Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Public persona (jmcarlin) Fri 25 Mar 05 18:32
> Fourteen years on the > Well has helped me become gracious as well as argumentative. I'll drink to that.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 25 Mar 05 19:02
I'm reminded of how hard it was to tell people what I did when I legitimized my scary WELL addiction with a job here in the 90's. It must have been even weirder to explain in the 80s. My family is of Sierra Club backpacker stock, back a century. As a kid in the early 50's when nbobdy knew about that stuff, I knew what it was like to love somethign my classmates couldn't imagine. So that gave me a family metaphor for the obsession. I remember saying to my grandma, "Did you know computers can connect by telephone? That seems boring, but people have created programs that let you use a computer and a phone to contact interesting people, and type in remarks so that anybody in the group can tell the next story. It's just like sitting around a campfire in the mountains and really getting to know the people you are hiking with." It had to be much harder in 1985. What did you tell people?
Matthew McClure (mmc) Fri 25 Mar 05 23:04
One of my earliest memories of the WELL was when Larry Brilliant brought Wavy Gravy to the office when the WELL was just opening. It was coming up on Easter and Wavy made a pithy post: Practice resurrection.
Matthew McClure (mmc) Fri 25 Mar 05 23:05
I remember saying we wanted to make a place where interesting people in the Bay Area (it was dial-up at the time) could talk to one another using their computers. People seemed to get it.
Jack Kessler (kessler) Sat 26 Mar 05 00:12
I'd never heard of email, or of the Internet, when I joined. I was at UC Berkeley in 1989, doing a midlife career makeover. The OCF / Open Computing Facility there was worrying about whether non-CompSci students like me were welcome, and whether NSF Acceptable Use policies were violated by a monster called Commercialism. The CompSci guys I knew -- all-male, back then -- were not too helpful, with my ignorant tech questions, and my non-tech curiousities, and then one of them suggested The WELL. I spent the next 2 years here, ramping up fast on concepts & techspeak & the idea of looking up books in foreign libraries as though they were right next door -- all thanks to The WELL's endless patience and wonderful good humor. Then in 1992 we took our family to live in France for a year, and I asked The WELL about that and it (he/she/they? -- they, I think) said yes it could be done: I could connect in even from France. So, not just those foreign libraries "going international" with this new stuff but me, imagine... That took a lot of conceptual mind-bending for me, being on a Lyon hilltop and having nextdoor neighbors in San Francisco invite me over for coffee: having to tell them I was so far away. Then, a year later, saying the reverse online to neighbors in Lyon. The Death of Distance -- altho we all discovered that while some distances died, with all of this, others were born. But all very exciting stuff. If not for matisse and kayo (I'm sure she was here before 1996, I was too) and a couple of dozen other WELLites, tho, for me it never would have happened. I was so non-tech it hurts to remember -- still hurts -- and back then they nursed me through all the many complications of my French connections, including "accents", always with that patience and good humor. Full career change for me as a result, too: great WELL help, and occasional heated discussion, got me into "Internet consulting" and teaching / lecturing / writing, and investing which got me out of my previous 9-5+ office life. And last year great community action and personal venting in a frustrating political year... Thanks for all of it, WELL.
Gail Williams (gail) Sat 26 Mar 05 11:19
Nice story, Jack! And Matthew, good to see you here! fig & hlr mention "Pegleg" above, and you appear in a cloud of magenta and silver smoke. (OK, I take responsbility for my internal special effects and set design in this partially mutual movie, but I definitely got magenta with a silver lining.) Howard, you mention being cultivated by tex, and by seeing mmc as godlike. I know you all cultivated other newcomers. Who came through the doors early on and just had to be a keeper?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 26 Mar 05 13:15
Hinging. I dunno if he's still around. What an original. He was clearly -- unusual. But he found his way around. And there were flashes of brilliance in his word salad.
Jeff Dooley (dooley) Sat 26 Mar 05 13:41
> mmc as godlike Anyone who can train a dragon to do the things he does is definitely godlike.
Gail Williams (gail) Sat 26 Mar 05 13:47
Dooley! Another silverback from year 1 arrives.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 26 Mar 05 13:58
Wow, how ya doing, Dooley? Who else was I glad to have as a member? Ramon Sender. Great name, first off. His warm intelligence came across in his posts and I remember always feeling comforted that there was at least one person like that checking in regularly. He brought us Shady, the oracle, who helped guide us through many trying times. When I got to meet him and Judy and his accordion, it just confirmed what a cool guy he seemed to be online. And anyone who could get humor across without pissing people off was more than OK in my book. I was glad to have Loca and his Weird conference around, in its classic original Monty Pythonesque incarnation. Once it grew fangs, it became more of a worry to my playground monitor side. Another unique thing about working at the WELL in those early years, was that everyone in the workplace was logged throughout the day. When one of us ran across a posting or conversation that was funny, or especially interesting, or that represented trouble, they'd react out loud and soon we'd all be "g"-ing to and "s"-ing to the location of the remark. You'd get to laugh out loud spontaneously several times a day. But life wasn't all rosebuds and lollipops - there were the dreaded Hung Modems to deal with. Modems sucked. Modem manuals and documentation sucked. Modem advice sucked. Sure, there were answers - there HAD to be answers. But weeks, months would go by with modem problems popping up like Wack-a-Mole as we shifted their order in the phone hunt, rebuilt RS-232 cables, replaced phone cables, recycled and struck sharply the recalcitrant and infernal contraptions. I tried to describe what I was doing to my parents and they were almost as baffled as when I told them 15 years earlier that I was a "householder yogi" on the Farm. "And what is YOUR son doing now?" Sorry, Mom.
Cliff Figallo (fig) Sat 26 Mar 05 14:01
Correction: Everyone on the staff was not "logged" throughout the day. They were logged-IN throughout the day. I'm so used to using WebCrossing, where I can edit my lousy first drafts. Maybe it's time to go back to a telnet login with vi.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 26 Mar 05 14:18
Definitely Loca's Weird conf was a funny, funny, fun, warm milestone. And yeah, Weird grew fangs later, and it wasn't so funny and fun. Another ghost just drifted in: Artcomtv. Carl. Another original. And who could forget Das Casino -- the online and offline versions?
Jack Kessler (kessler) Sat 26 Mar 05 15:25
<35> Who remembers early modem speeds -- <fig>? -- I think I have something which went 1200bps still sitting on a shelf around here, somewhere, maybe even slower. The WELL is from life-before-DSL, even life-before-Web, I tell my kids, and they don't believe me.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 26 Mar 05 15:28
There was a time when the Vax was slower than a 1200 baud modem. You could log in, go get a cup of coffee, and when you came back, your first Well screen would finally be loaded.
Jeff Dooley (dooley) Sat 26 Mar 05 15:58
300 baud was my speed reading the Well when I first logged on. I could actually read posts as they scrolled up my screen.
Jack Kessler (kessler) Sat 26 Mar 05 16:48
Imagine reading through today's spam quota -- I get hundreds per diem, now -- at 300. Things have gotten better but they've also gotten worse: no spam at all, back in the 80s.
Ari Davidow (ari) Sat 26 Mar 05 17:50
I remember that things changed for me when I went from 2400 baud, which was as fast as I could read online without having to pause, to something faster. At the slower speed, I did tend to read things all the way through and be more involved. It was an odd artifact, and I'm sure more speed affected other people differently (and I have no desire to return to 2400 baud - the world has gotten too big). The big thing for me that was different then was that the medium was different. We didn't yet realize how much online community was just another adjective-modified of the general wonder of "community". Some people thought that being able to involve people from around the world in a community opened utopian doors. It didn't. People didn't change. On the other hand, the ability to create a discussion around subjects that mattered, but for which you could never gather enough people who cared passionately into the same room without some special conference and travel was a wonder, and still is - I think it explains part of what is so neat about blogs today.
Low and popular (rik) Sat 26 Mar 05 22:03
I found my way here in 1990, having been fascinated with the culture of the Whole Earth deal. Jon Carroll had hyped the Well in his Chronicle column, and buying a modem (whatever the hell that was) seemed like a good idea. After 15 years of nonstop travel in a band bus with a built-in family, I was finally home and at sea, simultaneously. And Jon made the idea of virtual friends very inviting. The first thing that struck me was how welcoming the Well was. The second thing was how smart the people were. And how original and usual. Really early on, matisse invited me to join a bunch of wellites for a nude exploration of the Tactile Dome at the Exploratorium. I had no idea you could actually do that. And the partying wasn't just virtual. People got together live. And I was even supplied with a phrase that described the experience. I'd found my tribe.
Fuzzy Logic (phred) Sun 27 Mar 05 01:41
Been away on a sort of unanticipated sabbatical but I'm still here too. I came in through the Grateful Dead door that so many others did. It was January 1987. I'd been on BBSes for three years but nothing really clicked like the Well when I first logged in. For one thing, within about 10 minutes someone named 'tex' was sending me some kind of message on the screen. Said he knew me. Tex? Oooooh! One of the Farm folks I met in 1980 during our ill-fated effort to pull off a serious anti- nuclear rally in DC. (Long story there too, it rained buckets and then three days later the weather was gorgeous for Jerry Falwell's Washington for Jesus rally, which really ushered in the Reagan era and the whole mess our country is in now.) The Deadhead part of the Well is a fascinating story that deserves its own history at some point. Many who were not actively part of it knew about the ferment and the waves of users it brought to the Well, but unless you were directly participating the sense of building a national clubroom which had overlaying online and real-life relationships, conversations and experiences was to me unprecedented and remarkable. There were so many great times, but the one that stands out clearest was October 1989, when a bunch of us west coast Wellheads were in a diner in New Jersey on the off night of the tour, getting ready to watch the World Series, and suddenly half the people in the room *had* to log in to find out what was happening back where their families were dealing with the earthquake. The Well was the only place to find out what was happening in near-real-time. But the Well's Deadhead scene was just one of many exceptionally lively parts of the mosaic. The intertwined history with the Coev/Whole Earth side of things has been underplayed as well, I think. The proximity of the two enterprises brought cross-fermentation between them and in particular provided a context where an extremely broad topical reach was simply assumed. The Well has always been an open system in the sense of information and people flow with other efforts -- the Deadheads of course, but also Art Com, Pickle Family Circus, the scavenger hunt, Hackers, Anon Salon, CompuMentor, and so many others. And especially EFF. EFF is to me an indicator of another key Well characteristic, which is the devotion to truly free speech, but with enough responsibility built in that it never quite fell apart. YOYOW, the spectacular rise and fall of the anon conference, "tools not rules," and much more. I'm constantly amazed at how some basic online patterns were encountered early on the Well and we often worked out (at extensive and sometimes excruciating length) all of the dimensions of how to sustain online conversation and relationships. The lessons and experience of all this have been beyond valuable. Being in Portland all this time, I have been privileged to take a role that is fairly unusual -- direct participation thanks to frequent trips to the Bay Area, but distance enough to put some perspective on all of it. These days the Well seems a bit like a resort community with a fading history as a hellraising frontier town. I'm exceedingly thankful it (we) have all gotten this far with a system that is still home to a vibrant community/network/whatever. I've often wished we could bottle whatever essence it was that has made this such a rich and quirky and at times aggravating but always enlightening experience. But in the end, borrowing Bill Graham's maxim about the Grateful Dead, we aren't the best at what we do, we're the only ones who do what we do.
Low and popular (rik) Sun 27 Mar 05 06:56
"And how original and UNusual", dammit. I guess it's appropriate that my first post here has a typo that has me saying the opposite of what I intended. "These days the Well seems a bit like a resort community with a fading history as a hellraising frontier town." Of course. For me, it's now a tool I use to organize my social life, and it's been the medium in which I've met some of my best friends. It's become mundane in a good way.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Sun 27 Mar 05 07:20
<rik> slipped, but it turns out the end of my post ties right in I'm a representative of both those threads too - the Whole Earth one and the Dead one. One thing they have in common is both brought folks who already had experience with weaving together the embodied and disembodied, together and apart, simultaneously episodic and continuous relationship. >[Coev/Whole Earth] in particular provided a context where an extremely broad topical reach was simply assumed. I think the comparable thing the Dead contingent brought was the assumption of an extremely broad spiritual reach. Deadheads of the late '80s and '90s had regular practical experience with ecstatic community. But it was also years of great influx, transition, and change for the audience - it wasn't just the "60's in a bottle". Come to think of it, the same was true for WER. In both cases, the people who came here with those backgrounds had a practical problem going on with the "tradition", if you will, that they came from. And so they weren't here just idly chatting, they were here working out the next phase of a functioning community-equality-synchonicity system that existed elsewhere.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 27 Mar 05 08:31
I don't know about that, Phred. You tell me whether these groups accomplish utopian -- or at least powerfully positive social ends -- or not: http://www.rheingold.com/vc/digital-comm.html (The Well ought to apply for this some year)
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 27 Mar 05 08:45
I mean, who would have imagined, back in 1985, HIV education communities in Uganda, cancer support communities in Germany, Japanese textile crafts communities, and all the other prize winners -- which we culled with difficulty from a list of hundreds? Literally every continent but Antarctica. Utopia is "nowhere," but it's clear that people use the ability to connect with each other online to do a lot of things in the real world beyond chit-chat.
No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Sun 27 Mar 05 09:03
great to hear this stuff, folks. i came from the bbs world, too and had heard about the well, read the book synopsis in wired maybe? anyway, tnf told me to get my ass on down here to sign up so i did. being an east coaster in geography only, i loved being in touch with the bay area. the folks here really helped me get going with picospan, especially pellmell. as long as the well is here, i'll be here.
Michael E. Marotta (mercury) Sun 27 Mar 05 09:43
For me, Howard's arrival was a bump in the road. I had already sold a couple of articles to Kevin Kelly when the ship changed captains. So, I had to start over again and I lost a couple of those sales. My experience with BBSes was just the opposite of the basic assumptions made in #4. What I saw of BBSes 1984-1994 was a LOCAL focus because telephone billing made local calls "free." In the town of Lansing, Michigan, admittedly the state capital, but only 250,000 its tri-county region, we had 20 to 30 BBSes, all of them with several interests, none of them to my knowledged, focussed on just one thing, but all were limited to the dial-up locality. One of the seminal boards was "Political Forum" BBS, run by our state senator, Bill Sederburg of East Lansing. You can read some of the archives here http://www.textfiles.com/virus/virs.vir Dr. Bill Sederburg is now the President of Utah Valley State College and Dr. Lawrence Kestenbaum is now the clerk for Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor) Michigan. I touted Bill Sederburg's "Political Forum" BBS for the Millennial Whole Earth on Electronic Democracy and for other similar articles in computer magazines such as PC Today. Even though this does seem to be a "single purpose" BBS, the fact is that the Virus discussion reflects other interests. We had message areas for restaurants, for instance. In fact, I had the opportunity to cite an idea given to me by one of the other participants, Dr. Gordon Williams, a psychologist. We were discussing online whether or to what extent viruses are "softlife." "What is life?" is a topic in the news today. Of the 20+ other BBSes, most of them had message areas for several interests. With BBSing local, people were competing for readership in several ways. When I tried out national BBSes -- for instance for libertarians -- I found more focus. The time and effort, the long distance charges -- tended to push national BBSes into narrow areas.
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