by Ray, Guest Blogger
The premise of this piece is an oversimplification, but if the scientists will leave the room, I promise not to tell.
So many aspects of our world, our lives, our minds are neatly divided into yins and yangs. Morning and evening. Youth and age. May and tall. Happy and sad. And for our purposes, positive and negative.
Those minusy particles take a beating in popular culture. “Don’t be so negative!” is the cry of the performance evaluation. “Don’t use no double negatives,” says the ironic grammarian. You can make a calculator cranky, or an abstract mathematician all mind-blown, by trying to find the square root of a negative number. (i have no idea what that means.) Even their positive places in technology are fading, as photographic negatives are quickly joining the Sepia and Daguerreotype families in the George Eastman Graveyard.
Still, there’s a positive side to those negative particles- and that’s when they flow through wires, seeking their protonic partners, and causing, for those of us attuned enough to be in tune with them, some very positive results.
The pedigree of these particles goes back far before the, um, current series of tubes we now use. From Thales of Miletos, to Franklin, to Morse and Bell and Tesla, but ultimately through Edison, this power of God and these forces of nature began to be harnessed, and largely to enhance communication. I have special connection to that line: Thomas Edison’s first wife was a sister of one of my grandparents. She died not long after their marriage, and I assure you that none of the family’s fame or fortune ever wound up in our hands (apparently his second wife’s sons Met and Con got everything under the will), but I’ve always had a little extra fascination with things of a technical nature, and maybe that’s a part of why.
Even so, until the 1980s, things hadn’t changed all that much from the 1890s. Mr. Bell’s descendants still owned that phone on your desk; it was black, it had a dial, and you paid obscene amounts of money to use it. Mr. Morse’s family would still send the occasional telegram until this century, when other forms of technology finally made them STOP
Mr. Gates, meanwhile, had only just begun to make his mark with the power coming out of the wall. He may have been among the most clueless of all about how to take that power, which he’d previously concentrated on disks and desktops, and network it among other users, in other places, who would eventually become not just fellow users but friends in all senses of the word.
For me, it wasn’t until the mid-90s that it began to happen. We’d just moved to Buffalo, and networks were rusty things connected through scary looking “file server” computers. Moving data outside your immediate vicinity was possible, but involved the use of microwave oven-sized modems that cranked along at a radical 1200 bps (2400 if you were really advanced). Then, sometime in 1995 before the advent of the Windows of that name, I heard about a UB-based effort to get the community connected to this new thing called the Internet. It was called the Buffalo Free-Net, and while it was nothing pretty to look at, it brought hundreds of geeky people together in this new, electron-driven sort of way. Some of them gravitated to a Star Trek discussion group. Soon, some of those folks were talking about some other goofy show called seaQuest, and they were writing something about it called “fan fiction.” First I watched, then I commented, ultimately I edited, and on at least a few frightening occasions, I wrote. I’ve kept only a few Freenet Friends who’ve followed me over the circuits and through the loops in the almost 15 years since then, but one is enough. We’re in parallel; only one bulb needs to be in the string in order for it to light.
Soon, some of those electrons were beginning to light up inside a new and even stranger “walled garden” called America Online. They’d just changed their marketing to allow unlimited usage for a fixed monthly price, and sometime around ’96 or ’97, I joined that bunch, several of the Freenet people finding me there. The general message boards and chat rooms were pretty damn scary, but something led me to trivia as a safe space within the International House of Porn that late-90s AOL otherwise was. First I watched (only they called it lurking), then I commented (only they called it playing), ultimately I edited (only they called it writing games), and on more than a few frightening occasions after a thorough vetting and orientation process, I ran games, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal members. I was HOST [Insert This Year’s Model] Ray, and could gag disruptive members, get their antics reported and their privileges pulled, and bend electrons with my bare fingers. Along the way, I met dozens of kindred souls, most of whom also had HOST status, until AOL, faced with dot-bomb financial pressures and a class-action lawsuit which said we should’ve been paid for all this work, fired the lot of us in 2003. One of the last hosts to be trained before the purge was a crazy-ass medical school graduate named Karissa, who was my delightful co-host for some of the last official trivia games I ever ran for them.<<this will be important later
My electrons still needed- what else?- an outlet, after many hosts stopped running games because they lost privileges and/or free dialup access to AOL (soon thereafter, it became free to anyone accessing the service through broadband, as we did by then), and others huddled into insular little clique communities of players. I found my niche on yet another new service, that some of the old Freenetters, and one or two of the trivia players, had landed on to do That Thar New Blogging Thang.
Once again, I progressed from the lurk to the wetting-of-feet to the all-in effort that’s lasted there for 2,500-plus posts on my main blog, several hundred more on a specialty journal, and literally thousands of comments to and from hundreds of other fellow readers and even fellower writers.
One of them was Karissa- khuckie to the LiveJournal world. And she brought some not-quite-as-kooky friends with her. One was a one-time clarinetist from Middleburg, now living and working at the other end of this crazy state of mine. Would I like to read her stuff?
::moments after reading her stuff:: Do fish have lips? They do. And she, it turns out, has yet another level of friendships, which have concentricized with circles of my own and become as dear to me as May became, and Karissa before that, and Mel before that, and so on, and so on, and so on.
More recently, my own beloved bride, and my own amazing daughter, have begun blogs of their own. Their photos, their artwork, their words and their dreams, are now part of the signal. Which, as all Serenity fans know, can’t be stopped.
To plagiarize (and slightly bowlderize) an old hymn:
Will the circuit be unbroken?
By and by lord, by and by,
Theres a better home a-waitin
In the sky lord, in the sky
Not that there’s anything wrong with the one we’re in right here. As long as we’re all connected through what we say, and how we feel, and who we are.