Social Networking Before the Internet

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2016-11-24 – Happy Thanksgiving!

This Thanksgiving I had the treat of hearing my old buddy Ira Gessel interviewed on a Minnesota radio station about our 1970s campaign against pay toilets. (You can hear the interview here in the 11 AM segment.) We called it CEPTIA, which stands for the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America.

Ira came up with the idea in the middle of our senior year of high school. 1969 was a highly charged time politically, just like now. And we adopted this cause. Today, our first step would be to set up a social media presence on Facebook or Twitter, but the modern Internet was still maybe 15 years in the future. So we organized the old fashioned way: by word of mouth.

We got our big boost when we all went away to college. We started in Dayton, Ohio. Ira went to Harvard. I went to the University of Chicago. A year later, our friend Natalie Windsor went to Kent State. Then Ira’s brother Michael Gessel wen to Penn. We all talked up CEPTIA in our new cities and before long we had over 1,000 members.

One of the perks of membership was a subscription to the Free Toilet Paper. This was prepared on typewriters (typesetters at the end), printed on paper, addressed by hand, and mailed at the post office. No instant blogging in those days.

And eventually, we got coverage by the regular press. We held press conferences. We were interviewed on radio and TV. At the peak, we hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

In Chicago, the first Mayor Daley got wind of us (a result of work done with one of the city aldermen) and yanked pay toilets from the airport. Then an ordinance passed banning pay toilets from the entire city. Other cities and states followed with similar laws. We had won!

As with everything, CEPTIA was only a part of our lives. We all had college. Many of us were involved in other causes. And then we graduated and went out into the world to make our careers and raise our families.

Once in a while something happens and we remember.

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