Dial Up: The Case for Connection with Connectivity
Niharika Yadav
THE MODEM WORLD: A PREHISTORY OF SOCIAL MEDIA by Kevin Driscoll Yale University Press, 2022, 328 pp., $ 28.00
April 2023, volume 47, No 4

In the book The Modem World, Driscoll tells a coming-of-age story of the internet—he uses a crisp yet vivid narrative voice that has the potential to hook a techie and non-techie alike. The book fills an important gap in the cultural memory and theoretical literature of the internet by paying close attention to the Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). Driscoll makes three core complementary arguments: a) the retelling of the history of the internet is key to imagining its future pathways; b) Dial-Up BBS is a fairly understudied technology among the historians of the internet; and finally, c) an alternate history that emphasizes the role of the Dial-Up BBS can help imagine sustainable futures of the internet.

The book is around 200 pages long, with thorough citations across another 100 pages. It is divided into seven chapters, each of which tells the story of distinct yet parallel innovations—hobby radio, network exchanges, packet switching, and modems—that played a critical role in building what is known as the present-day internet.

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