I've told this before here so I'll just copypaste it:
I was fortunate enough in college to find a handful of professors whom I would follow anywhere and from whom I would take any class, because the energy and love of knowledge that they brought to task could make any subject interesting and instructive. One of these professors was in the media studies department, a youngish guy who used to teach creative writing before moving on to film and communications. It was from him that I learned how to watch film, how to make film, how to think about film. In any case, one semester my junior year, he approached me after some cinema class and told me that he was preparing to teach a course called Digital Society, and he wanted me to sign up for it.
'What's it about?' I asked.
'I don't really know,' he said.
Well, how can you turn down an offer like that? EJ (for that is what we called him) had exactly the sort of passion for learning that you can only pray to be fortunate enough to find in an instructor. Digital Society turned out to be an experiment as much as a class. The idea, I guess, was basically this: Digital technology is evolving rapidly, and communication is developing around it, ad hoc. Isn't that interesting?
We weren't allowed to bring paper into the classroom. If we wanted to take notes, it had to be on a laptop or a Blackberry or something non-analog. All homework was done by posting on the class's website. We did things like bring an Xbox into class and get two students who had never played video games to play a street racing game in front of the whole class. (It was amazing to see the language that has sprouted to support gaming; clearly one of the students was disoriented, so several helpful gamers exhorted her to 'change views'-- what the hell does that mean, unless you've played games before?)
Anyway, I lied earlier. We were assigned two different Metafilter threads to read for this class. The first was the Kaycee Nicole thread, which was interesting and instructive and prompted a lot of the arguments that you'd expect from a bunch of undergraduates at a fairly conservative school about the inherent morals of technology or whether online communication was intrinsically more dishonest than more established forms of communication. But the thread to which I was referring, the one which got me to keep coming back here (and eventually to get an account, once I was able to save up five dollars) was #10034, Plane crashes in to the word trade center.
Bear in mind that fall of 2001 was the beginning of my freshman year at college. Looking at it now, it's pretty amazing that that thread has fewer than 500 comments-- I've seen recipe swaps go on longer than that. At the time-- this must have been 2004, now-- 9/11 was still a very raw, visceral thing in our memories, and it was amazing, after arguments about what the point of internet fora was, or whether the anonymity of the online environment created an atmosphere of mistrust, and so on, to read a bunch of strangers helping each other in real time, calling phones for the loved ones of internet friends, keeping one another updated on facts national, international, and local, being a community of support and, honestly, love, in a way impossible just a few years ago.
So, anyway, yeah, origin story.
Rejoicing with strangers because of strangers
I remember that day there was an epic Chicago pizza meetup and because I am terrified of people I went home after work instead of straight to the meetup (to, I dunno, gather courage) and I managed to check fake's AskMe thread and see this update right before I went to meet a bunch of strangers from the internet, none of whom had heard anything beyond the 'OH HOLY SHIT WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN' point. It was a great, strange moment, telling a table of people I'd just met that some strangers I'd never heard of had just been rescued by a person a thousand miles away that none of us knew, and everyone being overjoyed.