It won’t come as any surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have always been somewhat of a ‘geek’. I’ve always been fascinated with computers, and particularly how they can be used to communicate. Long before the Internet went mainstream, I enjoyed dialing up ‘Bulletin Board Systems‘ (or BBS as they were known) on my 2400 baud modem. It was slow, unreliable and seems archaic now, but it felt really futuristic at the time.
One thing I miss about those pioneering days is the discussion forums. They were, by today’s standards, very low-tech. There was a voluntary ‘store-and-forward’ network called Fidonet that allowed messages to ‘ripple’ out to other BBS around the world. I won’t bore you with details of the topology, but in brief each BBS would poll at least one other server a day, and exchange messages. This meant that, over several days, a message posted in a discussion forum by a user in, say, Edinburgh, would be visible to users in London.
This seemed amazing to me at the time. For the cost of a local call, you could collaborate and discuss all sorts of topics from people all over the country (or even the world). And whilst there was very robust debate, there was very little ‘trolling’ and very little need for moderation.
Juxtapose this with today’s Facebook message forums, and there is a world of difference. I am a member of a local community forum where a range of local issues are discussed, and even though there is a lot of constructive debate sometimes things escalate very quickly and turn ugly. The discussion turns from constructive to personal extremely quickly. So why is there so much more conflict now than in those early Fidonet days?