In the long, long ago, technology wasn’t something that we worried about very much. The highest tech in the home I grew up in was a VCR that perpetually was blinking 12:00. The telephone was a corded beige mess hanging on the wall in the kitchen, on a party line until the early 90’s because of the isolation of our location. Cable TV wasn’t an option, so a set of rabbit ears wrapped in tin foil graced the top of the 13 inch color TV that sat on the massive, old cabinet TV that had broken years before.
At school, there were two Commodore 64’s in each classroom, and one Apple IIc Plus. We used Word Perfect to type up stories that our parents told us about our pioneer ancestors for essay assignments and played Wheel of Fortune off floppy disks. The Apple machines were hot commodities – we each got an hour a week to play Math Munchers and Oregon Trail. The satisfying click of the Apple’s keys is still burned into my memory.
Sometime in the mid 90’s, we were upgraded to our own phone line, and with it came the first bit of new technology – *69 to call back whoever just called us, and an answering machine. After a fair bit of convincing on my part, my parents purchased our first home computer – a Packard Bell 486 running Windows for Workgroups that probably cost thousands of dollars. I played Doom on that thing until my fingers were numb instead of studying a thousand times.
None of this was on the internet yet – we hadn’t even heard of such a thing.
In 1996, I had to move from the tiny school in the tiny, remote town to the Middle School in the more populous town 30 minutes away. With it came my first experience on the internet – using AltaVista and Yahoo to look up stuff for history class, and checking my shiny new Hotmail email account.
After that, shit got real. The tech boom started, and the news was full of stories of people getting rich overnight off this new thing called the internet. We bought another PC for my sister’s house – the most expensive thing in the Micron showroom, complete with an onboard 56k modem. We even got a separate line so dialing up wouldn’t block the phone. It sat in my sister’s living room, and every afternoon after school, my grandfather and I would go online and look at websites about whatever was interesting him at the time. It was all very clean and wholesome. After he left, I’d do my chores and my homework, and then log on to ICQ, AIM, IRC, and Yahoo Chat and get lost in the less wholesome world where people were free to be what was inside of them without the constraints of real life expectations.
I learned about everything. We used the card catalog in the library out of politeness mostly – our teachers were doing things like limiting us to one online source for every two book sources so we had to use the library, but mostly we sat around on the Jellybean iMacs, chatting away in size 16 violet comic sans and trying not to get busted looking at gross shit on rotten.com.
The closer we got to the year 2000, the more screwy people got when it came to the all things online. The Y2K bug was the first thing that was hyped up by the media to a crazy level that wasn’t a disaster, celebrity news, or political event. In the late months of 1999, the people in my small town became convinced that the Y2K bug would set off the world’s nuclear arsenal somehow, and prepped like the apocalypse was scheduled for January 1. New Years Eve that year was the first time that I celebrated drunkenly with friends. We were back online celebrating with our internet friends too by 12:05 am Mountain Time.
Since the world didn’t end, it hit the accelerator. Tech has developed at breakneck speed since – now there is a device sitting here that fits in my pocket and can bring up nearly the entirety of human knowledge in seconds, as well as order some pad thai and contact my best friend with flawless, instant video chat across thousands of miles. Yes, the time before the net might have been more simple technologically, but people were having the same kinds of problems then. The interesting part has been watching how people use this tool. The internet brings people together just as often as it pushes people apart. Communication has never been easier. Facts have never been more available. Career pathways have opened, money has flooded in, it’s been used for good and evil and everything between. This apparatus that once was for nerds and got people beat up in high schools all over the country is now almost unthinkable to live without.
I only get to say almost because I got a chance to experience a childhood filled with books and playing outside, where gaming meant getting out the board, smiley faces were drawn on Trapper Keepers, and bullies had to be mean to your face. The world is a better place with open communication. I do not long for the days when learning a fact meant relying on a parent, a teacher, or a twenty-year-old encyclopedia, and meeting people who shared a similar mindset was a total crapshoot. When finding porn meant staring at scrambled nipples on Showtime after 11 pm or raiding your brother’s sticky magazine collection. When learning about sex was more of an on the job training thing. Hell yeah, the world is better off.
Don’t let old people tell you about the golden days of yesteryear, when there was no Pokemon or Instagram. Oregon Trail was the gateway drug to Twitter. They wanted to educate young people and were far more successful than they ever dreamed. Imagine the surprise when we started using this tool to educate each other and share ideas and opinions about things people have been shushed about for generations. Listserv begat UBB Boards, the boards begat Fark, Fark begat Digg, Digg begat Reddit. Livejournal came before Xanga, Xanga begat MySpace, MySpace paved the way for Facebook. Evolution applies to people and our technology as much as any other animal and is happening around us all the time. We can just perceive it now.