Losing the Internet You Grew Up With

A generation raised online risks forgetting its cultural touchstones, thanks to the whims of the web.

In sixth or seventh grade, my best friend and I were obsessed with a fanfiction called “The Fellowship of the Banana Peel.” It was pretty much what it sounds like—a reimagining of The Lord of the Rings in which the One Ring is replaced by a banana peel. We printed it out and brought it to school in one of those pocketed paper folders, reading it to each other at lunch and between classes. An ongoing bit was that bananas made Elrond sick—“The smell permeates everything,” I remember him saying sadly, repeatedly, throughout the time the Fellowship was at Rivendell.

It was so stupid. It made us so happy. I can’t find it anywhere.

* * *

The Internet is a great facilitator of nostalgia. It remembers the things you’ve forgotten, and with just a little prompting can usually hand you the thing your mind was fumbling for—where do I know that actress from, or what’s that song that goes like “a chicka-cherry cola?” Instagram observes Throwback Thursday; Spotify suggests songs that were popular when you were in high school; there’s a pair of websites whose entire reason for existence is to play a 24-hour stream of old Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network shows from the 90s and 2000s.

But when you grow up with the Internet, inevitably some of the things you’re nostalgic for come from the Internet itself. The popular app Timehop recognizes this, showing the user photos and social media posts from the same date in past years. It’s not so much my tweets from five years ago that I want to revisit, though. It’s watching Teen Girl Squad cartoons on Homestarrunner.com huddled around a screen in the high school computer lab; playing Text Twist and Bubble Spinner in the suite of my college dorm, the cultural touchstones that were as much a part of being young, for me, as listening to Dashboard Confessional and watching The O.C. (And now you know exactly how old I am.)

Those things are still just a Google away. But other relics of Internet past have slipped beyond reach, like the tale of a young hobbit and the smelly banana peel he is fated to carry into Mordor. “The Internet is forever,” they say, often in warning about incriminating photos, but that’s not always true. Websites come and go as the fortunes of companies rise and fall.

Take Quizilla, for example. It was the original bastion of “What Kind of X Are You?” online quizzes (a title now held by BuzzFeed and its imitators, PlayBuzz and the like). And while people did visit the site to find out which Disney princess they were, Quizilla also became an unlikely home for fiction, fan and otherwise. The platform was not really conducive to storytelling—stories were often serialized in that people would post new quizzes for each chapter, which were usually one question long, with the “answer” just a bubble that said “click here.” Then you’d click “Go,” and end up on a results page that might be more story, or might be nothing, to the best of my recollection.

I have to rely on my recollection because Quizilla doesn’t exist anymore. It was acquired by Viacom in 2006, and lived on TeenNick.com for a while, until the site was retired in October 2014, and old Quizilla profiles and quizzes were deleted.

Some of the story quizzes were very popular—in particular, I remember one called “I’m a Girl In An All Boys Boarding School,” or as it was stylized on the site, “I'm a Girl...in an ALL BOYS BOARDING SCHOOL?!?!” It was exactly the kind of Mary Sue-ish adventure you’d imagine; the titular girl the only available object of affection for a school stocked with heterosexual boys. But it was more silly than hot-and-heavy, like if the Amanda Bynes vehicle She’s The Man had been written (without the loosely Shakespearean plot) by a teen, and in 2005, I eagerly read every installment. I don’t have numbers on how many people joined me, but it’s still possible to find forum discussions referencing the story and its author, user youandmeboth.

I was able to find the story using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, but while you can read the first portion of each chapter, the quiz mechanism itself is broken, so the part of the story written in the results is forever lost. It seems like a lot of Quizilla’s still-active writers have migrated to the story-sharing website Wattpad. I tried to contact a couple of them to ask how they felt about their community being deleted, but never heard back.

Even if websites don’t disappear, they evolve. (Usually—to my great delight, Homestarrunner.com has been preserved in amber since 2000.) As a young Francophile, in early high school I frequented the chat room on a website called Polyglot, where people from different countries helped each other learn languages. It has since been rebranded “Polyglot Club” and my old account is irretrievable.

That might be for the best—whatever I would find would be embarrassing at best, horrifying at worst. This was the rationale behind deleting my old Xangas. That, and not wanting anyone I know to ever see what I thought was cool to post on the Internet when I was 14.

* * *

I think the same logic might explain the disappearance of "The Fellowship of The Banana Peel." This is my (totally speculative) theory. It was on Fanfiction.net, as I recall, a website that still exists. No amount of searching has turned it up, though I did learn that apparently, if enough time goes by, bananas will figure into Lord of the Rings fanfiction more than once. Whoever wrote the story probably just grew up, got embarrassed, and took it down.

In a way, that’s not the Internet’s fault. But in another way, it is—the paranoia of being searchable can be strong. If someone can find the obscure anime version of Thumbelina she watched as a kid on YouTube, she can probably find your old fanfiction, too.

It’s understandable. I am mostly glad I deleted my old blogs, but I do miss them a little. There was an un-self-consciousness to them that hasn’t existed in my writing since, a freedom of expression that can maybe only bloom in the brief window of adolescence. It might have started with "The Fellowship of the Banana Peel"—it wasn’t long after reading it that my friend and I started writing our own fanfiction. We weren’t worried about who would read it, or how bad it was. It just made us happy.