The other night I was clicking around geminispace, a process that for me is EXTREMELY low-tech - I'm just finding instances from different people's blogrolls - and found a chatroom. Or, at least, the page where a chat protocol had been located and later disused - there was an explanatory note and an embarrassed face emoji.

But for a moment I thought there was a chat room and I wondered if anyone else would be there. And I thought about the SCHWA Corporation.

Reading the Wikipedia entry now - SCHWA was a long-running art project started by a guy named Bill Barker; I first heard of it in the HAPPY MUTANT HANDBOOK, the book put out by the BoingBoing people in 1995. I got a copy in maybe 1998, when I was 12 or so, and even at that point the tech stuff in the book - focusing on BBSes and mailing lists - seemed like ancient history. All of it was well on the way to getting eaten by the dog.

But SCHWA - an art project based around stick figures in a dystopia of surveillance and branding was around, and by the time I had a 56.6k semiprivate connection to the Internet there was, an absolutely vast HTML maze of strange images and random links and everything art web 1.0 could throw at me. It was amazing, I remember checking back once a week or so and there'd be new stuff - a carnival midway, a maze. And I remember one day stumbling into a chat room - an incredibly simple chat interface hidden, unlabeled, twenty or more pages deep on the site.

Boy, it would be a cool story if I could tell you that I found a bustling community of like Bay Area art freaks in there and that shaped my entire life. But nobody was in there, I don't think anyone else was ever in there, no matter how often I checked. And that made it almost better, in some ways? It felt like I was completely alone on some desolate digital frontier.

The strangest thing about the amount of time I spent on the SCHWA website or like or any of the web 1.0 art sites is - I don't think I told anyone. I had some friends and even some friends who were a little nerdy, I think, but I don't think I ever shared the like Church of the Subgenius West Coast early Burning Man shit that I was into with anyone. I found a copy of the AMOK 5TH DISPATCH and spent months just flipping through and reading book descriptions but I never ordered any. It felt like a private fantasy I got to have. Maybe then - as now - what I was enjoying was being one of only a few people to ever see something. A completely empty chatroom.