Lane Ellis was only 16 years old when he started operating a computer Bulletin Board System (BBS). He was working from a small dial-up modem in his home in Aurora, Colo., under the alias “Grandpa Reggae.”
Those who knew him only by his alias probably thought he was an elderly African American, Ellis said. Little did they know he was a 16-year-old boy working on the cutting edge of new media.
His BBS allowed people to discuss music, sports, computers and even exchange recipes. It is similar to the modern day blog and was one of roughly 250 in the Denver, Colo., area in 1984. It received nearly 1,000 calls per week—an impressive number considering only one person could call in at a time. Ellis said he had all kinds of people connecting through his system; some would even call in from Jamaica, curious about the systems title, “Reggae Land.”
“They were mainly geeks and nerds … social misfits,” he said.
Konnie Ellis, Lane’s mother, recalls getting phone calls from people asking for Grandpa Reggae.
“It was very funny,” she said.
Since Konnie didn’t know much about the technology Ellis was dealing with, she wasn’t concerned about the phone calls, but looking back she said maybe she should have been. But to Konnie, the BBS was good for Ellis, helping him connect with people with similar interests.
Ellis has truly seen the evolution of the Internet. Everything he hoped it would do has happened. He recalls wishing that his whole family would be able to connect through e-mail. Now that wish has come true—even his 92-year-old grandmother who is still living in Duluth, Minn., has an account.
“It’s been amazing to see the Internet change since 1984. It’s been an amazing journey,” he said.
Ellis now lives in Duluth with his wife Julie. He is a writer and editor for WebmasterWorld, a website based out of Texas that provides news and discussion for Web professionals.
He does his work from a third floor suite in the Temple Opera building downtown, spending the majority of his time glued to his dual monitors—working in the virtual world. But as he writes about social media or search engine optimization, he is surrounded by nearly 50 plants that he winterizes in his office. They are begonias and geraniums and cover the floor around his desk and the windowsill.
Ellis said keeping plants in his office helps him to stay grounded, because for the amount of time he spends in the virtual world, he spends an equal amount of time enjoying the outdoors. He ran six marathons and will run his seventh this summer. He also maintains a garden with his wife.
“When I’m not on the computer I like to get outside,” he said.
When Ellis gets a chance to retire, he said he wants to travel to the places his ancestors are from. He said he has 42 old computers, some collector’s items. His plan is to sell them and take a trip to Europe.
“It’s helpful to connect with your roots and to know where you came from,” he said.
And that might be the most interesting thing about Ellis. For all the time he spends behind his monitors connecting with people through the virtual world, he still feels the need for physical interaction by dirtying his hands in the garden, running along the North Shore or visiting the roots of his ancestors.
As his alias would suggest, Lane “Grandpa Reggae” has an old soul.
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