This is a hard one to write about, for no reason other than it takes a certain degree of contextualising for it to make any sense to most people. So that’s what I shall do first.
There is a non-mainstream online chat phenomenon called ”Internet Relay Chat”, commonly abbreviated to ”IRC”. Most people – and I speak in past tense now because I’ve sadly grown out of it – used MSN, and of course later Facebook chat, but I used a combination; primarily IRC, some MSN, and, begrudgingly, eventually Facebook chat too. Try to get past my tedious explanation of what IRC is. I promise the post becomes more interesting. An ”IRC server” is essentially comprised of many different channels in which people chat. Imagine a Facebook message in which many different people are talking. But it’s a lot more fast-paced, and the messages are considerably shorter. Like a vocalised conversation, instantly expressed, but in writing.
Let there be no mistake: IRC is primarily populated by ”geeks”. And I like that. In fact, I love a bit of that. Always have and always will. I can’t play the cool game constantly. I play World of Warcraft and occasionally enjoy being part of Internet culture. I spent years being addicted to Runescape and still have fond memories of it. It always makes me laugh when people I know personally talk about their playing World of Warcraft in this hushed manner, as though it were something to be ashamed of. Can’t you be cool and also want to immerse yourself in a world of fantastical elves and magic? I like to think I manage both. Perhaps not.
In any case, I always needed an escape from the sociability and ”coolness” required of you by the school system. It felt really good to come home and chat with people all over the world and just be part of our own, obscured youth culture. I don’t want to go too much into what IRC culture actually is/was, but it is subject to unbelievably rapid transition. Every so often I go into my old IRC channel and see what’s going on. It’s so remarkably different to how it was when I used IRC almost every minute of every day, back in 2007/2008, when it was my release from perhaps the two most unpleasant years of my life. I remember sitting in Physics lessons trying to get on IRC on my phone (this was pre-you-can-do-anything-on-phones) or getting past the firewall on the school computers and having the time of my life chatting at lunchtime. It was good to know no matter how bad things were at school I had my ”IRC crew”. I don’t really care if that sounds depressing, it was the truth.
Which brings me on to how close many of us grew. It sounds odd, a group of people that know each other only online becoming close. But we did. We spoke every day, for hours on end, until I grew so tired I could no longer keep my eyes open. One of the earliest characters I remember in my IRC channel was Shawn, a Canadian guy, maybe two years older than me. He had this really capricious personality. You’d either catch him in a good mood or he’d otherwise be moody and arguing with idiots in there. And that they existed really annoyed him. You could tell. He just didn’t want idiots around him, and it became clear to me that he just felt constantly surrounded by idiots in his channel, an architect of his own prison (the server belonged to Shawn).
In any case, in late 2009, I remember another IRC friend messaging me to tell me Shawn had killed himself. He had fumigated his car and using a gas mask had ended his life. Don’t ask for the science, I don’t really understand. But that was that. Seventeen years old, someone I’d spoken to every single day. That’s when it hit me! He’d told me all about his life, his trouble with girls. That sort of thing. Just the sort of thing young people discuss online really. What’s so sad is that you could tell he was troubled. And not in a juvenile way. In a dark cloud kind of way, lingering over him.
I remember going to sleep that night. Just lay awake thinking. Someone I knew better than many of the people around me had killed himself. The next morning I went into school, and I was sat with my friends. We used to just sit around in the morning. Gossiping, bitching. Whatever, the stuff teenagers chat about. I remember just feeling so lonely, in part because of my own relishing of being part of a culture that none of them were exposed to, and partly because they in honesty didn’t care to find out more. So I just broke down in tears in front of everyone. I don’t think that had ever happened before in my entire life. And I don’t think it has happened since.
So when today I stumbled across Basshunter’s song ”Boten Anna”, all these memories came flooding back. Shawn, the IRC channel, the way I felt going through school. All my old friends from the IRC. I’m sure plenty of people have listened to the song but just have no clue what it’s about. It’s in Swedish, but there’s also a German version, and I can understand the German. It’s basically a strange and lighthearted song about an IRC bot (robots used to monitor channels for spamming and so on) named Anna, as they all have names. At least that is what Basshunter thinks. And really he did use IRC. I ”chilled” in his channel a few times. Anyway, as the song goes on, it’s revealed that Anna is not a bot. She announces ”I’m not a bot. I’m a very, very sexy girl”. It’s a true story. Basshunter states ”ich denke immer noch du bist ein Bot” (I still think you’re a bot).
I don’t know why I like the song so much. It’s just a ridiculous song. It makes very little sense, but something about it seems to sum up the entire IRC Zeitgeist.
RIP Shawn, can’t believe it has been four years.