The Anarchist's Guide To The BBS

A book by KEITH WADE published in 1990 (Loompanics Unlimited, paperback, 90 pages).

What could be more interesting than reading about computer BBSing? This guide was published on the heyday, and reading it today is a pretty good nostalgia trip. By 1990 I had been personally BBSing already for some years, and running my own systems, networked in the FidoNet. For me it was an escape route from school bullying and boring heavy metal kids, and defined my future ``career'' working in the field of computer programming, telecommunications and open source.

The guide starts by explaining that it is not a technical manual. Perhaps because of this, it's not dated that badly. Still a technology section follows, explaining some of the terms, which are mostly unknown or irrelevant today. Also all the explanations how to use BBSes further in the book are of course still pretty technical and dated. BBSes were command-line oriented. The guide even goes to into some details of RBBS-PC and PCBoard, like ``turbo keys''. Nice trivia. I got flashbacks with all the menus and messages scrolling in my mind.

Anyway, the best part of the book covers how to utilize BBSes from the so-called anarchist point of view, and how they are a great tool for ``subversive speech'', ``dangerous business'', to find cohorts or even participate in crimal activity. Or to just find some friends if you are a misfit. There's also a good point how cheaper technology gives more power to the people. The author talks about ``The Five Hundred Dollar Anarchy Machine''.

Surprisingly, when the BBS-era peaked (and soon collapsed) this was all forgotten. It quickly became money and business driven. Not to enable people, but corporations. This book was apparently even specifically ridiculed (according to EFFector Online, Issue 3.3, 1992-08-24) as ``stupid niche'' at the first ONE BBSCON where ``mainstream businesses'' were promoted. Downfall of USENET and mailing lists soon followed. There was some promise in the early web's ``home page'' era when people were able to express themselves and create content easily. Facebook, twitter etc. killed all this and everything was productized.

I see some potential in Fediverse. And today some kids want to be self-hosting, like we were in the BBS days. This book reminded me why such is important and exciting.

Last updated: 2024-04-25 04:01 (EEST)