The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media (Hardcover)

The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media By Kevin Driscoll Cover Image
Not currently in store. May be available on
Find us on to order!


The untold story about how the internet became social, and why this matters for its future
“A great book for anyone who wants to understand the early days of online communications.”—Preston Gralla, Arts Fuse
Fifteen years before the commercialization of the internet, millions of amateurs across North America created more than 100,000 small-scale computer networks. The people who built and maintained these dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSs) in the 1980s laid the groundwork for millions of others who would bring their lives online in the 1990s and beyond. From ham radio operators to HIV/AIDS activists, these modem enthusiasts developed novel forms of community moderation, governance, and commercialization. The Modem World tells an alternative origin story for social media, centered not in the office parks of Silicon Valley or the meeting rooms of military contractors, but rather on the online communities of hobbyists, activists, and entrepreneurs. Over time, countless social media platforms have appropriated the social and technical innovations of the BBS community. How can these untold stories from the internet’s past inspire more inclusive visions of its future?

About the Author

Kevin Driscoll is assistant professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. He is the coauthor (with Julien Mailland) of Minitel: Welcome to the Internet.

Praise For…

“Driscoll does an excellent job of covering not just the technologies that made it all possible, but the tone and mood of the times as well. . . . A great book for anyone who wants to understand the early days of online communications.”—Preston Gralla, Arts Fuse

“A tour de force. . . . The Modem World deserves wide readership, not only among historians of technology but also everybody who engages daily on computer networks and is curious about where it all came from.”—Ian Milligan, Technology and Culture

“An exemplary historical reconstruction. . . . This work introduces an abundance of stories and data, granting us a more nuanced understanding of media change processes.”—Carlos A. Scolari, Convergence

Winner of the 2023 Nancy Baym Annual Book Award, sponsored by the Association of Internet Researchers

Winner of the 2023 Computer History Museum prize, sponsored  from SIGCIS. 

“Whether you’re reading this for a nostalgic romp or to understand the dawn of the internet, The Modem World will delight you with tales of BBS culture and shed light on how the decisions of the past shape our current networked world.”—danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

The Modem World brings back to life a lost world of electronic communications, in the effervescent years before the Internet, World Wide Web, and the duopoly of Facebook and Google. Fascinating reading.”—Paul E. Ceruzzi, curator emeritus, Smithsonian Institution

“Everyone loves a good origin story, especially a forgotten one. The Modem World offers an overlooked history of the Internet—it’s full of insights into how we got here, and where we could have gone instead. Deeply empathetic and gently brilliant.”—Tarleton Gillespie, author of Custodians of the Internet

Product Details
ISBN: 9780300248142
ISBN-10: 0300248148
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Pages: 328
Language: English