Today is the 30th anniversary of the first time I used the Internet. (This statement is accurate within an estimated range of eight months in either direction.) Thirty years ago today, plus or minus, I learned how to use email on the George Washington University VM server, and I joined a mailing list for writers.
As far as I’m concerned, the first killer app of the Internet was not Gopher or Usenet or FTP, but a mail-list management platform called Listserv. You sent a “subscribe” command via email to the Listserv host, and it plugged you in to the discussion list you requested. Soon your inbox was bursting with on-topic and off-topic messages from people you didn’t know who shared your interest.
In 1990, a lot of the available discussion lists were technical, since IT people made up the majority of users of email. (We spelled it “e-mail” back then.) There were also fan groups for your favorite bands, as long as those bands were the Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, or Blue Oyster Cult. There must have been others, but those are the three I can verify.
The WRITERS list became an important community for me. I’ve come to realize that there were times in my life where I thought of myself as a writer, and other times when that wasn’t really part of my identity. Being a member of a group of writers has always been part of what keeps me engaged and working. This electronic forum was my support group in the early 1990s, and I am grateful to all the people who were a part of it. I got to know a lot of interesting people, and I never met most of them.
An online group enables collaboration in a way that in-person groups don’t. You’re exchanging words anyway, so why not do a writing project together? Somebody on the WRITERS list, and I’m very sorry I can’t credit this person but I don’t remember who it was, invented a fictional newspaper called the PARSONS MESSENGER & INTELLIGENCER. Parsons was a mythical small town in Iowa served by a weekly rag with a cranky and quirky staff of writers. I had the privilege to edit one of the last issues of the PM&I, with more than a dozen contributors.
As far as I can determine, there is no archive of the WRITERS listserv, and all the issues of the PARSONS MESSENGER & INTELLIGENCER are lost to time, except for this one.