Identity: The Cave Bulletin Board System

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Benji Edwards computer loading The Cave

The circuit of culture is how to appropriately and completely study a topic and its influence on our way of life. This way of exploring includes consumers who use the product, how it is used, its purpose, the identity of said consumers, the rules enforced over the product, how it is made, and how this all influences the product. The idea of identity looks at who is involved in the entire process and participates in the service. It identifies the groups, characteristics, and hobbies of those using the site. The appeal of bulletin board systems brings people with similar interests or connected identities to the same place.

The bulletin board systems which rose to popularity in the 1980-1990s were some of the first forums to allow users to access uploaded files, play games, post messages, and communicate internationally and locally between computers. BBSs are appealing to users for their colored text and graphics which was not seen before on a computer. The local North Carolina newspaper highlights how the use of downloading files is the most popular use of the moderated BBSs, but gaming is also highly popular. The computers could connect to people internationally, but due to high phone bills most people stuck to their zip code. They are typically hobby-motivated and used by those with modem and home computers, allowing users to dial-in to contact those in their area. This creates interpersonal connections between people through computer-to-computer connections. This could lead to special and long-lasting relationships by brining those who relate through a common topic to a chat room together. Although it was not the purpose, it creates a separation of people: those involved and those who are not. It is not exclusive because anyone can make an account and join whatever chat room they choose. Within the chat room there are exclusive conversations that occur, which even cannot be found today. The users’ interest in the hobbies gives specific access to others with even more knowledge.

During the time period in which BBSs first arose, a request for name, birthday, address, and phone number to create an account was not a huge risk of privacy. By creating an account, you get access to hundreds of chats, files, and online games. There are chat boards based on specific topics which created groups of people who related to each other, giving them an identity or adding to it. Those who cared about the specific BBSs were passionate for the subject because it was part of their identities. It can be assumed that people spend hours on the systems entertained by playing or discussing their passion. Users did need access to modems, the dial-in service, and had a necessity for this specific usage. Corporate companies and government agencies would rarely use these services because they had certain internet service employed just for them which gives them fuller access to the same information. There are three hundred seventy-three BBSs still in operation, but there are only twenty systems in dial-in operation in North America. The use of zip codes and lack of efficient reach to other states and countries through phone lines also forces the BBSs to have a geographical identity. Users typically only reached out to those in their area with the same interests, so the perspectives and knowledge was limited. This also created exclusivity because other people outside of the area have similar interests and may want to join the group but cannot simply because they are not close enough to the randomly selected location in which the BBS was created.

The Beginning of The Cave from Benji Edwards

Benji Edwards created “The Cave” bulletin board system in Raleigh, North Carolina. The BBSs are run by those who have the coding ability and software knowledge to create such a space which could connect to the phone lines. Benji was specifically talented in adding images and colors to the bulletin board systems. It was a “gateway” to hundreds of games because of the figurative gateway between the BBS software and actual gaming program. Majority of the games were multiplayer and rotate through turns, but each player was alerted at different times of the day to play their turn(s). Although the main pages were very graphic and colorful, most games could not display pictures which operating, only text symbols. It was mainly a site for gaming and chatting for what seemed to be a low cost or free. This appealed to users who were invested in gaming and have the basic set of skills to play computer games.

The turn of the internet lead to the end of bulletin board systems. The access to internet expanded to users beyond those belonging to companies or government organizations. This made the use of BBSs minimal and then slowly disappear. In The Atlantic, Edwards compares it to Pompeii because some of the conversations were just stopped immediately and never finished. Many of the chats are paused on a cliff hanger with the conversation to never be complete because the website was never reactivated, or the users have passed away. The entire community is forever frozen in time, but not much evidence remains.

The abrupt ending to bulletin board systems also leaves us with a lack of history. The interactions were not saved within the systems so many of the BBSs are only recording as phone numbers and location. The success of the BBSs was felt in the future. As the Kevin Driscoll states in the The Modem World, “The people who built and maintained dial-up BBSs in the 1980s laid the groundwork for millions of others who would bring their lives online in the 1990s and beyond. Along with writing code and running up their phone bills, these modem enthusiasts developed novel forms of community moderation, governance, and commercialization.” Due to creators’ desire to interact with others with similar interests, the internet expands and allows for efficient communication and created a part of our identity which we all benefit from today.

The End of The Cave from Benji Edwards

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