The other day at my internship my supervisor and I were having an informal chat about the various ways we had come to learn what we know via technology.
I mentioned that Neopets, a virtual pet community, was my first exposure to HTML. I was 9 years old, and my primary motivation for joining the site was that I really wanted a *real* pet but couldn’t have one, so a virtual one seemed like the next best thing.
One of the exciting things about Neopets was this element of surprise – sometimes you would randomly “find” neopoints or items. Other times, however, you would get robbed and lose these. These were random easter egg type components embedded in certain spots throughout the site that I imagine were activated when you clicked on them. There were also forums where you could chat with other users about various topics, both about the game or outside of the game.
It was a pretty fun site. It was super bright and colorful, which made it all the more inviting. You could interact with your pet, even if it was only a series of clicks. You could play various games and even battle others in the battle dome. You could buy things at the shops or sell things in your own shop. Now that I think about it, this site was a space of informal learning for me. I learned so many economic principles just by engaging with the site. In order to open a shop, I had to save a certain amount of neopoints. If I wanted to expand my shop to be able to sell more items, I had to pay for upgrades. I had to get these neopoints by playing games. I learned which games to play and how often to play them. I learned that if I opened up an account at the bank, and saved my neopoints there, they would accrue interest and I would gain more neopoints. I also learned about supply, demand, and inflation – whenever “rare” or “new” items came out, the price of these was ridiculous. As something became more common, it would drive the price down. If someone else sold the same item at their shop for a cheaper price than mine, their shop would get more business. I would also join guilds, which are special interest groups/clubs created by members within the site. In these guilds, we would help each other with tips and strategies. We would link to each other’s shops and pages. In essence, it was a learning network where we all came together and shared our expertise so that we could have a better experience on the site.
My favorite part of the site, however, were the pet pages. There was this section of the site where you could create a webpage for your pet, and share with users your neopet’s background story and stats. There were HTML tutorials on the site, and this is how I initially learned how to create a web page. I was so excited about creating something others could see, and then revising it based on feedback. I would post on the forums and ask for people’s opinions and suggestions.
My supervisor told me about technobiographies and how there’s all these studies and research on people’s digital learning journeys and interactions with technologies in different contexts.
According to my mom, one of my very first interactions with technology was when I was even younger. She had found this computer like object at the thrift store and brought it home. It was tan and battery operated, but all the keys/buttons had been rubbed off. According to her, I spent some time playing with this strange device and eventually figured out how to make it play music, act as a calculator, and display and read words. I have very vague recollections of that, though, and neither of us even knows what that device was.
So, for me, Neopets was really the beginning. I learned so many skills and interacted with so many people, many of which I would end up moving to a new space with.
This has really gotten me thinking about mapping out my own technobiography. I think I just found my next project!