One day in November of 1991, Wolfgang Staehle found himself at his studio, the basement of a former gallery in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood accessible through a hatch on the front stoop. With no art left on the walls, his contemporaries busy pursuing their own careers, and a recession settling in, he switched on a computer and brought to life "The Thing," an electronic bulletin board system (BBS). It would become a kind of social project, he hoped — somewhere to discuss art and maybe figure out what to do next. Or at very least, a way to keep in touch with friends. It wound up becoming all of those things, and a lot more.

There had been many like it before, of course. Ward Christenson, proprietor of the very first computer bulletin board, had brought his CBBS online way back in 1978. These humble systems were the disparate nodes of connectivity upon which network culture blossomed before the rise of the internet we know today — "A small computer with a very lonely person behind it" that lets other lonely people dial in and connect to it over a phone line, as computer historian and documentarian Jason Scott describes them.