Back in the 1980s, my then-husband and I joined a Mac users group. It was based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the meetings were a real nerd-fest. Everyone was so excited about new programs that were being shared that they were all surprised when I asked a question and they realized there was a woman in the building! After that, I was treated like a queen. A good time was had by all. It’s hard to imagine groups like that meeting in person today, even before social distancing. But computer user groups were a real thing from the 70s to the 90s.
Once upon a time, using a computer was difficult. The documentation was obscure (if any existed), nothing was pre-assembled, and if you had a problem you were on your own. You might find some answers by dialing into an early electronic bulletin board system (BBS), but nothing beats having someone look over your shoulder and say, “You plugged it in upside down!”
Computer user groups were (and to some tiny degree still are) all-volunteer organizations, usually non-profits. They were organized in small towns and in big cities, with 25 members or 2,500. Services varied, but early user groups largely had two essential elements: a monthly general meeting and a printed newsletter.
Some user group magazines were of professional caliber. This 32-page newsletter attracted subscribers from 28 countries.
For small groups, the meeting presentation might be a member’s show-and-tell. Larger and better-connected user groups attracted vendors, who (rightly) saw them as early adopters worth courting.
Younger folks can learn about tech history, and older folks can wallow in nostalgia in an article tracing the history of computer user groups at Ars Technica. -via Digg
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