Eva sent me an article from The Atlantic in which they talk about a project by On the Network, a podcast about the Internet. They asked anyone who'd be interested to call in to a special telephone number and leave a message with their first Internet experience. Not just casually, but the first moment it hit you and you went "whoa!" She (Eva), asked me what my answer would be. I thought about it for a while and here's my answer.
I think the first moment I really realised what an impact the Internet would have on our society was when I had just moved to college. It was 1995 and I was 17 years old. I had been online several times at that point, mostly just to browse around, look for information and such, but it didn't really hit me until I started researching Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, for a class. I forget which network I logged onto -- probably Undernet or some such huge network -- and I was absolutely blown away by the amount of people I found there. While at first I treated the Internet as "just a big network" or a glorified version of Microsoft Encarta, it suddenly got launched as a social network, where you could talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. The world suddenly became so small. It just became so much more interesting. Like many people, I got hooked to IRC. Like many people, the Internet is a social tool first, everything else second.
(I admit that in that epiphany, the world didn't just become a lot smaller, but also a lot less mysterious and compelling. Where once a trip you booked was exotic, exciting and slightly scary because you had absolutely no idea what you'd encounter, simply going on what others have told you and snippets you may have caught on television, now you book a trip and you know exactly what you're going to see, when you're going to see it, you can see photos and videos on it, taking away much if not all of the mystery and adventure.)
My idea about the Internet being a social tool become reinforced when the following year I started playing Diablo. Playing the single player game was very entertaining and compelling, but once I was done with that I started to play on Battle.net, the online branch of Blizzard's games (Blizzard being the developer of Diablo, a.o.). It was very simple, you could play with up to four people in an instance of the game, if I remember correctly, but those four people could be anywhere in the world. Anywhere. After that, I spent some time playing a Korean game called Lineage, one of the very first MMO's. It was in its beta stage and was free to play. Suddenly, I was playing with a bunch of Koreans. At that point I had only ever met two Koreans in my entire life.
So yeah, IRC was the first moment that I went "whoa!"