Picture yourself at a computer. You are likely to think of yourself as a solitary figure doing serious work before the pale glow of a monitor, cut off from the world.
But when your computer is linked to the telephone on your desk through a special device called a modem, new vistas open up. Using phone lines, you can call up outside information sources and display the data on your computer screen.
But the modem also lets your computer become a social tool. You can tap out messages on your keyboard to people a block or a continent away.
You can also let your computer become a modern-day bulletin board. In other words, it is possible to leave a message for others on an electronic "bulletin board" in the computer system or read messages that others leave.
A number of bulletin-board systems (BBS) are operated by local hobbyists. They generally allow 15 or 20 minutes a day on the system free, and they frequently offer open-ended or unlimited time on the system at a nominal price.
You sign onto the BBS through your computer. Most of the boards ask users to answer an electronic questionnaire. Some limit access until a prospective user's telephone number is verified.
Some boards specialize in dating or discussion of current events. Most of these boards have listings of other numbers the computer user can call using the modem. Many of the boards are accessible 24 hours a day.
If you need more details before signing up, most of the systems have a "chat" mode in which you can electronically exchange messages with the system's operator. The numbers below will emit the electronic signal needed to get your modem operating.
Marina Match-Up, (213) 397-6300. Dating is perhaps the most widespread activity undertaken on local boards. Like most of the others of its type, this BBS asks callers to fill out a questionnaire. The answers are matched with those of other users, giving the person requesting the match a select group of persons to whom he or she can send an electronic note.
The Talk Channel, (818) 506-0620. Although it has a match function, this BBS stresses exchanging electronic messages. Persons requesting an account fill out a 34-question form.
The Lyceum, (213) 594-9062. Named for the ancient Greek academy where Plato, Aristotle and their brainy friends batted around lofty thoughts, this Lyceum is also dedicated to debate on weighty matters. Computer discussions range from current political issues, such as the U.S. role in the Middle East and Central America, to the sorts of things that probably kept Aristotle up nights, like the nature of the relationship between God and man.
Videoman, (213) 666-8588. This BBS bills itself as "A public-access computer for Hollywood's entertainment industry." Although most of the persons with accounts on the system appear to be from the technical end of show biz, there are a few recognizable names on the user's log, including Ed Shaughnessy of the "Tonight Show" orchestra and Bob Claster, host of "Funny Stuff" on KCRW-FM. This BBS also features a computerized guide to 553 local restaurants.
The Handicapper's Log, (213) 934-6026. This BBS is a computerized racing form for horse players.
The Ground Zero Lobo EMS, (213) 430-0079. This "electronic message system" also has games on line for the computer user who yearns for new types of aliens to zap.
BR's BBS, (213) 394-5950. This BBS offers users the opportunity to collaborate on science-fiction stories. It also has boards for users to comment on politics or other matters. Mary Jo's Real Estate Genius, (213) 370-0893. One of a number of business-oriented BBS's that are cropping up, this one is a guide to properties in the South Bay.
Fantasy Plaza, (818) 840-8252. This BBS invites computer users to take a stroll through a computer mall. The merchandise ranges from computer accessories to cardboard-and- cellophane "rainbow glasses."
Buy Phone, (213) 470-4679. This BBS likens itself to an electronic Yellow Pages, but its offerings are far fewer. It does, however, have substantial theater, movie and restaurant listings and where to buy, rent, lease or fix an automobile.