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Dangerous Compassions

10th grade: my first modem

My first modem was 300 baud and given to me by my friend Scott so I could call the local BBS from my Commodore 64. I’m too embarassed to say the names we went by there, but if you ever thought my email address was stupid, that’s why. I was 14!

The BBS had a certain number of lines. I think a maximum of 8 people could be on it at a time, though it got more and more upgraded as the years went by. And now it can be accessed so nostalgically from the web, and people make ASCII pictures. You know what I’m talking about! Or not, depending.

What was the purpose of this BBS? Well, originally it was gay. By the time I arrived, it was defnitely gay-friendly but no longer gay. It was for chatting. There were set conventions, and the same abbreviations that I see in emails today. I remember lots of brb, ttyl, ttys, btw, and affection within asterisks. *hug* Nowadays I still want to use astericks for emphasis–is that standard? I don’t think I ever did “lol.” That is my pet peeve of life, so intense a pet peeve I won’t even discuss it! Next paragraph!

The BBS was a staging ground for connections among geeks. Only geeks allowed! It was a tight commnuity. Everyone knew everyone. Lots of relationships formed and dissolved. Lots of potential for friendships, and enemy-ships too. The relationships I made there didn’t last. Only my friendship with Scott remains.

Even at the time, 300 baud was slow. I used that modem to access two local BBSes made by friends also–message-based ones as opposed to chat. “How can you connect so slow?” they asked, and I would say, “300 baud is about as fast as I can think.” I didn’t mind it. I was patient. They were at 1100 baud or whatever–I can’t remember the number.

It was the kind of thing everone made fun of, but came back for more. It was a way to connect.

As an adult, during grad school, I belonged to one very small message-based internet BBS. It was populated entirely by men except for me and one other woman. The men were brilliant and very, very nasty. A few were first-rate writers. I spent a lot of time there, but eventually the nastiness of the men drove me nuts, and I quit. I loved their brilliance but got so tired of the bickering and misogyny. I posted almost never. I’ve spent many hours and years watching men and listening to them talk.

On the internet I’ve never been to a chat room. It seems like the whole world is just too big. How could you get to know anyone? It must happen–maybe I would like it. But I like my life now, and I know how chatting can suck a person in.

Mostly, I see it as a waste of time. In my experience, it just kills hours and hours, and it’s never very meaningful or deep. Even if it’s flirtatious, the people are somewhat interchangable. I don’t want to see people that way, the conversational equivalent of badporn.

But when I was a kid, I had nothing better to do. For a 10th grader, it was fine.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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