The first case: The Tiananmen faxes and Usenet 1989
The very first time I met netcrowd phenomenon in action, was 1989. I was Secretary of Information and Internet Affairs of Student Union of University of Helsinki. Yes, there were quite a much net activism at those times, like GreenNet and PeaceNet.
One of the über student activist of Finland at those times, Raino Ollila (r.i.p.) came to me with very anxious mode with blank and fully printed papers.
- Kari, have you ever heard about Usenet? he urged.
- Yes, why?
- Fine. Now we need to send blank papers via every faxes we have on the office to these numbers. Here is also a list of phone numbers. Can we call to all of them at the same time?
- Not officially and not with my traits, but, well…
- Ok, let,s start with the faxes.
- Gzee, there will be fine phone bill to student union with these numbers, I sortly asked. – Are we going fax white papers to South Pole?
- Yes? I’m the Minister of International Affairs. Just go to faxes and start to send. Usenet will tell us what is happening. Go!
Later, when we found our way to proper Usenet group with our modest 1200 bps modem, the big picture start to brighten. Or at least to unfold. There was something really complicated happening in Tiananmen square. There were fifly official informer telephone lines waiting to possible students and others to inform about thestudent participants of the situation on the Square.
But, someone innovative person has got the idea: what if people, mostly in student movement, collectively start to block these fifty phone numbers around the globe with calling, faxes and modems? Of course, there will be more phone lines etc. But, eventually, there might be a tipping point, when it is more complicated to set up new numbers and announce them than to block them. And the back channels to coordinate this action and spread the numbers realtime were Usenet and FidoNet.
That was the moment when I started to interest about the emerging netcrowd and internet as a platform of self-organizing masses.