I’ve posted to three blogs today so far (including this one), and commented on two. Slowly but surely I’m becoming a part of these online communities and feeling more comfortable in my own blogging skin. Eventually perhaps I’ll come to match usernames with personalities and develop online relationships. Perhaps.
It wasn’t always this way. In a former life, I was part of a very special online community. Back in the day (“the day” being 1987), I wandered onto my first BBS. Bulletin Board Systems were to the late 80’s what web sites are today. Discussion groups were the precursors to blogs. I was one of approx. 40 people in Kansas City who were a part of the BBS community and we had a lot of fun together. We visited each other’s BBS’s, posted in discussions, chatted with each other, and occasionally gathered in person. Some of those people – you know who you are – I still consider close friends. Others disappeared into the ether (and are probably somewhere on the net), never to be seen or heard from again.
Ah the innocent days of youth, staring without a care in the world at my Amiga monitor writing about Nietzsche to some guy I’d never met. As a fourteen year-old, my parents were scared stiff of my meeting nameless, faceless people from the other side of town. My dad insisted upon accompanying me on my first physical outing to meet the people with whom I’d conversed to the wee hours on my computer. Once he saw how harmless and geeky they were, he decided to stay at home the next time. (Don’t get me wrong – there were a couple of sleazy people in the group – but it became a fun sport to avoid them rather than a daunting chore (i.e. spam).)
My BBS had a theme, like most, and nearly everyone who visited became a role player within the theme. Each new visitor-caller I greeted with a chat invitation and a kind word. We discussed technology, art and science. We weren’t all tech-savvy; some people just happened to own computers with modems.
Running a BBS taught me many things. It taught me how to meet new people. It taught me that the digital environment is a great equalizer. It taught me to be responsible for an online system and it taught me how to design a site. I learned how to write, and I learned that text can be easily misconstrued.
Now that I’m a new parent, as I think of my daughter’s future I can’t help but wonder: what will online life be like for her? I shudder to think. Will I be downloading new anti-spam software on a weekly basis? Will I be demanding an AIM chat with every new “guy” she meets? Installing keystroke logging devices to track her conversations just in case? At least she won’t always be meeting these people in person, but is that a good thing?
I miss the days of the BBS. I miss the innocence and the wonder of it all. Even when I was a system administrator with root access to major government networks, it didn’t have the same thrill. I miss walking past my desk at night, seeing the flashing lights on the modem and wondering who I might meet in chat mode. Each day brought a new surprise. Now as I surf the web for some sense of geography for mapping out the places I want to see, I still picture each site in my mind the way I formerly visualized BBS’s – a living, breathing matrix of intelligent creatures trying to connect. I crave that close sense of community. Blogging in Silicon Valley has provided some of it, but there’s no going back to the days of youth. Long live the 64th Dimension!