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Friday, February 02, 2018

Friday Read: The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems

In late 2016, Benj Edwards wrote a somewhat melancholy article about the few bulletin board systems (BBSes) that remain active today. Like several of my friends, I was an avid BBSer from about 1987 to 1994, that golden era before the Internet changed the world. There was a BBS for the U.S.S. Bonaventure (the Edmonton Star Trek Club, which is still around and has a Twitter account (!)), and my friend Ron hosted Freedom BBS for several years, an anarchic reaction to some of Edmonton's more button-down BBSes. Someone has compiled what seems to be a pretty authoritative list of BBSes that existed in the old, more expansive 403 area code, which back then included all of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. There were hundreds of them! I had no idea.

Benj's article covers the American BBS scene, and he relates some amusing anecdotes. It makes me a little misty; thanks to Ron, I have some of the writing I shared on BBSes in those days, but most of it has been lost. Most of it was likely garbage, but I remember a story or two that I thought was pretty good.

I can still remember the screeching noise my modem made before it connected. Ah, those were the days. 

1 comment:

Jeff Shyluk said...

What an interesting article, and evocative of the old BBS experience.

I think I can set the record straight: most of your writing was miserable. Mine was at least as bad. You were incredibly angst-ridden, and I remember thinking that I would get some use out of my psychology degree if you went on to be my client. Really selfish thinking on my part, and not particularly mature.

One thing you did do was put a lot of words together, you've always had confidence in your ability to relate the things that were important to you. Even at your lowest, you were always articulate. Back then, you dreamed of superheroes, and you had (and still have, in even greater force today) your own super power: the ability to share your mind through words.

You've always had your schoolyard buddies, and you've grown up with those fine people, but those of us on the BBS got to know you through all those stories and postings. I believe we may know you to a greater degree than you can estimate.

So yes, the writing stank, and it's both weird and wonderful that Ron was able to salvage a piece of that. Apart from the social forms, there were bits and fragments that shone with diamond-like brilliance. You were experimental and desperate. Often you were encouraging, sometimes discouraged, always human and soulful.

Those were fun times, and the monolithic Internet quelled that in much the way the article suggests. But then we've all grown, and it's perhaps not a bad thing to consider all that writing as past chapters in our collective book. Now that we have accumulated some talent and experience, I'm excited to write the new chapters (I hope you are too) before the end times come and all things are taken away.