One of the best kept secrets during high school was that a small group of students ran an underground BBS using an Apple II+ that sat on a counter in the back room of the library. I don’t even remember what it was called but the whole system was run from a floppy disk (not the ones encased with plastic but the real five-inch-and-one-quarter deal) through a single phone line. Mike Brazie (if you wanted to get a punched in the back–for that is the only punch he knew how to through–you called him Mike Brazire) had the nerd-glory of being the SYSOP (system operator) and he carried that badge of honor with courage, behind closed doors.
Of course all of this three-hundred-baud-nerd stuff was a closely guarded secret as the idea of participating in an online social network was very, very off-putting to the girls. Well, it wasn’t really popular with anyone really so you just didn’t bring it up during discussions in public. Because only one person at a time could be logged into the system the activities mostly included sending private messages to other users and posting messages to public groups on a variety of topics that generally included games, computers, politics, science, entertainment, and food. A chat session was possible but only between the user dialed-in and the SYSOP if he (very, very rarely a she) was physically at the machine, which didn’t happen very often. The people you interacted with weren’t considered your online friends per-se, they were just other people with nerd tendencies.
Now here we are living in the middle of William Gibson’s envisioned Cyberspace and now you’re an outcast if you don’t have a Myspace page, Facebook account and who-the-hell-knows-what-else that I, at an elderly thirty-six, don’t know about. And that’s fine, I don’t need to pretend I’m Forever 21, nor do I have a desire to relive the past—I have been very happy to avoid that kind of social per-pressure for a long time.
Now I find myself in new awkward territory with more and more requests by other business owners, peers, and professionals to become “friends” inside these same social sites and I don’t quite fully grok this new layer of “networking”. Does it really matter that I’ve posted a note on someone’s page? Are we missing out on some large contract because Airbag is on Virb but not MySpace? Should I cry myself to sleep because I’m not in someone’s top three, five, eight, whatever? Second Life sucks–oops, can I say that with my outside voice and not be an outcast?
My gut tells me that no, no one is really loosing business because they aren’t actively participating in some sudo electronic version of RL (in real life) but it makes for an Ok mind-numbed distraction. That said, if we could somehow recreate the digital magic that was the Commodore 64 powered NeonBBS, circa 1989, then that’s an entirely different situation and one that would require active engagement.