A few of us are old enough to remember the days before the Internet, when “online” meant you had Prodigy, AOL, or CompuServe. Some of us are venerable enough to predate even those dinosaurs and recall the age of 300 baud modems, Telix, typing ATDT into the terminal, and local BBSes with names like Gunner’s Grotto and Elfstone (and if you recognize those two, you probably know where I lived in high school). I spent quite a few late nights chatting on the Grotto, a lavish MajorBBS with more than a dozen phone lines on rotary. I remember getting that brand new 9600 baud modem and being awed by its speed.
At the dawn of time…
The old BBS is terribly antiquated by today’s standards. A sysop (or webmaster for you young folk) would dedicate perhaps half a dozen phone lines to their server, running MajorBBS (which was not a PHP-powered forum), Angelfire (which was not a defunct web hosting company), or Wildcat. Each had their strong points, but they usually had some form of user-to-user chat, in-system messaging, file sharing, and games (who remembers spending all night playing Legend of the Red Dragon or Tradewars?)
The Internet freed us from this more intimate world. Email now worked between all systems, and in-house email either conformed or disappeared. Prodigy and CompuServe died, while AOL adapted (for a while, anyway). Files could be shared simply and quickly, and anyone with basic knowledge of HTML and an ad-supported account somewhere could participate.
These days it’s for granted that everyone and everything is connected. With Twitter, even an everyday Joe can be sure that all of their friends are kept up to date on how much they are enjoying that ham sandwich.
The social networking trend is interesting to me because I see it as a shift back to the more intimate realm of the BBS. Counter to the culture of full exposure engendered by the Internet, folks are gravitating toward sites that provide a more limited experience. Even the most curmudgeonly of us grudgingly accept Facebook and use it to filter our social lives online.
Networking sites provide a safe haven – a controlled community, much in the style of the old BBS. We prefer their primitive messaging to full-featured email clients when communicating with our friends and family, not because we are Luddites, but because it is more personal. There is something quite uncomfortable about sending your mother an email at email@example.com.
This is something of a rehash of an article I wrote last year. In fact, reading back, I even took the same grumpy tone :). I was a bit late signing up for Facebook, but I have to admit that I enjoy it. Now, if they could just port Legend of the Red Dragon over…