Two Friends Reminisce About Coming of Age Online
IRL & URL besties Dalia Dalili, set costumer for major TV series and films like Vice Principals, Mr. Mercedes, and Baywatch, and musician Anjali Naik of Diaspoura reminisce about the early aughts of the internet. Read along as they discuss curating the perfect music library, who they would put in their fictional Top 8, and coming of age as people of color in the deep South.
anjali420: When we got dial-up and then Broadband internet at home, I was only allowed to be on our shared desktop for a short amount of time. When did you get your first computer, and what were you normally using it for at that time: the Internet, or just the computer itself? (Ain’t nothin wrong with a couple games of spider solitaire!)
dalia69: My earliest memory is probably using those old (and notedly beautiful) iMacs in computer class to play the snooze-fest also known as Oregon Trail. (Can I just say how wild it is to be a part of a generation that remembers a world pre- & post- household internet?!) Anyway, it wasn’t until late middle school that we got our first PC. My mom didn’t really regulate my internet usage (part of her very chill Euro ways of raising me), so if not for school papers, I was either playing the occasional Minesweeper or Solitaire at my leisure. Then AIM came along, which was *the* after school activity with me and my friends (lots of experimenting in flirting with boys here), until I graduated to the magical world of Napster. #rip
anjali420: Ah, flirting thru AIM! I think I was sadly a bit too young at that time. So, do you think that the internet had changed your life?
dalia69: Eh, you didn’t miss much. Boys were just as trifling then as they are now =)
dalia69: *Specifically* the introduction of file sharing platforms 100% changed my life. This era played such a critical role in shaping my distinct taste and appreciation for music that still rules everything around me. This is also probably when I began to really examine my identity & the way it had been shaped by cisgender, normie white American culture (at this point we were living in Mt. Pleasant, SC).
dalia69: With software like Limewire & Kazaa, I found ways of incorporating more “diverse” voices into my repertoire, whether it was indie or obscure punk or underground hip-hop. I spent hours upon HOURS hunting for .mp3 gems, making “mixtapes” for myself, my friends, my crushes…making playlists is still one of my favorite things to do for my blog and especially for other people. It’s the best most intimate gift IMO!! When people send me songs (preferably bangers), I’m like damn, they really get me. Music is still like a currency to me.
anjali420: Honestly I feel like I understand you a LOT more from this.
I also don’t fully trust any American Millennials who didn’t have an emo or #dark phase.
dalia69: Truly!! I kinda miss those days where you were forced to work/wait for the music you wanted to hear, even when sometimes the file would end up glitchy or corrupt. I think it made us more discerning consumers of it. As inconvenient as it might have been, it still kinda bums me out that a lot of people won’t ever know that feeling of the treasure hunt </3
anjali420: I completely feel this. I was also a heady indie music digger, and I would spend hours after school reading different blogs and forums scouring for good music, and I admit I was prideful of my stash. That Spotify algorithm is makin’ us lazy nowadays!!!
dalia69: When did you get your first computer, and how do you feel like it impacted those ~crucial~ years of adolescence?
anjali420: I think I had pretty much the same timeline tbh – I started using the computer pretty young for our generation – maybe nine years old? I had a really rough time in school. I was a loner and my bff was my bully, so the computer world was my escape. Everyone was just a username, and that was liberating for me, but don’t think I found any social justice content on the internet until around 15 years old.
dalia69: Ugh, gross 🙁 I wish I could rewind time & have been your bestie! I get that though: the mystery of the interwebs was just as cathartic as it may have been creepy. Chatrooms are so weird to think about in retrospect.
dalia69: Were you also illegally downloading music in your spare time? (No judgement, all we had was lunch monies!) – If so, how did this influence you as a DIY artist, if at all?
anjali420: I DID rip music off the web (but like y’all should buy artists’ music in 2018). If it impacted anything about my work, it’s probably my understanding of how much of a joke the music and art publishing industry became when Napster and Limewire were made. If I didn’t have the intention of supporting “x” artist, I was totally going to rip it!! And even if I don’t agree with that now, I know some people still do, because the rent is high and it’s easy to cut corners in markets like for art. I made Demonstrations a multimedia jump drive with this in mind, and I encouraged people to burn it on their friends computers, because I know how deviously fun it is.
dalia69: So smart! With all of this considered, do you think the speed of consumption is creating more prolific artists – or more quantity over quality?
anjali420: Wow, this is heavy!! Seems like music is being released by everyone all the time now. I mean, who am I to say that sharing songs that aren’t as “polished” as a pop hit is worse than the old days?
Honestly, I don’t think I would be an artist if I couldn’t post my low-fi demos on Soundcloud and have people hear it & encourage me to write an album.
dalia69: Does it make you feel pressured to produce more frequently in this age of instant gratification?
anjali420: I do feel a lot of pressure since my first release, but I’m trying to remind myself that an artist’s process – the time it takes for one to write a song and the time it takes for one to release – is personal and varies dramatically for everyone, and that is okay. I’m also trying remember not to feed into a capitalist work cycle that pressures me to stay outputting work that I’m not ready to show. Because fuck capitalism.
dalia69: Yes!!! #upthepunx
anjali420: How much time do you spend online now? Do you feel like it’s too much or naw, not really?
dalia69: Personally, I am heavy into escape (oof) but Instagram is really my only active form of social media. If I have some idle time/not working my crazy hours, I often find myself falling asleep to it and/or waking up to it–so obviously, too much! In my defense, I love Instagram- not *only* because I’m a visual person (Libra, helloOo), but also because it’s been instrumental in creating a space – an actual World Wide Web – for womyn to feel represented and most of all, appreciated. Something that was definitely lacking when we were growing up! It’s just so amazing to finally see other people you can relate to doing the damn thing–like YOU, Anjali!!
anjali420: Dalia!! [Cry emoji] [Cry emoji] [Cry emoji]
dalia69: <3 <3 <3
dalia69: Regardless of the constant FOMO, general #imhappypleasebelieveme shield, and self-inflicted dopamine highs when refreshing the ‘gram, consciousness seems to be slipping in & the focus is slowly becoming more inclusive all around. It’s an amazing and inspiring thing to witness, and I’m grateful to be able to contribute to that in any way I can (obviously not just online!). Between all the dog memes, or #woke memes, or even #wokedog memes, you can still find me trolling for new music, reading some article about the cosmos, or online bargain shopping like it’s my job (sometimes it is (◕‿◕✿)). I aspire to one day, as my sister Abbi Jacobson of Broad City once said, be one of those people who could say they “weren’t on Facebook”.
dalia69: Being a DIY artist, I imagine the demand for your online presence is high. How do you navigate your time online? Does it feel more calculated for you now?
anjali420: Well since it’s becoming my “work” now (but srsly it’s my dream job), social media posting is definitely not as spontaneous or simple for me anymore.
Sometimes I just wanna ghost without feeling like it’s the death of my aspiring career!!
anjali420: And sometimes I want to connect with more people without spiraling into unhealthy addictive behaviors. I’m still trying to find a balance in how much time I’m on and trying to disassociate from behaviors linked to my ideas of “internet colonization” – professionalism, competition, scheduling the frequency that I need to post like I operate on some kind of mental conveyor belt!! LOL. I could go on.
dalia69:With this ability to connect to a multitude of other musicians digitally, do you feel like that’s affected you at all stylistically? Do you think you’d still be producing the same sounds and evolving at the same pace if the option of these relationships were removed?
anjali420: Totally! I’ve heard and connected with some insanely inspiring musicians because of the internet. My techniques for things like synth patch production and beat making for sure would NOT be the same if I hadn’t had the access that I have now, especially being in the South where it’s hard to meet any electronic producer IRL. From this, I was also able to curate the most incredible and intentional shows that I self-booked for my fall tour – s/o to my billmates from my tours, luv y’all!! <3
dalia69: A gift to all of us!
anjali420: So, Dalia. YOU are an incredible stylist, and you are also very up to speed on contemporary photography & fashion – does it ever overwhelm you? Do you feel suffocated or defeated by the tons of shoots released or does it more so motivate you?
dalia69: You’re so kind!! I think this would apply more to me if I was living in an industry-driven city & actively trying to pursue a career as a full time stylist. Right now, it’s mostly a fun hobby where I get to play dress up with my friends, as my work in the film industry don’t really leave much time for anything else.. But whenever I do have an opportunity to style something fun & creative that I really believe in (like putting together looks for you!), I’m on cloud 9 & I definitely turn to social media to get motivated back into the right headspace!
dalia69: Can it get overwhelming? Yah! In a digital age where you can go live & get almost immediate feedback from data, things are evolving at such a rapid pace that it’s hard to keep up.
Sometimes the FOMO kicks in during my moments of weakness, and suddenly I’m in a rabbit hole on someone’s uncle’s baby mama’s page, and their six-year-old is already a style icon in head-to-toe Gucci. At that point, I might start to question the path I chose and am left feeling a bit defeated. I’m trying to pay closer attention to how social media functions in my life. When you begin to use it as a way to escape your reality and your real feelings, it can obviously start to eat you alive.
anjali420: HAHA – THOSE INTERNET FAMOUS KIDS IRK ME 2!! WHY?? As a woman of color, do you feel a gain of agency online that you don’t IRL? Do you feel like your oppressions ever carry over into the cyber world?
dalia69: 100%. This is also the trouble with the internet (i.e. cyberbullying), that there are no immediate consequences or face-to-face repercussions online, providing sort of a sense of safety & freedom that doesn’t necessarily exist in reality. I consider my platforms a place where I can express myself however I see fit, and exercising that has actually instilled a confidence in me to carry this over to my IRL experiences. YOU have also been so instrumental in creating safe spaces for expression and promoting communication & awareness in our community. Charleston will never be the same for it!
anjali420: Thank you, that means so much to me!! I try my best to preserve the internet to be as much of the escape palace that it once was for me.
dalia69:Dying to know your perspective on this too – Do you feel like being a POC (person of color) in our current digital climate has helped broaden your reach in the cyber world in any way, or just the opposite?
anjali420: Both?!? The digital climate has enabled me to connect with more and more awesome queer, femme, and POC creatives that have become a precious community for me. But sometimes I do feel like I’m even more buried in the mess (especially when I see awesome IRL events outside the American South).
I have been thinking lotttsss about the times I feel lowkey tokenized and just bundled with folks who share my identities in the eyes of cis straight white people.
dalia69: Sigh. I hear that.
anjali420: We both went to high school in the American South, and we know that our education was kinda… limited and sometimes disparate (*cough* sex ed). Ten steps behind the rest of the country IMO. What do you find out from the internet that you don’t think you woulda learned otherwise?
dalia69: FACTS! Cue my existential dread! Thanksgiving? The heroes of the confederate party?! Such trash. So thankful for internet fact-checks! The subject of sex ed is honestly so triggering for me though – I don’t even remember having it, if that’s any indication. So I’m gonna safely say: d) all of the above (and still learning!)
dalia69: How did the internet play a part in your education, or lack thereof? Yeahhh, I said it 🙂
anjali420: The internet was pretty much my only method of self-exploration in rural SC (ya know, Google searching my personal insecurities, masturbation, if Jesus is real, etc.) I looked up hella DIY art crafts online!! And, I printed off a lot of my materials for photo collaging from online. In college, when I finally found out South Asian-American feminists existed, Diaspoura became a thing… I owe a LOT to the internet.
anjali420: So, here’s an important question: Do you love your old Myspace/Facebook profile pics (aka “The Ghosts of Trends Past”), or did you urgently delete them one day and never look back?
dalia69: lol…I think the pictures I can live with. Such a graphic indication of personal growth with so many memories attached! Really vital with someone like me who suffers from extreme memory loss. (If you’re reading this, please buy me ginkgo biloba, because I already forgot.) I love photos, especially tangible ones, and I actually collect vintage ones of other people from antique stores or flea markets that I find interesting. A bit creepy, I know. That’s not to say that all my old photos aren’t buried deep in a box somewhere, but it’s always the first thing I grab if I ever have to evacuate for a storm or something! I would kill to have my old MySpace login just for nostalgia’s sake!
dalia69: The usernames, on the other hand, I could easily leave behind. I was so young when AOL first surfaced.
I think my first AIM screenname was something involving RoxyGirl, followed by a random assortment of numbers, aka the surfer girl dream into which I planted my assimilation dreams. At this point we had moved to Charleston, and I was growing up without any friends that “looked like” me.
dalia69: To clarify, I did not surf. Sadly, I can’t recall any AIM screennames after that (but I’m sure I did better).. I do know my away messages involved a lot of really deep™ Saves The Day lyrics though, and apparently my MySpace username was named after a Locust song entitled “How To Become A Virgin”…I would not like to comment on this any further.
dalia69:What about you? Can you think of any screennames, color themes, or even text signatures you’ve had?! All this reminiscing really makes me wish we were friends when we were teens!
anjali420: I know!! I hope someone invents the time machine already so we can be teeny-bopper besties! That is super cute that you cherish your old pics. Sometime in the early 2010s, I mass deleted the shit out of my old Myspace-era pics – wish I didn’t, but I was so embarrassed at the time. From what I remember… I was an assimilating androgynous punk who could never get the duck face profile pics right… I did have a Hilary Duff fandom username for longer than acceptable.
dalia69: Ahh duck face should be considered a crime!!
dalia69: If Myspace were still around, who would be in your celebrity top 8?
anjali420: Cardi B, fake profile made of Gene Belcher, Princess Nokia, Kelela, Julian Casablancas, MIA, Assata Shakur, and for old times sake, Hilary Duff.
anjali420: Blackberry or enV?
dalia69: I went straight from an OG Nokia (snake game!!) to a Blackberry. I still miss that keyboard. You?
anjali420: Hardcore enV2. Neopets or Sims?
dalia69: TAMAGOTCHI BABIII! Does this apply? I was also shockingly *really* into Dollz Mania. I don’t really remember playing with Neopets…I was either too old at this point or maybe just believing I was too advanced – most of my friends were a few years my senior, so you know I had to flex.
dalia69: My sole motivation for playing The Sims was to decorate all my homes waaay out of my means, so this venture was short-lived after my hack code for extra $$$ was disabled. N0 sHaMe iN my gAm3! I heard The Sims peeps have free will & spontaneous reactions now, which kinda makes me uncomfortable to think about.
dalia69:What was your cyber reality vice?
anjali420: Um, Neopets 4 LIFE… but I think mine all dead by now :’~(
This feature is published as the Feature Story of The Digital Age issue.