"BBSs existed in a world that had yet to be soiled by smartphones and Facebook and Instagram."


Wed, Jan 29th, 2014 21:00 by capnasty NEWS

On Ars Technica, Lee Hutchinson takes us on a stroll down memory lane back to an era where the Internet "was a thing primarily of text, and BBSs in many ways mimicked that." It's a well remembered walk for me, in an era where the numbers of local bulletin boards could be found on the weekly edition of Canada Computes! and dialed with my (at the time) brand spanking new 2400 bps Zoom modem. At a whopping 2.4kbps, ANSI art unfolded on my screen at unbelievable speed. Anyone else here played TradeWars 2002? This part of the article hit home for me:

[...] even as my online world gained width and breadth, it lost a magical sense of depth. There are so many things to do on the modern Internet; even the Internet of 1995 and 1996 was a vast ocean of destinations and information. Gone, though, was the intimacy of the BBS—it was all fine and good to speak of visiting someone's homepage on the Web as a personal experience, but the ephemeral loading of a webpage is nothing in comparison to dialing into a BBS that a person has specially crafted for visitors. It's the difference between reading a billboard on the side of someone's home and actually entering that home to sit down for tea.

It seems crazy that the text-based world of BBSs could still resonate so much with me, but what I learned there underpins most of how I use the Internet today. I learned how to talk with other people in a forum, how to quote replies, and how to construct an argument. I learned how private messages work. I learned about compressed files and archives—would it surprise younger Internet users to learn that we used PKZip and ARJ back then, just as we do now? I learned how to flame someone and how to respond to being flamed. I learned about analog communication and modems and hard drives and how computers worked—I had to learn, because that was the only way to get "online" back then.

And I miss it. There was an innocence then that's absent now from the online world. You'd never see an ad on a BBS; you'd never get spam in your inbox or have to worry about your parents or your boss finding out about a picture you'd posted (because, really, "posting" that picture involved a whole hell of a lot of steps). You worried that "the government" might find out you downloaded a text file telling you how to build a blue or red box, but you didn't really worry about it.

Above, a screenshot from the Wikipedia page on BBS.



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