Back in the day when there were few to no ISPs in Houston (where I grew up) I used to have an account on cypher.com. Cypher ran a Santa Cruz Operation System V machine (SCO has since proven to be a bunch of jerks) and it was there I cut my Unix teeth.
I would run - inside of GNU screen, of course to account for dropped connectionns - ‘tin’ (Usenet News), ‘elm’ (email), and keep a Terminal open for screwing around in Unix.
It was there that I learned some of the applications that I use in my occupation to this very day. This was the afternoon preluding the twilight of the Internet’s golden age.
In my inbox there was only mail from people I knew, in the newsgroups my email address was published without fear of it being harvested for spam, the newsgroups were full of people bonded by a common interest who actually made progress in their pursuit of topics of interest, no AOL, and not one overspeculative .com even existed.
Heck, I remember the day the ‘directory site" yahoo.cs.stanford.edu became publicly available…you know them better today as yahoo.com.
Above all other applications though, I used to log into irc.undernet.org, fire up Vassago’s (whatever happened to him, I wonder…) PhoEniX (a tool for drawing ASCII art, auto-join features, and kickbanning people) and chat away the hours. IRC was such a wonderful place then, meeting people from all over the world, learning about new technology, trading video game secrets, discussing Ayn Rand (ugh!) - and so much more. It’s almost impossible to tell people how wonderful it was.
It was my first exposure to the spontaneous community phenomenon (repeated on a much more meatspace and grand scale at Burning Man) and it was quite really intoxicating.
I remember sitting at the desk in the den, not far from the television watching the footage of Al Cowlings steering the Ford through the streets of LA.
I remember watching the white Bronco speeding down the highways of Los Angeles. I remember the people with the white posters that said “Run, OJ, Run”. I didn’t have the vocuabluary at the time to express how absurd the entire thing was.
On a whim I entered /join #oj and lo and behold there were a few hundred people joined in the chat room. We were all half watching the scroll by of the text on our monitors, half watching the action on television. I remember one of the guys saying that his apartment backed up to the freeway and he was going to the roof to check it out.
Who knew then that this anonymous guy in #oj would herald the change in journalism. Digital cameras, bloggers, and the ubiquity of connectivity could make everyman and anyman a journalist on site and they would uniquely possess authenticity. Having been there in person they would have seen and known backstory that some reporter, her hair perfectly hair sprayed into perfection in the side mirror of her news van, could never hope to attain.
…And what of the ability for a human population to quickly provide a forum for the discussion in a mere matter of moments. Simply typing /join #oj would have been enough to create the chat forum had it not already existed. It all started changing not long after…