Blast From the Past: Prodigy

I’ve been going through a sort of 80’s rebirth lately. It all started with the re-unification of a group of friends my sister and I met in the early 90s on Prodigy. Remember that?

For those who don’t remember, Prodigy was an online service/community before the Internet/WWW became mainstream, and even before America Online became big. It was offered as a joint effort by, of all companies, IBM and Sears. When my mom bought us our first computer, a friend told us about Prodigy and told us we should buy a modem, because most modems came bundled with the software. So we bought a 2400 baud modem (can you imagine?) and I installed it myself (I always had a strange innate ability to figure out computers). I loaded the software, and our lives changed forever.

In a few short months, my sister and I came upon a bulletin board (there were no chat rooms then) called “Name That 80+ Tune” I forget where exactly we found it, but it was listed among hundreds of other topics and contained sub-topics where members a line or two of a song from the 80’s and beyond and everyone else had to guess the name and artist of the song. It started out innocently enough, but after a while, this little group started to actually get to know each other. There were times when messages would get posted to the boards almost instantly, so we created a separate “UCC” board, or “Utter Chit Chat.” And next thing we knew, we had friends all over the country.

Because there was no way to send photos via Email at the time, we sent them through regular mail. Next we all shot videos of ourselves and our hometowns and sent them to everyone — those were hysterical. At that point we really felt like we knew each other pretty well, so we started to get ideas about meeting in person. One girl, Lynn, lived in Chicago, not far from my sister and I; one guy, Tony, lived in New York and another, Scott, lived in California. Others included Beckie, who lived in Connecticut; Emily and Sarah, who lived in Seattle; Paul, who lived in Minnesota; Lauren, from St. Louis and Amy, from Phoenix.

We decided to meet in Chicago/Kenosha, since it was central and three of us already lived in the area. The first “union” brought five of six of us together, and the second brought four. Other, smaller “unions” happened across the country, with one of the guys, Scott, being the “constant” in almost all of them. Eventually, everyone had come in contact with one another in some way. Our little online community had grown into true friendships.

As time went on, and technology changed, Prodigy changed as well, and the group began to disband. We tried moving everything to America Online but by then the Internet and the World Wide Web were starting to gain popularity and nobody had time for silly bulletin boards. The main “group” still kept in touch via Email and phone, and a few of us met once or twice more, but after a while, life caught up with us and we lost touch with nearly everyone.

Until Facebook.

15 years after we first started all of this, our little group has reunited. I found Scott there, and he found another former member, Heather. Then my sister joined, and we found Amy and Beckie. So I decided to create a “Name That 80+ Tune” Facebook Group, and basically resurrected our old game.

I never dreamed it would be so successful. As of today, 15 people have joined the group, and of that 15, 13 were members of the original Prodigy group. We’ve been having such a great time, remembering all the crazy things we did, posting pictures of our ‘unions,’ and even planning some reunions. We’ve all grown up, some have gotten married, some have kids, but all of us still have a love for music and those goofy 80’s tunes. And we’re even back to playing the game, just like we used to.

What happened back then was so new and exciting. We created a community before MySpace, Friendster and Facebook. Heck, even before AOL. I don’t think it could ever happen today. It’s just too easy to exchange all of that information. Back then we were just names and words. There were no judgments based on looks, lifestyles or backgrounds. Today everyone has pictures, profile pages, websites and blogs… it’s almost too easy to find people, but not so easy to really get to know them.

And to think it all started on Prodigy, which doesn’t even exist anymore. In a way, I like to think we were pioneers.

The old Prodigy gang, in my parents’ backyard, 1993:  
Clockwise from top left: Scott, me, Tony, Beth and Lynn.