2024-04-28: little islands in the ether

in the 90s, in the tail end of the era before the internet began to swallow everything, i called bulletin board systems in my area. for the uninitiated: BBSs are systems you connect to using a specialized terminal program on your computer. you'd dial up a number on your computer. if the other computer was on, and the BBS was listening, your modems would do a handshake, and you'd be presented with a login screen. you'd make an account, or log in, and then whatever was on offer was whatever the sysop (systems operator, the person running the board) set up.

there were almost always messages. files to download. and text-based games called door games (or doors).

i did this for a few years, connecting via a very old and very slow modem on a computer that was pretty much the same. mid 80s tech. i held out for a long time, being active on the web at the same time, BBSs being this older tech that felt, in a way, more personal. you'd exchange messages with people in your city or area, local calls being free, and long distance in that era very expensive. this centrality of the local was both good and bad: some of the best and worst people i've ever known i met this way. probably to do with the medium. the web is easy, sort of effortless (clicky clicky), whereas calling BBSs required you to be a little unhinged. man, you mean i've gotta know the phone number and put it in this program and make an 'account' on this place named after a forgotten realms city just so i can play games that look like something on my commodore? yeah.

and lately i've been getting back into them. in the last quarter century (oof) i've dipped into telnet BBSs a few times. at first it was to try to find an active league for some of the games i used to play — and it was fun for a few days, but without my friends on the same board, not really the same. later, it was to see if anyone was up, so to speak, if anyone was posting messages.

nobody ever was. until i had someone basically saying hey, i set up a bbs, wouldn't it be cool if we all started using it? boosted into one of my social media feeds. and figured what the hell, why not, you know? i tried it via putty. there were some issues with the ANSI. someone suggested syncterm: much better.

that was i think early fall of last year? and i'm still there. i just posted a few messages. there aren't a lot of us, but the vibes are immaculate. you show up when you want, read messages, respond if you feel like it. maybe post something yourself. a huge step back from the frenetic pace of using social media, and even something like this journal, which i try to update every few days. it feels good. there's another greybeard or two like myself, and otherwise it skews a lot younger, people in their 20s and early 30s who would've never called up a bbs in its original form.

and i think that's great. i think it's wonderful, in this era of the web collapsing in on itself under a deluge of garbage, that there are still spaces like these, away from the tracking and the profile-building. little islands in the ether where we can just be.