My whole life used to be devoted to h2g2, the Douglas Adams-founded, now BBC-run, alternative Guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything. It predated Wikipedia, and is different in that it places a premium on authorial voice. Entries in the Edited Guide are subjected to a fairly rigorous peer-review process, and go through a couple additional rounds of editing. It’s as good a way as any to produce a high-quality, yet whimsical selection of encyclopedia articles written by amateurs on the Internet.
But h2g2’s Edited Guide is also surrounded by its rich community, which not only produces the UnderGuide (fiction, poetry, etc.—basically anything that wouldn’t be suited to the EG) and The Post (the community newsletter, which I edited for two years), but also fantasy football and cricket, philosophical and political discussions, and deep, rich, lifelong friendships. People who have met on h2g2 have gotten married or become best friends. Hootooers, as they’re known, meet up in real life frequently, especially in the UK, where a large number of the site’s users (known as “Researchers”) are located.
h2g2 got me through high school—I discovered it at the very beginning of 9th grade, and I quickly absorbed myself in the community. I made friends, I got stalked by one of those Internet creepers sensationalist cable news warns you about, I wrote half a dozen entries for the Edited Guide and sub-edited several dozen more, and for two years, as I said, I edited The Post. h2g2 taught me most of what I know about how to edit, how to manage an amateur publication, and how to talk to adults—I was one of the youngest people I knew on the site, and most of my hootoo friends were adults. I’ve always gotten along better with people older than me, but it’s easier when you’re just a username and aren’t inhibited by a small body that isn’t allowed in pubs.
I left h2g2 towards the end of senior year—I was burned out by putting The Post together every two weeks, and I was getting ready to start college. I thought of h2g2 as an aspect of my teenage life that I was putting behind me, particularly since I was starting to write for money and couldn’t make the time to do too many things. I barely thought about h2g2 at all through this busy school year, but in the past couple months a few incidences have come up to remind me, most of them related to my Anglophilic tendencies and my relative cultural literacy about UK stuff. Since a disproportionate number of h2g2’s Researchers are British, and since the site uses UK style, I’d learned to write in a British way and became familiar with the names of politicians, celebrities, TV programs (or programmes, as they would say), and all sorts of other things. I learned the basics of cricket and became familiar with the concept of the Eurovision song contest (which happened today, and that’s a whole nother post). Believe it or not, editing for UK style does teach you how to write as if you’ve been in British schools all your life pretty damn fast. To this day, I can go back and forth pretty easily. Thanks to h2g2.
I’ve been checking the site every couple days, the past week or two—not with the multiple-times-daily frequency I used to have, but certainly more than I have in the past year. And I’m thinking about writing entries for the EG again, because I thought about it this way: every entry is really just a mini-lecture. It’s an opportunity to present information in a way that’s easily accessible and interesting to a fairly wide audience, and you don’t even have to have any academic credentials to do it. I was writing for the EG when I was 14—I can certainly do a better job now, at 19, after a year of college and vast improvements in my writing skills. So. I’m turning over entry possibilities in my head, thinking about how I would approach them—how I would “teach” something like “Howl” or Hair or anything else I know about. It’s a very different style from the academic papers, creative non-fiction, or news analysis I usually write, but it’s worth doing.
But more than anything, it’s weird to think how one comes full-circle. In part, this is peculiar to h2g2—the folks on the site like to quote the Eagles, saying “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” and it’s true—very few folks I can think of who left the site in my time there really left for good. How can you just write out something that was such a huge part of your life? I know I can’t? But it makes me happy, and relieved, that this is just one of a number of things from the first half of my teenage years that I’m returning to. It means that all that time, all that energy, wasn’t pointless.