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How A 1990 Hardy Boys Book Presaged The Future Of The Internet

29 February 2016

From Fast Company:

Late last year, while working on a story about the early days of Match.com, I heard a lot of reminiscing about the days just before the web took off.

Match’s early users and employees shared memories of when they first used their computers to dial up to the outside world—to CompuServe, to the Bay Area’s Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link , or to one of the other local bulletin board systems that dotted the country in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

I was a little too young to have really experienced the BBS era, and I was a little too embarrassed to admit where I first learned that people could use computers to talk to each other: from an oddly futuristic Hardy Boys book I read somewhere around the fourth grade.

But a quick, nostalgic Amazon search turned up the book in question, available for just a penny (plus shipping). Terminal Shock, I rediscovered a few days later, introduced the crime-solving teen brothers and their impressionable fans to designer drugs, top-secret superconducting microchips, and evidence buried in encrypted emails, somehow all within a few square miles of the boys’ suburban hometown.

. . . .

“Glad to hear you’ve got that AT clone up and running, with that 4800 baud modem,” the boys read in an email from a friend. “Bet that 386 processor really screams!”

All that modem talk is just so much gobbledygook to Joe, the younger Hardy. Pages later, the brothers receive an urgent instant message from the operator of their hometown bulletin board. They’ll soon find him in a coma, the victim of a genetically engineered “designer poison” doctors say will kill him within a week. The main apparent clue is the email archive for the system, contained on an encrypted floppy disk. When the boy detectives uncover the password to unlock the disk, they continue their investigation in a way that seems oddly topical—and more than a little disturbing—today: reading through each user’s private email inbox on the system until they find a clue.

. . . .

[Author Christopher] Lampton says he was one of a number of freelancers recruited by Mega-Books editor William McCay to modernize the series for a new generation of readers. “He didn’t want to do your father’s Hardy Boys,” says Lampton, who’d go on to write 11 books for the series.

Lampton had previously written science and technology books for children and adults, as well as some science fiction. He’d even ghostwritten for a Stratemeyer-style series called The Thorne Twins, whose protagonists solved mysteries in accordance with Christian principles. Working with McKay, Lampton says he drew on his own background in science, as well as some experience working in radio and television, for Hardy Boys ideas.

. . . .

Lampton, who says he’s recently focused more on technical and nonfiction writing, started using CompuServe in 1983 and thought that his young readers would enjoy a book set in the digital world.

“Even then, the joke was that kids knew more about computers than adults,” he says. “I tried to write about the technology that would be available at the time, because I knew a lot of kids would know about that.”

And the plot fit the guidelines of Mega-Books’s “series Bible,” which Lampton says depicted the elder Frank as “more willing to use his brains” and tools like computers. “We were very careful never to portray them exactly as geeks,” he recalls.

Throughout the book, as the boys solve the mystery, Frank pauses frequently to explain tech terminology to technophobic Joe and, of course, to less-than-savvy young ’90s readers like myself. “It’s kind of like recording tape, except that it’s round and flat instead of long and skinny,” he says of a floppy disk.

“I assumed some of the audience would relate to that, since some of the people who were running these local bulletin boards in my area were kids,” says Lampton.

Link to the rest at Fast Company and thanks to Gary for the tip.

Children's Books

3 Comments to “How A 1990 Hardy Boys Book Presaged The Future Of The Internet”

  1. I was heading up a local chamber of commerce during the early days of the Internet* and remember the World Wide Web being “invented” as an add-on capability.

    Our organization had a Bulletin Board System (BBS) which was like a home-page on the web… but you had to be a member to use it. It wasn’t that we wouldn’t have wanted to reach out to others, but using it required that you download proprietary software to your desktop computer–and no one but a member would be willing to do that.

    One day, Bill Gates announced he was stopping Microsoft program development across the entire company and directing every program manager and every employee to redirect their focus in order to drive Microsoft onto the World Wide Web.

    That was the day I decided to shut down our BBS and replace it with a web site. Next step? Figure out what the hell that meant and how to do it.

    But I wasn’t going to go counter to what Bill Gates advised….

    *This was roughly 1992, not the earlier ARPA development of the Internet, but it’s early stages of public clamor and excitement.

  2. Okay, sci-fi books/stories had been talking about an internet thing for a long time before 1990.

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