Alexis Madrigal has a post up over at The Atlantic about old BBSs in a reflective post about how far we’ve come in the digital age:
Bulletin board systems were one forerunner to today’s social networks. You could post messages and photos, play games, and download all kinds of apps. On the small ones I knew, one or two of us could dial in at a time, and most were from the same area code and prefix as you were because otherwise you had to pay long distance charges. (This now sounds as strange as a description ofhandcranking a car to start it.) So, the BBS was actually a hyperlocal social network.
I messed around with Los Angeles BBSs, but I had other things to attend to like catching lizards and playing street hockey with the neighborhood homies. But then in ‘92, my family moved to rural Washington state. Suddenly I was stranded way out at the end of a gravel road in a drizzly little city. I had friends, but they were miles away, so at home, it was just me and Wired Magazine and our new 14.4 modem.
This made me laugh, smile and well…mostly just reflect. I came into my own on the web a few years after this. I talk about this with people occasionally and say that I’m happier than anything that I didn’t get my own computer until my freshman year of high school. My best friends got theirs after me and I often spent more time at their houses on the computer than my own, because my parents didn’t appreciate me tying up the phone line with my modem.
But what I was saying before, is that I’m glad I didn’t get into this until high school. Why? Because I started playing tennis when I was nine. If I’d gotten into the internet before I played a sport, I think the pull of technology would’ve interest me a lot more than the frustration of being not-so-good on the tennis court. Instead, it’s rooted in my mental chemistry and has been with me my whole life as a result. I think about this a lot with kids today who don’t have that luxury as I did of having a black and white TV, a record player (then a cassette deck) and being the last family on the block to get an answering machine (we won’t even discuss how long it took for us to get call waiting.) because my parents were Luddites until my brother (who is 9 1/2 years younger) got older and they decided to get with the times.
I didn’t do a lot of BBSing, for me it was all about Prodigy and then AOL and finally on the web. But all of the formative years were crucial in building relationships I still have to do this day and skills I use now.