Before the internet era, during the 1980s, and thereabouts, people would use a bulletin board system, or BBS, to communicate with others, usually within a closed network, by way of their computers.
Set up required a personal computer, that were a little harder to come by then than today, a modem, also not exactly something you’d find at the corner store, a telephone line, and a whole heap of cables to plug everything together. Or at least that is my recollection of the one and only BBS I ever saw, as it was configured, at a neighbour’s house.
All of that so a group of friends, likely living only a few minutes drive away from each other, could then discuss where to go out later that evening.
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step though, and if it were not, at least in part, due to the perseverance and enthusiasm of early BBS users, the internet as we know it may not have eventuated, as big a call as that may seem.
So the question. If the internet as we know it now was still essentially a BBS, what might using it be like? Google BBS Terminal, complete with the sounds of dial-up modems, will probably give you a reasonable indication.
Even though Google on BBS doesn’t seem half bad, never again shall I complain when the wireless internet connection on my laptop, or smartphone, drops out momentarily (though I probably will).
Aside from word of mouth, newspapers were about the only way stories, ideas, and I imagine photos also, were able to go viral, or reach mass audiences during the nineteenth century, but the process behind the way many of these stories were put in front of people of the day has a certain ring of familiarity to it:
The tech may have been less sophisticated, but some barriers to virality were low in the 1800s. Before modern copyright laws there were no legal or even cultural barriers to borrowing content, Cordell says. Newspapers borrowed freely. Large papers often had an “exchange editor” whose job it was to read through other papers and clip out interesting pieces. “They were sort of like BuzzFeed employees,” Cordell said.
The bottom line, Williams said, is that the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” It’s not a utopia. It’s not magical. It’s simply an engine of convenience. Those who can tune that engine well – who solve basic human problems with greater speed and simplicity than those who came before – will profit immensely. Those who lose sight of basic human needs – who want to give people the next great idea – will have problems.
A British man, Lee Beaumont, annoyed by constant telephone calls from local marketers, set up his own premium phone line, meaning cold callers contacting him are paying a… premium to do so. Now earning a little money from the idea, he is keen that telemarketers call him more often:
The number of calls received by Mr Beaumont has fallen from between 20 and 30 a month to just 13 last month. Because he works from home, Mr Beaumont has been able to increase his revenue by keeping cold callers talking – asking for more details about their services.
Concerned that the Soviet Union might somehow disable cable based means of communication, the US military, at the height of the Cold War, proposed launching millions of small copper wires into Earth orbit, to create an antenna of sorts that would allow communication by radio to continue uninterrupted:
A potential solution was born in 1958 at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, a research station on Hanscom Air Force Base northwest of Boston. Project Needles, as it was originally known, was Walter E. Morrow’s idea. He suggested that if Earth possessed a permanent radio reflector in the form of an orbiting ring of copper threads, America’s long-range communications would be immune from solar disturbances and out of reach of nefarious Soviet plots. Each copper wire was about 1.8 centimeters in length. This was half the wavelength of the 8 GHz transmission signal beamed from Earth, effectively turning each filament into what is known as a dipole antenna.
It may have been the nineteenth century, but there are no shortages of sock puppets, catfish, and people who, in real life, aren’t quite who they seemed to be “on the line”…
By this point, Nattie had pretty much fallen in love with “C” after many days and evenings of telegraphic courtship. Then one day she gets reverse catfished. A creepy dude shows up at her telegraphic office and claims that he’s “C”. This isn’t true; he’s actually someone who worked alongside “C” in “C”s office, and who learned about Nattie and decided to pay a visit. But at this point, Nattie doesn’t know this. He’s such a creep that Nattie shooes him away and falls into a funk. How, she wonders, could somebody be so delightful “on the line” and so nasty in person?