Well, I just flew in from DC, and boy, are my arms tired. But seriously, folks….
It’s a fine thing to be asked to guestblog by the eminent Dr. Oilcan, and I’ll do my best to entertain you sporadically over the next few weeks. Like he said, I first met Chad back in his Usenet days, which was back in my Usenet days as well. That’s obvious, yeah, but it’s key that we both refer to time on Usenet as long past. I haven’t read or posted to a newsgroup in five years, and even then my interest had been pretty much dead for a couple years.
I first encountered Usenet as a wide-eyed undergrad in the fall of 1994, where I completely embarrassed myself by stumbling into a well-established group in the rec.arts hierarchy devoted to a middling yet addictive sf writer, and asking stupid questions. It was 1994, though, and the old farts by then had realized that SeptemberNet was soon to be perpetual, and my faux pas (plural) were, well, not forgiven, but pretty much ignored. By 2000, I was in grad school, had largely lost interest in the author, and in general the scene seemed played. Soon after, Usenet was dead (to me.)
In between, I made a lot of friends. I didn’t much care for the book discussions after a year or two, but the off-topic banter and general social feel of the newsgroup was a big part of my life. I went to meatspace get-togethers in several cities, including an international gathering in Vegas, watched several people become schmoopy after meeting on the group (sadly not me, as my only maudlin pining was for a grouchy, bearded electrical engineer, who while in possession of a heart of gold wanted nothing to do with me), and maybe even became a better writer. I also was called a Nazi, I think, but back then you weren’t anybody on Usenet until somebody called you a Nazi in the heat of some too-long thread.
My friend Allyson talks about her fancy web-based Interwebbe community of the early-to-mid oughts in the same way; while I never could stand the whole web-board look-and-feel, the experience she describes rings a bell. As a shameless plug, I’ll tell you to go buy her book that’s kind of about that community. It’s a good read, especially if you’re into the personal essay thing. I’m typically not, and I dislike David Sedaris and especially Sarah Vowell, which I know makes me some particularly low Philistine. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it; she writes well about her experiences with “virtual” communities, and if you have a few bucks, pick it up. If you shoplift it be sure to send me a few bucks, which I’ll forward to her.
But these days, where’s a former Usenet dude to go? The whole web-board scene wasn’t really to my taste, and while a lot of people from Chad’s and my Usenet days migrated to LJ, it’s a different vibe that doesn’t quite hit the spot, although I should confess to having had a sporadic LJ myself for a while. There’s a weblog out there (which will remain seeekrit!) whose commentariat begins to approximate the vibe I got from Usenet in the late nineties, but with different mechanics. I even (almost) went to a get-together.
So, I leave you with questions- if you were on Usenet, are you still? If you left, what Internet communities now fill the void? Do you even know what Usenet is? God, I’m old.