Sunday, 4 September 2011
A history of Neil in 100 objects - Object 10 - Ship of Fools Mug
'Ok, if it's going to be like that then we will take this conversation to Hell!'
That is how many an argument started, and would rumble on for days and weeks, tensions rising, other people sticking their oars in, unlikely allegiances being formed, friendships being broken.
Such is the life on an internet discussion board, peoples views get polarised, respect for one another goes out the window, people say things that they would never say to work colleagues or family.
July 2000, I had been on the internet for about 6 months and had just discovered that there were interesting people out there who liked talking about interesting stuff. I joined a newsgroup (an early discussion forum) that led me to a web based discussion forum for Evangelical Christians, and that in turn led me to www.ship-of-fools.com, a satirical website with an attached discussion boards.
The boards were laid out so that creativity could be kept in one place (Heaven), personal stuff in one place (All Saints) and debates in another (Purgatory) and heated discussion in another (Hell). Many forums claim to have invented this format of organising a forum, but I genuinely think that Ship Of Fools was the first to do it properly.
I quickly came to love logging on to this site, people were smart. funny, varied and friendly. I was particularly interested to find that there were many people who termed themselves Christian, but held wildly different views than my own. This was my first proper encounter with Liberal Christianity.
The ideas that other shipmates (as people who used the sites forum became know as) would challenge what I thought, and made me think constantly about the beliefs that I held. The end result of where my beliefs are today perhaps says all you need to know about the result of my faith being challenged (and of course it was more than this one site who got me here, but it was a very important factor).
But more than the intellectual discussion it was the community aspect that grabbed me most. We took the online into the real world, we met up at pubs locally, or in London or Bristol or Cardiff or Swansea, we went on several weekends away in beautiful Northern towns, and at the Greenbelt festival.
Some people on that site became my best friends, and many remain so. There were certainly some strange people I met, but the good ones more than made up for that, and in fact made 'Shipmeets' more entertaining, and provide a good source of humour and stories...
I became involved in the running of the forums for a good few years, mostly hosting the discussions devoted to fun and creativity called Heaven (hence the mug, which was sent to me when I gave up formally being involved in the site).
Earlier this year the world sadly lost the lady who brought more to the site than any other, Erin, who was a huge personality on the site, and ran it wonderfully and (mostly) fairly from the very start. She sent me a Christmas card every year, and we spoke on the phone a few times. Amazing how someone you have never met can have a big impact on you.
The site is still there running strongly, have a look at Ship of Fools, and although I only pop back there from time to time I think it is still one of the best run forums on the internet, and recognise it has had a big impact on my adult life (and I have only touched on its influence on this blog!)
Now go to Hell.