BBS: The Documentary

BBSs–“Bulletin Board Systems” were the precursors to today’s internet. Totally low-tech and restricted by hardware and bandwidth limitations, they were text based and you accessed them over a phone line, but by signing into one or hosting your own you became part of an elite nerdy culture of people communicating with each other and sharing software and information.

ASCII art was born to create graphical representations within hardware and display limitations, and considering how our graphics have improved and how easy it is to design things with our modern tools its impressive to see what has been created with such a limited palette.

I ran a one-node BBS, but more often I was logging into other systems within my area code that wouldn’t rack up long distance charges on my parent’s phone line. I had a little chart next to my computer to show when the off-peak times were so I could schedule my downloads of Wolfenstein, Doom and related maps, tracker software and .mods, and .tar’d text files of information that might be considered quasi-legal to be in possession of.

Director Jason Scott pent quite a few years on his own and created a 2-DVD 3-DVD talking-heads box set of a documentary on BBSs, including the history, culture, and available technology at the time. It also features music by 8-bit artist Paul Slocum aka Treewave who makes music with a Commodore 64 and a dot-matrix printer. MP3s are here.

If you’re like me and once ran a BBS, you need to show off your nerd cred by snagging an ExSysOpt-shirt. And yes, although I’m certain that the talking heads featured in BBS: The Documentary are likely 99.9% 90% male, the t-shirts are available in ladies’ sizes, too.

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