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Web monkeys

June 18, 2016 11:27 IST

Ashish Sharma remembers a time when he set up the Web Monkeys to save the still new internet from doom.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Web monkeys

In the late 1990s, I was into computers, and I loved to read, but most of the books in the school library felt old-fashioned. The Hardy Boys and The Famous Five were fine, but they didn't live in the modern world.

Even contemporary series, like Goosebumps and Fright Time, treated modern technology as an afterthought, as did many teachers -- I loved messing around with school computers, playing games, and drawing in Paint and otherwise just seeing what neat things I could make them do.

Even though we had a computer laboratory and computer classes, most of our teachers were stuck in this mindset that all kids needed to become doctors or engineers, they never quite seemed to get why we wanted to spend so much time on computers. So they told us to turn them off and go do something else, but then, we were web monkeys -- modern teens who craved freedom, both on their computer and off it.

So, I took Tetris, a tile-matching puzzle video game, to school on a floppy disk one day. As far as games go, Tetris was strategic and positive: at least, it was not about stealing cars and shooting gangsters.

While I understand that inserting a floppy disk into a computer was a breach of rule, I do not feel being banned from school computers was an appropriate punishment. I do, however, feel that a good old-fashioned beating would be an appropriate punishment.

So, I brought a floppy disk to school and copied a game onto the computers, which was against the school rule -- 'don't copy that floppy' -- and got banned from the computer room for the rest of the term.

The game was strategic and public domain, yes, but on second thoughts, I agree that banning me from computers at school was an appropriate punishment, given my enthusiasm for the machines. Also, though physical discipline was no longer dealt out in school, it would be okay, in this instance, to whack me if no one was watching. I knew from my canteen fights that I could take a punch.

Education, along with the right to access tools needed for it, should always come secondary to discipline, which, when I was younger, formed part of each school day.

Once, I was made to stand in the playground, with a 'non-conformist' sign hanging around my neck, while all kids laughed and threw stones at me: Still, my radical roots refused to shrink away as I remained endlessly engrossed in the 1990s pop culture that everything be 'cool' and 'different' and 'digital' -- I even set up a gang called Web Monkeys, a group of hip, high-tech teens supposed to save the still-new internet from doom: Clearly, computers were magical back then.

Our group poster -- lime green, with a space shuttle surrounded by various 'computery' visuals -- is permanently etched into my brain. 'Space shuttle' because some saw ourselves as spaceboys fighting a cosmic tyrant, like our mean-spirited principal, who had whisked away our floppy drives to outer space.

We even tried to confront imaginary hackers running a grade-tampering scam on our school computers, causing them to spit bad grades. Fourteen years later, all B-grade students, including me, dwell and write in cold basements, while all A-grade ones have moved up to curvy-glass condominiums, which makes me believe -- there was no scam.

Also, all web monkeys -- kids holding pieces of string between them, playing the role of domain name servers and email servers, travelling along the strings as messages, asking the servers where to go -- are ape-men now, with very limited relationship with the net and monkey business.

Ashish Sharma