about them, they were interesting, and they promised an infinite source of ideas for curmudgeonly commentary.
There is, however, a good reason The Curmudgeon is a curmudgeon: an unmistakable tendency to think in curmudgeonly ways that some view as negativity but that he thinks is merely analytic. (Once, The Curmudgeon explained to an effusively enthusiastic co-worker that the difference between the two of them was that for the co-worker, the glass of water is always half-full, it is wonderful water, and it was more than he needed; The Curmudgeon, on the other hand, demands to know who the hell asked for water in the first place.) And so in this frame of mind, The Curmudgeon wondered: Who would read commentary written by someone they’ve never heard of and don’t know? Who would have any interest in the musings of a total stranger? Feeding this concern, of course, was The Curmudgeon’s own general lack of interest in the opinions of others, his particular lack of interest in the opinions of people he doesn’t know, and his assumption that others would almost certainly feel the same way about him. After all, how do you evaluate a movie review written by someone whose tastes in movies you don’t know? What can you make of an editorial on U.S. policy in Yemen if you don’t understand how the editorial-writer views American involvement in the affairs of other countries?
So in the end, The Curmudgeon decided not to invest his time penning prose that nobody would ever read because nobody would be interested in commentary written by a total stranger. The year was 1998 – the very year the Online Etymology Dictionary says the word “blog” was first used to refer to journal-like entries on the internet (of course, Doogie Howser had already introduced most of us to the electronic version of this concept, if not its current incarnation, in 1989).
And that, readers, is how The Curmudgeon almost invented the blog. Now, thirteen years later, he’s still not convinced that anyone’s really interested in reading the ruminations of a total stranger, but the approximately 250 million blogs that currently populate the world-wide web suggest otherwise. Consequently, he has told himself he will spend six months writing commentaries when he can – pieces the length of this one perhaps twice a week, and shorter pieces about as often – to see if people really are interested in the perspectives of a curmudgeonly stranger who is hiding behind his keyboard, anonymous (at least for now) to the world.
We’ll see – but as a curmudgeon, we are highly, highly skeptical.