I tell you, S'Dra, I don't think this old hunk of junk works any more. Does BC Tel even still offer POTS service?

















Hang on, do you remember the Hayes command? AT something?

















\ /

Even the Underground Subway doesn't answer anymore, but you got a carrier signal?!@
All this time we could have just called the number?  

















BUT WAIT! You failed the New User Password test!
The SysOp has sent some kind of "cyber" punishment back up the phone line...
Is it a virus? Is it "ice"? Has Detective Dennis Thiessen been awoken and pulled out of retirement to punish you?


















  OK, I think the coast is clear. You call back, remembering that the keyword is "//\\HYPNOTIZE", but then just as you're remembering how to ride that sleek bicycle Nostalgia, time warps and buckles again. Mostly in the pelvic region. You feel compelled to look down.









We don't assassinate presidents.
All your message base are belong to us.

t h e
b b s
i s
d e a d .
l o n g
l i v e
t h e
b b s . _

don't think they can't see you


Be filled with fear
For I am here
I have returned
To spread the word
That everything outside sucks

OK, the charade need necessarily end here: you can only reasonably expect so much interactivity (albeit on rails) out of deprecated static HTML on a floppy diskette. (Actually, I figure your expectations are already... vastly exceeded. But maybe I'm just selling myself short.)

The floppy is the thing. And here was the problem. I waited for days for my parents to leave my friend (Ryder, aka "Slartibartfast", the source of the foam boffers) and I unattended at home, then I waited for hours for the target phone number to become available and that painfully sweet sound, like lying on a bed of nails, of a modem handshake. Then I spent a third of my allotted hour simply reviewing the listing of the file base. I made some selection from the menu and spent 40 minutes pulling it down at 1200 baud -- assuredly a slower, if more convenient, means of file duplication than if I walked to the BBS' physical location with a floppy diskette in hand, let myself in, copied it (heck, probably I could have transcribed it faster, COPY CON SNEAKERNET.TXT), and walked home. But there was no disk needed, it was the ultimate frictionless, "zipless" (except no, there was rather a lot of zip, arc, arj, lha, lzh, zoo) exchange, transcending even the binary linguistic incompatibilities that made PCs and Macs (and Amigas, Ataris and Commodores) mutually unintelligible.

What was the file? I don't remember. Maybe it was reasoned debate measuring out the pros and cons of smoking banana peels, maybe it was a buggy implementation of Blackjack written in GW-BASIC, maybe it was a Cindy Crawford swimsuit .GIF. What mattered was that I wasn't satisfied with what I downloaded, and to make the most of my kingly 40 meg hard drive, I deleted it. Here's the kicker: some time later, I changed my mind -- I experienced a species of remorse and wished to access the file again. But I couldn't because I didn't have it anymore. But I knew it was out there! But it would, again, take a lot of time and effort to engineer a situation in which I could enjoy the luxury of flushing away still further time regaining access to the file again. This clearly would not do. But what was I to do? Fill up the hard drive? No: I simply began making a backup to floppy disk of everything that I downloaded, however frivolous or accidental. Time spent downloading was bad enough -- time spent re-downloading was like your life being sucked away at double speed. These backups would permit me to resume having my life sucked away as per the standard rate, with the bonus of permanent, random access to any lousy collection of ones and zeroes I had been exposed to.

When the modem speed upgraded, my ability to fill the hard drive began to exceed our ability to keep the shelf stocked with empty floppies, which begat the noisy era of the tape drive, an evolutionary dead end of a bad idea, which takes us beyond the scope of this personal essay. (Unless: want to help me try to revive the contents of a pile of data tapes?) The point is: without really having any understanding of why (or: because I have an addictive personality type) I tried my best to save it all, stupidly, selfishly, even though I knew it was still out there, somewhere. And bless my little heart, I saved a bunch of it. I had no idea that, over time, ultimately it would enter The Trough Of No Value and I would end up the last one holding the hot potato -- the sole custodian of the now-unique data, the last one to whom any of it had any value? The last with the wherewithal to keep these little embers of data glowing in the dark and indifferent night of progress?

Let's change tacks for a minute here: dot matrix printers. They were, well, all we had. And when we saw something we liked, an apt turn of phrase or personal revelation we wanted to be able to embrace, physically, and hold on to with the sensory knowledge of the tactile, we printed it out. I know, it's crazy: when's the last time you printed out a website so you could read it later offline? (I kind of wish I had printed out a few Geocities pages...) But nevertheless, We Did This:

What's this all about? It lacks the public demonstrative aspect of clicking "like": you're not making a show of liking something for the benefit of your audience, you're actually, genuinely, privately cherishing these words. You're saving them to dwell upon later on, after you have reached your daily time limit. It's something you could fold into a square and wear under your clothes pressing against your skin, taking on the heat from your body and becoming imbued with the warmth from two people, one emotional and one physical. Did we do this because we were all temporarily visionary mystic-poets whose every utterance was redolent with profound significance and worthy of being, if not carved into stone, at least enshrined into some species of physical form? (I don't know about you: I'm fairly confident that my first post on TABNet was an inquiry into the fluidity of He-Man's animated run cycle, followed by an investigation into those '90s darlings the KLF: did they really release a Dr. Who song? Well, yes, but it was much harder to prove without access to YouTube. One of your friends actually had to have spent money on it, helping the band to get a #1 the easy way... and perhaps bequeathing them a pound which would later be incinerated on film. Ah, but I digress.) Did we do this because we were desperate and stupid (OK, unsophisticated) and easily impressed by statements which we would, later in life, never be tempted to commit to hard copy? Were we just slow readers who hadn't figured out Blue Wave yet, and thought we might want to spend more time poring over the text than we had remaining in the time bank?

No, really, I'm asking because I don't know. Like UseNet newsgroups, even the BBSes saved hard drive space by periodically purging themselves of messages beyond their best-before date, and by retaining a local copy of the text you could quickly end up with the last remaining copy of it in existence, refusing to allow it to dissipate into memory, hearsay and entropic background radiation like all those analogue conversations you conducted with lesser beings you rarely stood in line for the privilege of briefly, non-simultaneously interacting with. I hoarded more than most, but because paper takes up space satisfied myself for digital records; and because I was totally convinced of our collective unmitigated genius, republished enormous quantities of it (there must be thousands of individual captures collectively fermenting in those archived vaults) under the auspices of Mistigris in hopes of sparking an anarchic online revolution of erudition and big feelings.

Date: 2:20 am Mon Nov 30, 1998
Number : 294 of 314
From: Zamfir Worshipper Base : tab.cbc on steroids
To : Cthulu Refer #: 272
Subj: Re: bop zow.

C> we should start a tabnet digest.
C> take the best threads / messages in any given month, capture them as they come
C> up, collate them and distribute a small print run of it as well as putting it
C> up on the web.
C> I'm sure there are some crack smokers out there somewhere who would find what
C> we have to say interesting.
C> The TabNet 'Zine.
ZW> Go for it...
ZW> I'm not at all in the habit of capturing stuff, so I can't say I'll add much
ZW> to it.
ZW> --- Renegade v98-101s Dos
ZW> * Origin: Wrap yourself in indigo night.. --DoDEL- (31:3373/0)
Strangely, I don't remember anyone ever complementing Mist on its unique and well-curated literary offerings -- in fact, only barely tolerating them -- but by and large the inadvertent authors proved to be better and longer-lasting friends than the visual artists, who kept symbolically rejecting me by defecting to more prestigious computer art groups. (Sorry, Hallucigenians, that's how my constructed narrative of rejection interprets the historical record.) My symbolic rejection by TABNet would have to wait until later. (Actually, no: finally extending me Co-SysOp access at AHOM was just about the last thing that happened there before the plug was pulled. Maybe that accounts for its mythical footing in my psyche: because the private parties and epic creations elapsing on the other side of the locked green door were doubtless underwhelming compared to everything my feverish imagination might come up with. Perhaps the pick-up artists are correct in their contention that what an insecure person craves most is redeeming acceptance after being rejected, except of course that my example depicts Redemption Theatre only.) (Or what if that's all there is?)

OK, I'm drifting: I never had a central thesis, beyond "I ought to come up with some original content for a new TABDisk to distribute at that 20th anniversary concert" (tomorrow night, I still haven't fixed my set-list: priorities! Who am I playing to, the 40 people in the cafe or the two people with working floppy disk drives? Obviously the elites! Priorities, people!) and I just have a handful of talking points I've come up with during graveyard shift coffee breaks that I've been trying to flesh out to fill the gaps between archival selections. Probably you should just browse the contents of the disk yourself, without any context or qualifiers -- don't give me a chance to ruin it!

Even at the zenith of ANSI art's popularity, using the medium to promote a concert was beyond the pale (whereas now we can use the ASCII Grumpy Cat (not quite) for kitchy retro purposes.) For real-world events you needed to target real-world people, and online wasn't a great place to get the word out to them. Meets were one thing, with no overhead or need to recoup expenses, but booking use of a hall is on a different level from loitering around Robson Square.

Date: 7:42 pm Fri May 15, 1998 Number : 177 of 227
From: Thext Base : --tab- alt.cabbage.die.die
To : All

I met myself in the mirror today.

that's my tabmeet.

This hit its demographic, however -- I'm pretty sure I was there, and I believe I ever managed to drag my offline partner out to the boonies (no address should ever have five digits. When you get to 9999, bud off a new municipality.) And since we're playing fast and loose with context, here's a related illustration:

(She does get a more sympathetic treatment over here by an artist rather than a hack.)

That gig poster was the work of Tzeentch, a man who despite being gifted in the fields of visual art, drumming and protracted shower philosophizing, ultimately ended up earning his daily bread in an unrelated field. He was the very first modemmer I ever made express arrangements to meet solo -- an early point of distinction for meet site Benny's Bagels (yum!), one of an increasingly few real estate touchstones with continuity to today's utterly transformed Vancouver-scape. Informed by the big impression I made at our rendezvous, he was inspired to produce the following ASCII portrait of your humble narrator:

                           *****   <-- pony tail flapping in wind
                          /  **
                       -oo- <-- weird hat that i still don't understand
   pure; unshaven --> **__**
        _         ______||________________________oOo <-- go-go gadget arm!
       OOO       /______ _|__|___|___|___|___|___|_/
      (OOO)     //   |R  __ |
       OOO\\   //    |i __ _|
        ~  \\_//     |S  _  |
            o\/      |K /o\ | <-- authentic tabmeet shirt
   the bong, Oo      |- \-/ |
   er foam           |tabnet|
   weapon...         |______|
                     ||     |
               ______|| _j <-- pocket with jolt can sticking out...
             _/_______| ` ` | <-- "super-size feet"- only 39 cents extra!
            /  \ \ \ \      |
           /                |
          /_________________|    "anyone have some sugar?"
Needless to say, today I look much the same. Would you believe it's still the same can of j0lt in my pocket?

A lot can happen in 20 years. Some of us hit pretty high highs, some had low lows (that's a low blow, I just read his grandpa's obit two nights ago). We've had time to get married, reproduce, and disengage from each other. (I'm not sure, but I think that Yolande may singlehandedly have the edge on a majority of TAB-affiliated babies. Give her time, she will.) We've seen the rise and fall of Friendster, Myspace and Facebook all since TABNet migrated to the king of social networks -- LiveJournal. Our history was rigorously documented in a wiki that was mercilessly dismantled by spammers before being shut down; every bit of tab.lore was put into Slashdot's Everything side-project (indeed, spending all night doing so was my first overnight spree on what would prove to be a 4-year addiction there to me), following which most of it again needed to be purged. If you want to watch Bluck fly a peanut butter cup over Surrey or read the Bible of Nuiwanda (er, though it was never really clear why you would ever want to), you can go stick your head in a sheep. If anyone wants the Invader at the Pit of Doom explained, they're out of luck. Even the web references that informed materials at our 10-year anniversary no longer exist, and only a couple of slim pointers (here we are greeted in a 2600 issue about Anonymous) hint at our ever having existed, with some interviews appearing in Electronic Tribes: The Virtual Worlds of Geeks, Gamers, Shamans, and Scammers. (Which one were you?)

(Scammers, beware! The K9 unit is on your track!)

Apologies for not including any of the traditional TabNotes materials in this disk -- obviously ten years weren't quite enough time for me to get them together. But for period flavour, I have put back up painstakingly handcrafted bespoke period flavour websites dating to approximately the ten-year anniversary: HTML conversions of two (count them: one, two) computer artpack compilations plus web conversions of that eternal classic e-zine, Spoon.

I guess what it boils down to (other than: do any of us care if we ever see one another ever again?) is that we had lots of time then, and we don't now, actually haven't for a long time, and won't until those of us in a position to will retire. (Then, who knows, maybe we will fire up a BBS again for old time's sake. Is it that different from ham radio? (Actually, I believe that medium has been used to transmit network packets... but I digress.) You can never step in the same river twice. Speaking of which, as a teenager, suffering from insomnia as a modemming-convenient side effect of recreational sleep-deprivation, I once stayed awake for 84 consecutive hours before shutting down and passing out standing up in the shower, only awakening once the hot water tank ran empty -- a textbook example of a rude awakening. Thankfully, my affliction no longer manifests in this particular way. Now, I must sleep, so that tomorrow I might play some of you accordion arrangements of Margaret Atwood poems. (Here is my souvenir for coming to visit me and say "hi": a screed bemoaning your disinterest and rejection. I know, ironic and inappropriate. Couldn't I have made it a celebration instead? A: because I am basically, and especially was then, a pessimist and a cynic... the answer is no, I couldn't.)

(The question is, how do I get the disk to the people who won't make it out, to whom its binary middle finger is really extended? And do I need to send them a USB floppy reader at the same time? Wait, maybe some kind of mobile kiosk...)

Thanks for reading, and apologies for the directionless self-indulgence! I have my own family to attend to now, instead of some amorphous, accidental "tribe", and maybe with another decade or so I may be able to achieve a new, hopeful orientation toward the future, leaving my preoccupied fixation with the past out in the cold.