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Tonight we’re gonna log on like it’s 1979

Tonight we’re gonna log on like it’s 1979

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Teletypes may have killed a lot of forests by emitting every line to hard copy instead of a screen, but there’s something to be said for the permanence of paper. While working on building a functional Silent 700 Model 765 ASR teletype, I came across a set of teletype transcripts from several users logging on to The Source, one of the earliest online services, and a complete photocopy of the service’s user manual.

That can mean only one thing: It’s time to get out your copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, start blasting “In The Flesh,” and head back to 1979 and 1980, when these transcripts were printed. We’ll talk a little about the service generally and then log on exactly as these people did—because the Silent 700 transcripts indeed show exactly what transpired and how people used them.

A brief history of The Source

The Source was one of the first online services—billed as an “information utility”—to be oriented to the general public, and it anticipated operations like Prodigy, Delphi, and QuantumLink, which came years later. (Although CompuServe as a company already existed by this time, the consumer service it became better known for wasn’t established until 1979.) The original concept, as founded in 1978, was to send email over FM radio subcarriers, but the technology proved unreliable. Pivoting to telephony instead, The Source’s company forged a deal with time-sharing provider Dialcom to use its “excess” minicomputer time overnight and on weekends for the same concept.

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