Today, I felt nostalgic, and mused upon my past usage of forums.
I am a child of forums. Sneaking up in the middle of night to use the family computer, poring through threads at 2 a.m, lurking, and then finally, getting to know people without the traditional boundaries of age, appearance, and class — I am so glad they existed in my life. Forums tantalized and ephemerally delivered on the gospel of techno-utopianism and content meritocracy promised by tech-hippies such as John Perry Barlow and Kevin Kelly (a group that has seemingly long since succumbed to the wiles of neoliberalism), the Wired of old, cyberpunk literature.
Without forums, without meeting the people that I met through them, I probably would have developed a narrower cultural taste. In turn, I would have developed less of an appreciation and acknowledgment for thoughts and concepts that defy simple phrasing. In this case, ignorance would not have been bliss — with less regard for ambiguity, I think I would have just become that much more flustered by the quality of uncertainty inherent to challenging periods of life. I also cannot imagine how much worse my capability of empathizing with fellow humans would have turned out without having had the privilege of encountering avenues into the braver, idiosyncratic minds through the gateway of their work.
The preteens growing up today will likely not know the magic, mystery, and intimacy of participating in a forum community unified by hobby or sub-culture to a devoted extent. Their Internet presence and participation will be bound to their name, a surface, easily accessible extension of their real lives and social proof, rather than a means of experimental escape, a window to difference. United by hobbies, forumites were, but that was only one shared point. I remember that forums were very contentious places, where clashing over politics and religion (regardless of the original subculture represented by the forum) could be moderated and locked, but never stamped out. Yet, because these debates often developed between users who had known each others’ handles for years, a respect for each other’s place in the hobby would remain after the smoke had cleared.
Digital interactivity seem to be going the way of comments, groups, and feeds now, which I believe is a true pity. Forums are less vibrant places than they used to be, given less influx of new blood. Nonetheless, they maintain their hold on regulars, and continue to produce discussion, even if threads, on niche boards especially, now seem to take a week at a time to get a response. In that sense, forums evoke the state of star production in the universe for me — most of them that will ever exist have already been created. Many systems still support life, but they are aging, quiescing.
So, if forums, given a death sentence as an apparently redundant vestige, must die as an integral portion of the Internet experience, I hope they die slowly. Long live forums, standard bearers of sub-culture and babysitters of restless teenagers.