ASCII by Jason Scott

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Where Have All the Philes Gone? —

There’s an article in the Autumn edition of 2600 called “Where have all the Philes Gone?” It’s horrible. I’m sorry I only became aware of it recently; I don’t read 2600 much anymore. I don’t understand why 2600 doesn’t have a PDF version of itself available for a subscription fee or otherwise downloadable. I wish they’d spend a week or two over at the Escapist Magazine for information on how people put together a magazine (with text-only version, web version, pdf versions!) in the modern era. As a result, I didn’t know about this article until over half a year later.

Again, the title is “Where Have All the Philes Gone” and discusses BBS textfiles, their place in history, and thoughts about what the present holds in contrast to the peak of the textfiles. It gets everything nearly completely wrong. It was written by “Glutton”, in case the search engines needed a way to match “glutton” with “gets everything nearly completely wrong”.

Riddled with mistakes and worthless speculations, I defy the core thesis of the article: that BBS-era textfiles are no-longer available in any number or being written in a useful fashion, and this supposed state of affairs is a result of newly heightened fear of accurate information being printed for fear of lawsuits, arrest or, I assume, taxidermy.

For one thing, he makes it sound like BBS textfiles are scattered to the four winds, barely able to be found if you use “filesharing sites” and “search engines”. Well, I know where a few are lying about, so that’s pretty silly in itself.

The article constructs a pretty cramped and inaccurate presentation of the last 20 years, painting a false paradigm about information along the lines of “everything was open and new users were treated with respect, now the government and law enforcement have killed free speech and expression and new users are mistreated”. It’s a pat construction, very easy to swallow, almost sounds informed and wide-thinking.

But it’s not; it’s the kind of stuff you write because you need to fill a couple columns of space and you sort of remember you had a good time on BBSes and so let’s talk about how current forums seem to suck.

Current forums don’t suck. They’re capable of a lot, and when they fail or don’t do things well it’s instantaneously knowable, as opposed to BBSes of yore where if something sucked you had to wait months to really be sure it sucked. Things move faster now. They grow faster and they die faster.

But through it, we have so many more avenues of accessible information. Textfiles are still being written. Some are in PDF form, some are in HTML. It’s not as portable as text, but it’s still pretty damned portable, considering. The fact is, there were a very small amount of bulletin boards compared to websites, they often allowed a single user at a time (meaning maybe 100-200 people total for usage) and the quality was about the same, just in a smaller area. Nowadays, you can have response to a written file within minutes of posting it, not days and days. Things are different now, and better now. Even cursory study of the exhibits reveals this.

But apparently doing more than writing a couple column inches that say nothing, and say it inaccurately, counts as useful information in 2600 these days. I’m sorry to hear that. Here’s the article, all nice and poorly scanned like it deserves to be.

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  1. As someone who has made a career of “setting the record straight,” I hope you are already drafting your letter to Emmanuel and company.

  2. Jason Scott says:

    I am back and forth on what this will actually accomplish, to what end.

  3. If you search for either “BBS Text Files” or “BBS Textfiles” on Google, is the first hit. The author of that file should be embarrassed for doing so little research, and the editors should be embarrassed for letting such a slipshod article slip through the cracks. Much like your Wikipedia talks, I would think a letter to the editor might raise awareness of both of those issues.

  4. Chris says:

    Unfortunately, mostly everyone connected with 2600 (the magazine, website, and the various radio shows) fancies themselves as some sort of anarchist, smash-the-state proto-revolutionary, and it is too bad, because the noise level generated by the politics often drowns out the neat hackery stuff.

  5. ajr says:

    For well over a decade 2600 had almost zero content produced inhouse aside from editorials. Techncial content was all reader submitted. When readers would write in and ask why an article on XYZ wasn’t to be found anywhere, the response was always “well, why don’t you research, learn it, and then write one for us?”. I remember one issue had a semi-detailed article on how to use nmap, I think it was like 1.51. Of course, 2 months before the quarterly came out nmap had rev’d to 2.0 and the 1.x tree looked amateur in comparison. A quarterly print mag with nothing of value created in house… christ, it’s like web 2.0 but 15 years sooner.

  6. The Philosopher says:

    Where exactly did Glutton suggest or imply that “current forums seem to suck” and/or that the information and technology of days past was superior? Slipped Disk, you seem to be slightly missing the point as well. Glutton suggested that the attitude, that the culture surrounding these things was different and perhaps superior in the “days of yore”-NOT the venues of information transfer (BBSes vs. forums). With that stated, I do believe that a few valid points were contained within the article:

    “Gone is the idea that all learning efforts are pure and worthwhile. Now theoretical questions are greeted with suspicion…If someone wanted to know about X, let him as (presumably) a competent being decide whether it’s moral or not.”

    This is quite true, often to the point of sheer ludicriousness. Perusing the letters section of nearly any issue of 2600 one will find several letters describing the completely irrational and insulting suspicions of imbeciles without the slightest inkling of technological understanding. In many cases, regrettably, individuals are persecuted merely for being interested in “non-mainstream”, “fringe”, or any areas of knowledge that the accusers fail to comprehend. Also, I am just as displeased as Glutton and perhaps even more so with the contempt with which curious budding hackers, phreaks, and others are often treated simply due to the questionable legality of the application of the knowledge/information in which they are interested. First, morality absolutely does not equal legality in most instances; secondly, the above maxim aside, information is in itself amoral. The patronizing attitude of many individuals within the H/P subculture and elsewhere as regards this is, in my view, disgusting.

    Anarchists? Smash-the-state proto-revolutionaries? These are completely incorrect descriptions of the political leanings of 2600 Magazine and affiliates, the likes of which are far more mainstream and leftist in nature-socialist libertarian, it seems. I am in concurrence, however, with your view that the political propaganda disseminated by 2600 casts an undesirable shadow over the actual content.

  7. The Philosopher says:

    Here is a link to the Wikipedia page on libertarian socialism, the likes of which I ought to have posted in the above comment:

    The views of 2600 and affiliates seem to range from mainstream, pro-Obama Democrat to socialist libertarian. In both cases, they often (usually) seem to support the state and use thereof to accomplish various objectives, with the exception of civil libertarian issues. 2600 once confined its political propaganda/ramblings to such “civil libertarian issues”, but presently, it promotes a great deal of political leftism regarding many other issues.

  8. The Philosopher says:

    By the way, Slipped Disk (if I may refer to you by that delightfully witty handle) I as a “sort of anarchist” ( read and appreciated your essay “There’s Anarchy and Then There’s Anarchy”.