When I was approximately 8 years of age, circa 1987/1988, I spent the vast majority of my free, non-family time with my approximately 11-year-old neighbor, Jeffrey Ingber. Jeffrey only was 11, but already programming software, and building computers.
Spoiler nerd alert: Jeffrey and I
were are huge nerds. And we lived in trendy South Florida. Not a good mix.
Whereas most children growing up in the everyone-is-impossibly-beautiful-and-rich city of Miami played outside, attended swim parties, and did whatever normal extroverted good looking Miami children did, Jeffrey and I invested countless hours in only two activities; Legos and DOS-based games.
Regarding the latter, we had an affinity for any game by Ken and Roberta Williams or involving Leisure Suit Larry.
Without question, had I not grown up next door to Jeffrey I would not be “wired” (i.e. speak digital as a first language) the way that I am now. And but so had I not grown up with Jeffrey I also wouldn’t have an irrational yet rational fear of going “offline” for more than 5 mins. I sadly can’t unplug nor even understand what it is to unplug. All digital is the same to me. All digital inherently is social.
1991 / 1992 was the “Golden Age” of the BBS (for me), and arguably, in retrospect, one if the most pivotal time periods of my life.
Jeffrey called me, asking if I would “dial into” his Bulletin Board System, which he described as a “a text-based community that you access through your modem.” I already was spending most of my free time in front of my computer, downloading .GIFs at 14.4Kbps, so why not?
Once on / in the BBS I could share the frustrations of my daily life with people from all areas of South Florida (as you had to actually use a phone line long distance rates applied, and e.g. NYC BBSes were off limits). The main draw was the chat room. Take in mind that this is before “chat rooms” and “bulletin boards” scaled via Prodigy and AOL, and started receiving negative attention for their association with criminal activity. Also, members of each BBS had to pay a monthly fee, which was paid via personal check, for “credits.” As far as I know, the monthly fees paid by members went to the Sysop to keep the BBS running.The personal check payment system meant that the Sysops knew the real identities of everyone involved in their BBS.
Social gaming is a trend / the norm today, but back then there already were a multitude of “social” games that could be accessed via the BBSes, assuming the Sysop paid for the gaming software. I personally spent more time than I care to admit on the MUD game, Crossroads. (And I can write a completely separate, detailed article on how many of the BBSes leveraged a Twitter-like paging feature that allowed users to “page” each other from outside of the main chat room. This came in handy when you were faced with a Griffon in Crossroads, and needed a player who was not in the game to come from the main chat room to help fight said Griffon. Anywho, the point is that much of what’s going on in “social media” now was happening in the early 90s. And I spent way too much time on these BBSes.)
As a shy, computer-addicted 13-year old growing up in a city that appreciated neither shy nor computer anything I constantly felt suffocated, which probably is why I spent more and more time on Loreli, Isles of Shae, and Realm of Legends (try telling you’re friends that you can’t play flag football because you’re “busy on Realm of Legends”).
And but so I don’t want to mislead. I actually had a lot of in real life friends. Many are still my close friends today. The problem was that they all were reading John Grisham novels because their lawyer parents said to read John Grisham novels, and I wanted to talk to someone about how realistic (and amazing) the portrayal of vampires was in Anne Rice’s stories. I never was interested in the television suggestions by my in real life friends; 90210 wasn’t that fascinating or directly relevant to my life. I was fan-boy obsessive about the television suggestions by my “computer friends,” and never would have known at the age of 13 that there was some station, BBC, that was rerunning the quirky, snarky sci-fi show, Red Dwarf. The Red Dwarf show led to my discovery of the first Red Dwarf novel, which is why I giggle internally when anyone around me orders Gazpacho soup.
At a broad level, as well as at its core, the BBS era, and now “social media,” was about the spread of ideas. And how ideas lead to new ideas, and new ideas lead to newer ideas, and newer ideas could lead to change. It was a catalyst for what I believe most if not every human on Earth craves; growth.
“Social media” and Web 2.0 have become this modern hotbed of hipness. Trying to impress someone by name-dropping Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr in normal conversation is the new trying to impress someone by name-dropping The Smiths, Magnetic Fields, or Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti in normal conversation.
Normals often misunderstand “what this all is,” as they can’t empathize with that nerdy kid who didn’t choose to live in Miami, but lives in Miami, and is stuck with and influenced solely by the kids who are in close physical proximity to the aforementioned nerdy kid. BBSes and now digital are the bridge to a world outside of everyone’s immediate physical world. Growth.
I relished The Police in 8th grade, but no one I knew even knew about The Police let alone wanted to listen to them. I couldn’t share my love of a reggae rock band with anyone because the sharing of that love was bound by the physical world. And but so on Realm of Legends I engaged with Person X, who also liked The Police. And Person X recommended Television based on by affinity for The Police. I had never heard of Television, and maybe never would have heard of Television, as everyone I knew in High School was listening to whatever band was popular on terrestrial radio. Realm of Legends was the key to the growth of my music knowledge, as well the growth of my everything knowledge.
As more platforms are developed, and the Web 2.0 world becomes more fragmented, remember “what this all is.” Facebook is fabulous, but it’s just a technology that helps connect people who crave ideas and growth. It’s the nerds who are wired to understand this, as they are the ones who never had an outlet for their ideas until “this,” which merely is back again.