"Did you know that last month's (expletive) phone bill is over $450?" my wife scolded me in her harshest, my-husband-the-child voice. "That's more than twice the monthly payment you make for that (expletive) computer!" she continued as she escalated to screaming.
"I confess! I confess!" I sobbed. "I'm just an on-line junkie – I'm addicted to my modem! I guess I'll just have to join Modems Anonymous before I owe my soul to the phone company."
As a counselor for Modems Anonymous, I hear numerous variations of the preceding story every day. That insidious disease, modem fever, is exacting a tragically large toll from the cream of our society's computer users. Modem-mania is sweeping through the very foundations of our country and there seems to be no stopping it. This disease (yes, it is a social disease of almost epidemic proportions) is becoming a such calamity that soon there's even going to be a soap opera about on-line addiction named, "All My Modems."
If you don't already own one of those evil instruments called a modem, take warning! Don't even think about buying one. Modem fever sets in very quietly; it sneaks up on you and then grabs you by the wallet, checkbook or, heaven forbid, credit cards.
Once you own a modem, you enter the insidious addictive trap by "dialing up" a friend who also has a modem. For some strange reason, typing messages to each other fascinates you. (Even if it is less than 10% of the speed that you can speak the same words over a normal voice phone link.) Of course, you make several attempts at hooking up before you finally figure out that at least one of you must be in the half-duplex mode; that discovery actually titillates you (sounds impossible, but it's true).
Then your modem-buddy (friend is too good a term) sews another seed on the road to on-line addiction by giving you the number of a local RBBS (Remote Bulletin Board Service). Once you get an RBBS phone number, you've taken the first fatal step in a journey that can only end in on-line addiction.
After you take the next step by dialing up the the RBBS your modem-buddy told you about, you find that it's very easy to "log-on." This weird form of conversation with an unattended computer is strangely exciting, much more so than just typing messages when you're on-line with your modem-buddy. The initial bulletins scroll by and inform you about the board, but you're too "up" to comprehend most of it. Then you read some of the messages in the message section and maybe, in a tenative manner, you enter one or two of your own. That's fun, but the excitement starts to wear off; you're calming down. Thinking that it might be worthwhile to go back and re-read the log-on bulletins, you return to the main RBBS menu.
Then it happens. The RBBS provides the bait that entices you all the way into the fiery hell of modem addiction. As you look at the RBBS main menu to learn how to return to the log-on bulletins, you find an item called FILES. By asking your host computer for FILES, you thread the bait onto the hook of corruption; the FILES SUBMENU sets the hook. You start running with the line when you LIST the files; you leap into the air with the sheer joy of the fight when all those public domain program titles and descriptions scroll by. They're FREE!!! All you have to do is tell the bulletin board to download (transmit) them to you. You download your first program and you're landed, in the creel, cleaned and ready for the cooking fires. In just 55 minutes after you logged-onto the board, you've downloaded six programs, one of them is Andrew Fleugelman's PC-Talk, version 3 (truly an instrument for evil).
RBBSLIST.DOC, which is also among the files you downloaded, contains a list of a great number of bulletin boards throughout the country. (There's evil all around us, constantly tempting us!) You print the list and find about 60 RBBS phone numbers. (Have mercy on our souls!) The list also gives you the hours of operation, communications parameters and informs you about each board's specialty. You decide to try PC-Talk and use it to dial-up an RBBS about three states away. Since the line is busy, you pass the time entering all those RBBS phone numbers into PC-Talk's voluminous dialing directory.
You try the number again – still busy. You think, "Hey, there's one that specializes in Pascal programs. Maybe I'l try it. It's about half-way across the country, but it's after 5pm and the phone rates have changed. It won't be too expensive."
The Pascal board answers. After 45 minutes you've downloaded another five programs. Then you call another board – only this one's completely across the country from California, in Florida. And so it goes on into the night… And the next night… And the next…
Some days it gets to you. You begin to feel the dirtiness of modem addiction, particularly when your wife makes you feel like a child by berating you for those astronomical phone bills – if she hasn't divorced you by then. Every time you sit down before your IBM PC to do some work, you dial up another RBBS instead. If that one's busy, you call another, and another, until you connect. Then you feel OK, almost "high." When you finally hang up, you still can't work; you can only dial up another RBBS.
Your downfall as an on-line addict is just another one of this society's terrible tragedies, such as polygamy or the compulsion to circle all the numbers on computer magazine "bingo cards." Eventually your whole social life relies upon only the messages you find on electronic bulletin boards; your only happiness is the programs you have downloaded. (You never try any of them, you only collect them.)
Hope exists, however. We, the dedicated but under-paid staff of Modems Anonymous, have done extensive research to find a cure for modem mania, which has been ruining hundreds of lives. And we have succeeded in our quest. The cure is really quite simple, yet effective: Set up your own remote bulletin board service. Then all the other modem addicts will phone you, and their wives can nag at them about $450 phone bills. And you can find peace – at last.
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