Mysterious time travelling Tweet sent 18 years before Twitter even launched

A Linkedin acquaintance sent me a link to an article yesterday that I found amusing (and judging by the Twitterverse a lot of other people also found the story intriguing). Apparently someone was browsing through a collection of old Amiga World magazines and noticed something a little…well…spooky.

The April 1988 issue of the magazine was focused on getting online (on line, back in those days) and featured reviews of various ‘Tele-Comm Packages.’ On the cover there was an illustration by New Yorker cartoonist Arnie Levin depicting a man sitting on telephone lines surrounded by a flock of birds. He has a computer on his lap and on the screen he has written the single word ‘TWEET.’

(You will also notice there is a blue bird sitting next to the man.)

People always said that the Amiga and Amiga World were ahead of their time (although one person once said that it would have been the perfect computer for the hippie generation fifteen years earlier).

Beyond the cover you could also find in that same issue Guy Wright’s editorial (yes, that would be me) called Zeitgeist (chosen primarily because it has not one but two occurrences of ‘e’ before ‘i’) mainly complaining about the confused state of telecommunications at the time. I complained about stuff like baud rates, parity, stop-bits, handshaking, TTYs, protocols, capture buffers, E-mail, uploading, downloading, ARCing and UNARCing, autodialing, scripts, macros, pulses, tones, local nodes, Xon, Xoff, Kermit, Xmodem, Ymodcm, Zmodem, CTS, CTR, duplex, echo, CR with LF, CR without LF, VT-100, word lengths, etc.

But I did get a few things right.

Telecommunications is a wonderful thing. It is the future. It brings people together. It is an entire world of free software, BBSs, SIGs (Special Interest Groups), on-line conferences, articles, news, shopping, airline schedules, research, stocks, chats, etc. You can shop or talk or talk shop. You can browse through services for hours without communicating with another human, or join in a fast and furious multilevel debate on a thousand subjects with dozens of people at the same time, each in a different part of the country.

No doubt about it. Telecommunications is one of the great justifications for owning a computer.

Some day you will be able to buy a modem, plug it in and turn on the computer. An icon for telecommunications will appear. Clicking on it will activate the modem, it will dial a BBS number service and return with the most current list of BBS numbers and services. All the protocols, bauds, parities and other stuff will be set automatically when you pick the service with a click. Nice neat menus (or icons and windows for each area?). Find something you want to download, click “Would you like a copy of this program? Yes/No” and it will all be done for you.

You shouldn’t have to know how to rebuild a carburetor to drive to the supermarket, and you shouldn’t have to know about protocols, emulations, passwords, stop bits, file filters, macros, etc. to get on line.

I’ll keep poking through the services and trying new software, but I won’t enjoy it. Thousands of people enjoy fighting in the wire wars. It’s like colonizing a new planet, but I think there are thousands more who don’t want to hop on the next arc until most of the man-eating vegetables at the other end have been domesticated. The concept is great, the results are great, but the process is obtuse, complicated and frustrating.

Well, nearly correct I guess.

Oh yea. Here’s how that TWEET really ended up on the cover. My art director, Glenn Suoko and I came up with the idea of a man using a computer while sitting on telephone wires to represent going online. We passed the idea onto Arnie Levin and he drew the illustration based on that. He was the one who put in the birds and logically, if the man were communicating with birds he would of course send the word TWEET.

Time travel is a funny thing sometimes.