I greatly enjoyed Elyse Graham ’07’s ruminations in “When Facebook Came to Princeton” (feature, June 1), but I wish she had expanded her focus to provide historical perspective about the meme “the virtual world is a world apart.”
Within the Princeton community, alumni participated in Tigernet discussion groups eight or nine years before Facebook opened its virtual doors to undergraduates in 2004. Globally speaking, social networks like Friendster (2002) and MySpace (2003) predated Facebook.
Although self-profiling is new, online communities are part of a continuum that stretches back to the Dark Ages before the internet. Low-tech networks based on interacting with people whom one did not meet included ham-radio amateurs, as well as truckers using citizens band (CB) radio.
Still earlier there was almost surely informal chat among switchboard operators and telegraph operators — the latter probably are responsible for the original coinage “bug” as a putative insect that interfered with wiring. (See more on the origin of the term “bug” at http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-bug1.htm.)
Nods to William Mitchell and David Nye notwithstanding, the article offered only a narrow view of virtuality. By neglecting alternative networks, Professor Graham inadvertently reinforced Facebook as the “be all and end all” virtual place to be, which is precisely how the would-be monopoly advertises itself.