Last night I received two phone calls: one from a man in Cleveland I saw face to face once 13 years ago. The other from a woman near Washington’s Coast whom I have never met. But we’re family of a sorts… and sad news needs to be delivered in person.
In the very early 1990s “the internet” was little about “the web”; while AOL and Prodigy were starting up, most of the activity on both was contained inside their systems. For most of us, the internet meant IRC, email, usenet groups and bulletin boards. Texty. Very texty.
In Cleveland, Case Western Reserve had decided to reach out and make the internet accessible to anyone with a computer, modem and phoneline. They created the Cleveland Freenet (CFN). As a user, I would put my modem on “auto dial until I connect” and wait through the 10-100 attempts to find an open node on a server, occupying myself some other way until I connected. Once the connection was made, however, I needed to work fast. After 60 minutes, I would be automatically disconnected.
The physical connections could be slow enough that it would take 20 minutes to log in, 10 minutes to access my email, 5 minutes for a message to show on my screen, and a minute each time I tried to scroll down. Still it was my introduction to the net…
One group at CFN that I connected with was Boomers. It was started by a several people including a feisty blonde woman who worked as a cop for the Cleveland Clinic, Weezie. The intro always mentioned that Boomers was a state of mind, not merely a generation. We were witty, serious, incredibly talkative, and we learned about each other. Boomers was mentioned in many of the early books about internet.. an interesting place to check out. An eclectic gathering point. We drew a college student in Taiwan who was coming to the US for grad school; an elder woman in Seattle who has worked with computers since the 50s (?). A tech support woman in Rochester NY; many others who stopped, liked the ambiance and chose to stay.
Over the years, we’d talk about lives: our friends, our families, all the changes in our lives. Sometimes there would be real life get togethers to put faces with names. At the center of all this was Weezie. She was our pack mother. She’d laugh first and loudest, grump stronger, and keep us playing nicely together.
Last night Weezie died. And we of the Boomers family felt a need to draw together in real life to share the news.
This morning I wonder how the family will hold together from here.