Do you remember MySpace Tom?
Honestly, this Gen Z reporter wasn’t familiar until a few days ago. But for many people of a certain (millennial) age, the name evokes strong feelings of nostalgia.
That’s the guess of Nicole Nikolich, the crochet artist behind Lace in the Moon. She is preparing an installation focusing on early Internet icons that will be on view in Philadelphia International Airport’s Terminal E for six months beginning in early June.
“I liked this idea of taking this really old craft, which is crochet, with a very old material, which is yarn, and combining it with new technology,” she said. “I think the idea of using these two mediums is really cool, new and fresh.”
The artist said she recently reflected on how, as a young person in the ’90s, she used the internet for escapism – it offered a kind of freedom when she wasn’t old enough to go anywhere or do things on her own. Now working through issues from her childhood in therapy, she said it’s healing to create work that focuses on the earlier days of the social internet.
One of Nikolich’s most memorable memories from this phase of the internet was the Neopets site, where children could care for and play with digital creatures. The site also had a message board where users could talk to each other. It was the first chat room she joined before platforms like AIM and AOL Instant Messenger became popular.
She has found that she romanticizes many of her early memories of the internet — but often such memories are not as happy as they are remembered.
“This whole idea is about recreating some iconic imagery, whether it’s old icons on the desktop or the very first social media, and I’m exactly recreating a lot of things,” she said. “But then I also morph some of the symbols and motifs and make them buggy. … I change the image to show how our minds can change things over time.”
Part of the installation is Nikolich’s version of MySpace’s Top 8 Friends feature, which will contain exactly one version of MySpace Tom. The other seven are flawed or distorted to represent how your mind changes memories over time. Each “friend” is housed in a vintage frame like you would see in a museum to represent how old this part of the internet feels, although it wasn’t that long ago – only about 20 years.
Another part of the installation will be a wall of icons, such as the Internet Explorer icon. Nikolich said she’ll also be making some bug signs and a giant version of her first phone, a sidekick flip phone. All of the symbols she chose had meaning for her personally, but she also wanted to recreate symbols that would be recognizable to others.
As a millennial and someone who grew up contemporaneously with the development of the social internet, she has reflected on how this experience has shaped her as a person.
“I feel like millennials are having this experience online that nobody before them or nobody after them will have,” she said. “I feel like there’s been 20 years of people who just grew up and found their more youthful selves while researching the internet.”
When Nikolich thinks about what shaped her as a child, she thinks of sitting in the basement of her childhood late at night, searching the internet for information or chatting with friends in chat rooms. Early internet icons aren’t seen much in mainstream media anymore, she said, so seeing them inspires a lot of nostalgia.
“I hope people will do a double take and maybe bring back a memory they forgot,” she said. “And maybe they feel that nostalgia, for better or for worse. I hope it evokes a feeling.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the Groundtruth Project that connects young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. SubscribeKnowledge is power!
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