The Internet has long been an egomaniac's paradise, but there have been some major developments on the tech side for all matters narcissistic.
Ten years ago, free hosting sites such as GeoCities -- long since acquired by Yahoo -- and Angelfire offered a way for the kiddies to use their newly acquired copy-n-paste HTML skills to make vanity Web sites. If you missed the onslaught of these garishly coloured, self-indulgent monstrosities, here is a brief recap of what visiting them tended to be like.
A dodgy MIDI file of a TV show theme tune trilled away as broken gifs -- or jpegs that had taken a compression hit from which no image survives undistorted -- loaded atop a tessellated background of flowers, stars or bricks.
The following message greeted you:
Text links placed on the page at seemingly random intervals directed you to "About Me", "Funny Pix" and "Contact me!" pages, which were thrown together in a fit of creativity and updated perhaps twice before being forgotten about. Guestbooks were also popular inclusions, as they allowed the webmaster to prove that people had actually bothered to visit the site they spent all night constructing.
How do I know all these details? OK fine, I made my very own Web page during Year eight, upon which I showcased my answers to philosophical questions like "Do you have a pet?" and "What's better -- Coke or Pepsi?".
Back then, there was a certain amount of... well, I won't say artistry, but at least the prerequisite of basic HTML, the "What is this geeky Net thing, anyway?" perception and the need to remember a URL along the lines of http://www.geocities.com/EchoCavern/5442/Ellarama/index.html prevented just anyone from fashioning an online ode to oneself.
These days (she says, in that curmudgeonly manner), any 13-year-old can upload a video of themselves lipsynching to the Black Eyed Peas' My Humps on YouTube or Putfile. It's like reality TV without the editing. Domain names are cheap like the budgie, and setting up a blog or homepage on MySpace takes a few short minutes.
I'm conflicted about all this. One of the great benefits of the Internet's evolution from "underground geek haven" to "complementary media format" to "all-access user-generated-content playground" has been that anyone, anywhere in the world, can be a hero -- even if, as Bowie said, it's just for one day. The Web is the only place that an ordinary geezer like the delightfully mad Karl Pilkington of Ricky Gervais Podcast fame (who, in an effort to better Benjamin Franklin's "Waste not, want not", coined the phrase "Don't be chucking that out, you might need it later"), can achieve worldwide cult hero status. It's a nice alternative to the artificiality of TV and film celebrities.
On the other hand, the ease of establishing an online presence can encourage narcissism, and make people unduly obsessed with who is saying what about them online.
Ego surfing -- conducting an Internet search for your own name or blog URL -- used to be a curiosity-driven guilty pleasure, but there is now an array of Web sites (such as egoSurf) devoted to finding out who is linking to, praising or criticising you.