I discovered online forums back in the late 1990s, when the usenet was at the height of it's popularity and text-only newsgroups were the only thing out there. You had to have a usenet account, and once you scaled that hurdle, you had access to literally thousands of newsgroups on every topic known to man and hundreds I never would have thought of. Just about every sexual kink ever invented was represented in an online newsgroup, and when I stumbled onto one of those forums by accident (something about bedwetting), I blushed 13 forms of red and was so flustered I yanked the computer cord out of the wall rather than try to figure out how to back out of there. It probably didn't help that I was at work at the time, and my boss (who introduced me to newsgroups in the first place) was trying to help me navigate onto a group called "ratsa" to check up on the week of General Hospital we'd both missed.
Ratsa, or "rec.arts.tv.soaps.abc" was a favorite newsgroup for years. We discussed all the ABC soaps and everything else under the sun including a few kinks that had even the two of us seasoned nurses groping for barf bags. I learned very quickly (after posting under my own name and regular email address) that anonymity was to be striven for.
I lurked on ratsa for months before daring to post, but when I did post, I innocently set off a stool storm of epic proportions. (Something like wandering on here and posting something like "Why do nurses eat their young?" or "All nurses over 50 are dried up hags who need to retire.") I defended my favorite GH character against an accusation of sluttiness or poor parenting -- I forget exactly what -- and pointed out that the GH darling made precisely the same parenting choices AND slept with her best friend's husband without censure. Instantly, my inbox was filled with nasty, venomous posts questioning my parentage, character, intelligence and reading comprehension. Several posts threatened to come to my house and either beat me to a pulp or have their trained German Shepheds make mincemeat of me -- and those posts were accompanied by a map detailing the exact location of my home. Anyone whose online experience is limited to moderated forums has absolutely NO idea what an unmoderated usenet group could produce in the way of offensive posts.
I very quickly figured out that posting under my own name and using my regular email address was a blunder so huge as to be dangerous. I backed away from the keyboard for weeks. Months even. But eventually my fascination with the layers of discussion, knowledge of the history of my favorite characters, backstage stories about the actors drew me back. "Ruby Vee" was invented then, and although it's been proven over and over again that there is no true anonymity on the internet, it was a much safer persona. "Ruby Vee" has yet to get a credible death threat accompanied by a map to my home . . . knocking wood so as not to tempt the fates.
I discovered all nurses in 2001 and lurked there for about a year before joining. My husband had done an internet search on something blood-related and one of the sources he turned up was AN. I jumped on the computer one afternoon and there it was: "allnurses.com". I started reading posts here and there and was soon caught up in the discussions -- not caught up enough to post, though. I learned my lesson on the usenet and lurked for a LONG time until I was SURE I wanted my words recorded and preserved for posterity. Even after I joined allnurses, it was about another year before I dared to post. (The first of my posts I could find in the archive was dated in June, 2003).
As I began to participate regularly on AN, I found out very quickly that I had the answers to a lot of the questions people were asking. I wish the resource had been available when I was a brand new and terrified baby nurse. It would have saved me from asking really stupid questions of the crusty old bats who ushered me through my first year of nursing, and maybe would have made me look much smarter than I was if I'd had the answers without asking the question. I'd have learned how to navigate some of those interpersonal problems with my new co-workers without making myself an unpopular colleague, I'd have figured out how NOT to make some of the gaffes I've made and I might have learned a good bit about time management without having to reinvent the wheel. Advice on how to survive the night shift or rotating shifts would have been right there for the taking rather than my having to figure it all out on my own. If a savvy old nurse had told me I was being a baby about this or a moron about that in the relative safety and anonymity of AN, it might have saved me a few scathing lectures from my actual co-workers.
I participate now not because I need answers (although sometimes I do), but mostly because I know that through my experience, I can save some new grad from learning things the hard way. The "But I'm too special for night shift" questions/statements can save someone the eternal hatred of their coworkers if they but read and heed. "Why do nurses eat their young?" threads can actually educated new grads and nurse wannabes if they are open to it, and some of the "Dumbest thing I've Ever Seen" and "Biggest Mistakes I've Ever made" threads are both entertaining and educational. Although it's hard to believe, some posters have made -- and learned from -- mistakes I haven't been unfortunate enough to have made yet, and may prevent me from ever making those mistakes!