My first honest to god computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000.
But my first functional machine from a programming and connectivity standpoint was my Atari 800 that I got when I was 11. This is because I saved up to get the tape drive for it, the 810 floppy disk drive, and the 835 300 baud modem. (later of course I would upgrade to the Atari 130XE, Indus GT Floppy drive, and SX212 1200 baud modem but the 800 represented the entry point to what I am going to discuss)
That platform introduced me to social computing, thanks to the storage and the modem. Many a late night hour was spent connecting to various Atari BBS’s (that’s Bulletin Board Systems for you people under 18). Back then, computer systems connected point to point, often tying up the phone line so no one else could connect unless the BBS sytem used multi-lines. If you were hardcore, a night’s run of BBS connections might take two or three hours to connect to all the various systems, peruse their files, exchange messages with people who only connected to that one system, and of course, upload your own warez. Oh, and I was hardcore.
I spent most of the 80’s ignoring the PC and Mac revolutions to concentrate on the rich, rich vein that a mature computing platform like the Atari (or Amiga or Commodore) allowed.
(As an aside, the reason those platforms were far more varied and far more fun in the 80’s than PC or Mac were was mainly because you could hook them to any old TV, thus dropping significantly the price. So more time was spent by their user base on creating deep and rich experiences.)
Eventually however, the sheer power and capability of the PC and Mac reached a point where they "won" the office battle, and hence the home battle, even though they required you to purchase an expensive, often monochrome, seperate display device that drove the cost up significantly.
I’m taking a long time to get to my point, as it were, but the history is important.
BBS’s adopted to new platforms relatively effortlessly. As long as you had a relatively standards based comm program for whatever computer you had, and a modem that "spoke" the right language (command set) you could get online with other folk. You could talk with them or even insult them remotely. You could even send the hawt chicks ASCII roses like this:
By 1993 I was rocking a 386/40mhz from AMD with 8 megs of RAM and a 14.4 modem. I was also connecting to something on the order of 8 BBS’s a day to keep up with various friends and online discussions and news reports, etc.
Needless to say, the internet wiped all that away. Suddenly there was one single connection, and you could reach anybody. And you didn’t have to disconnect for the next person to get on. I never realized just how inefficient the entire BBS system was, even though some of them tried to interlink to cut down on the one off nature of it all.
Well, I didn’t realize it until now.
This brings me to the incredible amount of social networking/social media sites these days. Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, Twitter, IM in its various flavors…
I find I’m spending several hours keeping up with all my online peeps, who can’t really all talk to each other with their various real time presence information because even the aggregate sites don’t do all places.
And this despite owning my own damn domain where I post all my presence information.
I don’t know what’s going to be the unifying force that serves, like the Internet did, to link all these communities together (hey…maybe a universal owning of all SM servers using the DNS vuln to redirect them to socialmedialandingplace.com? hrmm) but I can’t help but feel, as a long time geek: All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.