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And voila, just like that, suddenly the antisocial had become social. Though the technology of the time restricted the flexibility of these systems, and the end-user’s experience, to text-only exchanges of data that crawled along at glacial speed, BBSes continued to gain popularity throughout the ‘80s and well into the ‘90s, when the Internet truly kicked into gear.
One such option was Compu Serve, a service that began life in the 1970s as a business-oriented mainframe computer communication solution, but expanded into the public domain in the late 1980s.
Compu Serve allowed members to share files and access news and events.
But it also offered something few had ever experienced – true interaction.
Not only could you send a message to your friend via a newfangled technology dubbed “e-mail” (granted, the concept of e-mail wasn’t exactly newfangled at the time, though widespread public access to it was).
Long before it became the commercialized mass information and entertainment juggernaut it is today, long before it was accessible to the general public, and certainly many years before Al Gore claimed he “took the initiative in creating” it, the Internet – and its predecessors – were a focal point for social interactivity.
Granted, computer networking was initially envisioned in the heyday of The Beatles as a military-centric command and control scheme.
But as it expanded beyond just a privileged few hubs and nodes, so too did the idea that connected computers might also make a great forum for discussing mutual topics of interest, and perhaps even meeting or renewing acquaintances with other humans. Related: Mullets reigned supreme in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; computers were a far rarer commodity.Machine languages were bewildering, and their potential seemingly limited.What’s more, this whole sitting-in-front-of-a-keyboard thing was so… Put all this together and you have a medium where only the most ardent enthusiasts and techno-babbling hobbyists dared tread.It was, in effect, a breeding ground for pocket-protector-wearing societal rejects, or nerds. Yet it also was during this time, and with a parade of purportedly antisocial geeks at the helm, that the very gregarious notion of social networking would take its first steps towards becoming the omnipresent cultural phenomenon we know and love in 2014. Short for Bulletin Board System, these online meeting places were effectively independently-produced hunks of code that allowed users to communicate with a central system where they could download files or games (many times including pirated software) and post messages to other users.Accessed over telephone lines via a modem, BBSes were often run by hobbyists who carefully nurtured the social aspects and interest-specific nature of their projects – which, more often than not in those early days of computers, was technology-related.Moreover, long distance calling rates usually applied for out-of-towners, so many Bulletin Boards were locals-only affairs that in turn spurred local in-person gatherings.