Now I’ve been snuggling up with computers since I was about 10 years old, I figure, but it wasn’t until my first time logging onto a BBS (Bulletin Board System) that I truly considered what I was getting myself into. Seeing that “Username/Password” screen spring up in ASCII text felt like somebody saying to me, “Here’s the world; will that be paper or plastic?” Through my BBS experiences I chatted with folks from Australia via Telnet and played the first massively multiplayer role-playing games, called “MUDs” with friends I would eventually have the pleasure of meeting in person. Heck, my best friend was one of the first people I met off there.
At the time of my bulletin board prominence the consumer Internet as we know it was still in its infancy, relatively speaking. Prodigy was the first “official” service I remember toying with, but it really wasn’t until America Online started their software saturation campaign that things really began to heat up. When I think back, they must have delivered at least 30 of those stupid floppy discs a week to my folk’s house. Eventually, there were so many you couldn’t give ‘em away! Our local Salvation Army Store even had a separate section for unused AOL floppy discs. Only 10¢ each! At least when they switched to sending AOL on compact disc you could put them in the microwave for a quick fireworks show. I don’t recommend doing this unless you’re a stupid 15 year old boy, however.
But think about it for a second. How many of those discs actually did get installed? How many people “logged on” for the first time and saw the potential wealth of knowledge and slacking that stood before them? Now think about how many people those people told, and how many people bought a computer because they wanted to get in on the fun. This was magical, akin to the invention of TV and the Radio; and where computers were just glorified calculators and word-processors before; the Internet made them a staple of life. And what made this possible? Yep, you guessed it; America Online and their shotgun advertising blitz.
I talk all kinds of smack about AOL, mainly because I think there are simply better ways to access the Internet, yet I have to give them credit, because without them where would we be?
There’s a bad side to this, and it’s a personal one for me, but I’ll save it for another entry. In the meantime, have a good argue with someone about it and get back to me.
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