Monday, May 21, 2007

The Geek Within

Alright, I admit it – I’m a computer nerd. Yeppers, I’m a geek.

Back in high school, while everyone else my own age was experimenting with sex, drugs and rock and roll, I was BBSing.


Back in the 80s, long before the Internet existed, the only way to connect one computer to another over great distances was by telephone, dial-up, modem connected BBSes.

BBS (Bulletin Board System) were common among us computer nerds in the 1980s. Back then, we’d sit in front of our computers, dialing BBS after BBS desperately trying to connect.

In those days, they didn’t have many lines connecting these home-based computer hangouts, so busy signals were common.

It was an addictive hobby. I remember rushing home to be first on the computer so that I could log into various BBSes, read and respond to messages on the message boards, and upload and download the latest “warez.”

Email didn’t exist back then, you actually had to sit in front of your computer for hours on end, reading and responding to messages as you went. They did come up with cool software which allowed you to download the messages and upload your responses. But you still had to go through each and everyone of them. There were no instant emails back then.

And yes, I even uploaded and downloaded the latest software back then. You’d get “DL Points” or “DownLoad Points” for each byte of software you uploaded. You could in turn use these points to download software, which you’d most likely try to be the first to upload to another BBS, to get more points, so you can download something else and continue the cycle.

As I write this, I’m downloading a training video off of BitTorent. BitTorent is a form of computer network sharing, which allows people all over the world to share files over the Internet. I didn’t need to upload anything to get points, and I can do many things at the same time on my computer (like hammer out this blog).

Back in the early days of home computing, when you were uploading or downloading files, the process would tie up your computer so you couldn’t do much – if anything else.

Technology certainly has improved over the years. I can upload and download lots of files in the blink of an eye, all while checking emails, surfing the net, writing blogs, going through a spreadsheet, or doing countless other things.

Still, there was a certain romance for the old era of file sharing back then. The process was so personalized because you couldn’t do anything else while it was going on, often I’d sit in front of my computer for the whole file transfer. Yeah, I didn’t have a life back then. I sometimes wonder if I have much of one these days. . .

Back in those days, it really was a race to get the latest games, applications, utilities and other software, because the sooner you got it, the “newer” it was and the more easily you could upload it elsewhere to get points to get even more new cool stuff.

These days, there is no race to get anything as there are no points systems. I actually try to spend as little time in front of my computer at home, as I spend my entire working day on one. Too much pixel-lit glow isn’t good for the eyes.

I miss those old days. It was fun, exciting, and challenging to connect and transfer files. These days, you just do a search and poof, whatever you want is out there. I was looking for a shareware application so I can view my webcam over the Internet when I’m at the office. I did a search, and sure enough, I found what I wanted.

Connecting to the online world doesn’t even have the same “feel” as it did back in the 80s. Back in the 80s, everything was so tactile. You could see the modem lights flicker as you dialed, connected and transferred data to and from the BBS. You heard the sound of the modem as it connected or disconnected from the BBS.

These days, I see the lights flicker on my cable modem at home, but they always flash the same patterns, as I’m always connected to my high-speed network. There are no sounds, there are no busy signals, and there isn’t that sense of urgency to connect to some BBS to share the latest joke or upload the latest files.

We’ve become permanently wired to the world. Nothing emotionally connects us to each other through the physicality of the Internet. We can use webcams, microphones and speakers, but as we’re all accustom to always being online, it isn’t exciting, rare, fresh or new anymore.

These days, checking email is about as common as blowing your nose.

Time to go blow my nose – I mean check the email. See ya in cyberspace.

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