When Bulletin Boards Were Cool, and Other News


On the Shelf

A golden-age BBS.

  • Instagrammers: think before you geotag. Are you really just “announcing your location” to your “e-pals” for “fun”? No. You’re bragging. Worse, you’re setting into motion a creaky, elaborate machine that despoils everything in its path, loosing hordes of tourists into the wild. It’s probably, if we’re being honest, just another form of colonialism. Molly McHugh writes, “Social media and Instagram did not invent discovery of beautiful outdoor spaces — but they have become a curator-friendly guide to collecting them … Manifest Destiny is defined by the nation’s westward territorial expansion, but it’s also a philosophy about the need to conquer, to discover. What happens when social media increases the rate of outdoor discovery? How long until every corner of the planet has been Instagrammed and geotagged?”
  • Time was, you could stay home and explore the world from your living room—no geotagging required. Before the Internet came around and made modems boring, there were Bulletin Board Systems, an early form of PC-to-PC communication with all the thrill and adventure of ham radio. Benj Edwards writes, “BBSes once numbered in the tens of thousands in North America. These mostly text-based, hobbyist-run services played a huge part in the online landscape of the 1980s and ’90s. Anyone with a modem and a home computer could dial-in, often for free, and interact with other callers in their area code … To call a BBS was to visit the private residence of a fellow computer fan electronically. BBS hosts had converted a PC—often their only PC—into a digital playground for strangers’ amusement.” 

  • Our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, talked to the artist Ben Jones about the magical qualities of line drawings and “visual-language fuckery”: “As a painter, I’m constantly chasing that magical, ethereal line or stroke or gesture that is half muscle memory or trance action. You get a lot of that with handwriting and with quick sketching. I’ve fabricated ladders and furniture and video installations that take months of concepting the installation and executing the animation. This is something entirely different—it’s a one-to-one connection with an idea or a drawing or a mark. There’s a narrative to a lot of these pieces and a linear way to think about them, but then we also get to think about comics and about the formal aspects of comics, because comics aren’t just linear storytelling and gags. There is a nuanced, visual-language fuckery that I think is important.”
  • Flaubert’s handwritten book of travel notes—so littered with cross outs and corrections that some pages resemble graph paper—is up for auction in Paris. The notes come from a time when Flaubert was “walking in Brittany,” though early reports have not confirmed whether he wrote literally as he was walking, which would account for the high volume of cross-outs and mistakes. A French auctioneer said, “When you read this book you are in [Flaubert’s] atelier looking over his shoulder, seeing the process of creation, the search for perfection … We can see that Flaubert was a man for whom writing was a difficult process; he was perpetually unsatisfied with what he had done, as is clear from all the scratching out and rewriting. This book is a direct contrast to his letters, where it is rare to find a single error.”