Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In which I confess my listserv sins

It seems that a Politico, um, journalist named Michael Calderone has done a story about a listserv (basically a group of people emailing each other en masse) started up by blogger and health care wonk Ezra Klein. The existence of this listserv is now being touted throughout the wingnutosphere as proof that the libruls are conspiring against us!

They say confession is good for the soul, so just in case I have a soul, I'd better take care of it by confessing my own listserv sins. I myself have participated in two listservs (or, as the saying has it, listserv-related program activities), both connected to the legandary Usenet newsgroup soc.history.what-if, or shwi for short. Shwi is a forum for alternate-history enthusiasts, and I began participating in its deliberations way back in 1999. In the spring of 2000, the group became consumed with the burning question: how would we shwi regulars react if we all found ourselves transported back to the year 1800, with nothing more than the clothes on our backs and some self-contained laptop computers that would let us communicate with each other? The resulting discussion was so all-consuming that by mutual agreement it was moved off of the newsgroup itself and onto a listserv. Thus, I found myself participating in a listserv for the first time, following the adventures of my fellow shwinees at the turn of the 19th century. After about a month, I realized that I didn't have enough free time to keep up with the others, and I dropped out.

A year later, a small group of shwi regulars began a project to create a sequel to Robert Sobel's alternate history classic For Want of a Nail. Although not formally a listserv, the For All Nails cabal communicated with each other via email in what was essentially an unofficial listserv. The For All Nails project continued for three and a half years, resulting in 300 vignettes, before finally coming to a halt in the summer of 2005.

So, although I didn't take part in any vast conspiracies, nevertheless I was a participant in the shame of the modern American republic, the listserv. I can only hope that you, my hypothetical readers, can forgive me.

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