ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Through a Carrier, Darkly —

I’ve spent many nights answering e-mails to people who tell me about their memories with BBSes as they experienced them. In fact, it was the hundreds of responses that I originally got from posting the world’s largest BBS list that told me there were some serious holes in most computer history.

Of course, the easiest story to tell is that of hacking into computers and occasionally BBSes would be mentioned as “electronic meeting places” but kind of drop off the map. So they’re kind of there and not there, one of those things where people say “Yeah, I remember hearing on my local BBS about (event)” but they don’t go into too much detail about the BBS they were on themselves.

Which is why so much of this “blogging” “phenomenon” holds interest to me, since it is to BBSes what the X Games are to Dynamite Magazine and skateboarding in pools. However, when I’m put in the position of having to explain them to BBS types who don’t see the draw, I say “Think of them as BBSes where the only topic is the Sysop”. But of course it’s much more than that to people as they’re experiencing it, and they will be in the same position as “BBS people” are, 20 years from now, when they try to explain to teenagers what the draw in constant, unending discussion about a world-wide influx of occasionally profound but often minimal events and actions was.

So I decided this was a cool thing, to go ahead and film a documentary where I would track down those names that were like stars to me, to get them on video talking about this subject that formed so much of my childhood. And, generally, that’s come very true. I’ll mention some of the folks in future postings, but on a pure holy-crap-I-can’t-believe-it level would have to be Ward Christensen, who essentially invents what we consider to be the canonical dial-up Bulletin Board System, and even XMODEM to boot. Not a bad set of accomplishments. Ward and I have spent no small time on the phone and we filmed five hours of footage of him, where he goes off on wonderful, insightful tangents about his programming, his life, and of course CBBS, the Computerized Bulletin Board System. When you’re doing a documentary, the holy grail is to get time with the guy who invents the thing you’re doing the documentary on.

Just that, those moments spent with a man whose work so profoundly touched my own life, is worth more than any sort of payment or profit from the final product. I have to encourage you, before your eyes shift to other parts of other websites, to think that all I did was buy a camera (Canon XL-1), a lighting kit, a couple suitcases, and then started doing it. Maybe there’s some subject that you wonder about as to why no one’s done a film on it… maybe that subject is waiting for you to do it.

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