Of course, I’m talking about the Usenet.
A lot of you don’t know what the Usenet is, and if you do, you probably don’t use it. It’s about as Prehistoric as anything on the Net can be. In the dinosaur age of Internet communications (back in 1979, long before you were born…) a couple of college students set up an communications network so that they and their geek homies could send notes back and forth without paper or a phone call. Before long, the connections spread between universities and the ease of communication gradually became apparent even to those outside the university campuses in the world of “regular people”.
But as web browsers became more sophisticated, and email and social networking like Tweety and Faceback became so popular, people tended to stop using this primitive form of networking — until recently. The thing about Usenet is that it’s a lot harder to supervise or control then any of the regular forms of networking on the web.
The Usenet originally gained popularity because it provided a really simple means for people who shared similar interests to form groups (called “newsgroups”) by which they could communicate with each other and share work files (like a textbook manuscript people were working on.) Groups can be formed focused on virtually any interest: there are groups for gardeners and carpenters, auto restoration and pets. If your major interest are Corvettes from the ’60s, there are newsgroups for that. If your interest is in dachshunds, there are groups for dachshund lovers to share their joys and woes, their pets’ medical problems and psychological ones as well. (Dachshunds really do have psychological issues, you know.)
Computers (called servers) provide a free service for all Usenet users of keeping each newsgroup’s list of communications (postings) available for as much as a year (at least, the best servers keep things around awhile.) That way, everyone who is “networked” with others sharing their same interest can send out answers to questions or other helpful information for their newsy buds to refer to when they need it. For example: if you have a PIXMA MP500 printer and you’ve lost a printer driver for an obsolete version of Windows you’re still running, go on the Usenet and look for a group focused on old printer drivers (don’t think I’m kidding! There are an incredible range of interests in the hundreds of thousands of newsgroup that exist.) A group like that will often have posted old drivers, user manuals, software tweaks, etc. that you could never find on the Web. These groups have an incredible variety of materials posted.
Be aware though that you can find the worst of the worst on the Usenet as well. There are groups framed around racist hatred, sexual fetishes, violent cult movies, political extremism and other weird interests. I have two comments about this: (1) most computer servers which “host” newsgroups delete most or all of the more objectionable newsgroups, and (2) the extremes that are available demonstrate the true freedom of this communication network. Freedom is the power or right to make your own decisions, even bad ones. If there aren’t at least some people making “bad” decisions, there isn’t real freedom. For Christians, they have Papa Adam and Momma Eve to thank for exercising their God-given freedom — by being really stupid. But if you can’t be stupid, it aren’t freedom.
And that freedom to relate to and network with others who share your interests is one of the most attractive aspects of the Usenet today. For example: I’m considering starting a newsgroup on what I call the “Mu-church”. It’s not a “church” — it’s a “not-church”, and is a spiritual perspective rather than an organization. And I sense that there are many others “out there” around the world who share similar spiritual concerns and desires as I do. The simplest and most inclusive (and most ungovernable) means of networking with those of similar interests is to set up a Usenet group. I don’t know yet what it would be called (the process of setting up a newsgroup includes refining its name) but I’d start off with something like “alt.church.mu-church”. Then when anyone did a search for “alternative” forms of “church”, they’d find it. And once formed, anything like books, articles, videos, http links, advice, discussions and arguments would remain for extended periods of time for new group members to find — all nicely stored for the group at someone else’s expense on someone else’s servers!
One of the best newsgroup servers is called Newsdemon (it’s a “demon” for gathering one of the largest collection of newsgroups of any Usenet server, and it holds your newsgroups posts — the conversations, shared materials, etc. — longer than almost any other, for over a year!) You can find it at http://www.newsdemon.com and its monthly fee isn’t much (less than ten bucks) for a dependable and fast service.
Usenet is increasing again in popularity, partly due to people feeling a sense of caution about persistent discussions at governmental levels of “controlling” the Web. Networking with others around the world on a common interest that might be personal, religious or otherwise “of interest” to outside control has led many to “disappear” into the virtual “underground” of the Usenet. And as far as I’m concerned, the best limit to personal freedom is not the government (or even the church or your employer!) The best limits to personal freedom is to experience the consequences of your own behavior. The Bible says it like this: “A wise person learns by listening to the advice of others; but even a fool learns his lesson when Life slaps him in the face!” Suffering the consequences of your choices and actions, even in terms of what you perpetuate in networking with others, is an inescapable reproof, and one handled much better by Reality than by governmental control.
“Arf-arf!” — EmDog