Before reading Leigh Alexander’s Breathing Machine, A Memoir of Computers I had forgotten that there used to be a search engine called Dogpile. I am glad to have been reminded of this. It seems important, somehow, to remember that in a distant pre-Google age we had the option of searching the internet using a service named after dog shit.
This book will feel familiar to anyone who grew up around technology in the late 80s and 90s. Does the sound of a dial-up modem still echo somewhere in the back of your brain? If so, then this book is for you. It’s an acutely personal tale of growing up on the bleeding edge of the tech revolution, but one that will likely be familiar for anyone who was young in the 90s and inclined to spend perhaps too much time in front of a glowing screen.
Leigh’s experience of growing up alongside the internet is not my experience of growing up, and it’s not yours, but it’s close enough that it’s bound to stir up some nostalgia for a time when technology seemed so unknowable, so powerful, so arcane. It’s a charming trip through a childhood defined by archaic chatroom conversations and tentative online relationships, one that I felt struck a little too close to home at times. Damn, to be that young again…
Come for the nostalgia trip, stay for all the references to things you’re bound to have forgotten that will bring a smile to your face, and take a look at somewhat stark place that tech culture has become in recent years. Then party like it’s 1999 and you’ve just launched your first Angelfire site.