I love Fark.com. It’s full of interesting articles about thousands of things that people shouldn’t care about or aren’t really important to anyone and a few actual news articles. A real prize is the comment sections accompanying every snarky headline. For the most part, it is populated by people who see the inanity inherent in racism, classism, stupidity and ignorance, and uses a healthy dose of irony to put everything and everyone in its proper place. Of course, there are plenty of folks who take themselves, the other commenters, the news articles and the internets too seriously for their own good as well. Every so often, a submitter doesn’t link to a story, but asks for advice or information.
The headline for this thread reads:
Youngish TFette has no comprehension what her adult life would be like without the internet or computer technology. Describe your pre-internet life.
The comments are uncharacteristically straightforward (albeit a little whimsical) and triggered flashbacks to a time before cell phones, ubiquitous cable TV, digital media as a term, much less a delivery system and the omnipresence of computers. There’s a sense of patient explanation of one generation’s world to another generation.
Then, the next day, the inimitable Wil Wheaton published The Week in Review: The Musical Future, in which he discusses his astonishment at the difference between how he collected music when he was 15 and how he and his sons do so now.
In reading through the Fark thread, I began to wonder what it is that my children will tell my grandchildren about how different things were and how difficult they had it. My daughters have never lived in a house without an internet-connected computer in the living room. They have never had fewer than 200 channels to choose from. They have never had to worry that a CD was the sole source of a particular song because the computer had backups of that media. They have always been able to reach my wife and I via cell phone when we’re out of the house (not that they call us, but we’re always available). They have always been able to see pictures taken of or by them seconds after the flash fades. They are 7 and 5. In the time they’ve been alive, we have changed progressed through two full generations of video game console.
I can compare my analog childhood with their digital one. I know the difference between VHF and UHF and the exquisite pain of tuning a TV station. I know the satisfying click that a TV dial makes when it changes channels. I’ve watched I Love Lucy, the Three Stooges, M*A*S*H and Mr. Ed because those were simply the only thing that were on on a Saturday afternoon after the Saturday Morning Cartoons had ended. Like Mr. Wheaton, I know what it means to flip to the other side to hear the rest of the album, whether it be cassette or record. I have sat with my finger anxiously over the pause button on the VCR remote to try to tape a movie from TV and excise the commercials. I have used a card catalog. I know what a card catalog even is.
At only 30 years old, I stand with my feet astride a boundary between the technological age of my parents and the information age of my children. The rate of information growth and processing are growing exponentially (literally – see Moore’s Law), so technology changes and improves faster today than it did when I was a kid. VCR was the standard home video format for something like 15 or 20 years. Then DVD hit mainstreamin the late 90s and reigned for less than a decade before being superceded by Blu-Ray and the short-lived HD-DVD. Vinyl was king for 60 years. SIXTY YEARS! It was supplemented by 8-track and cassette, but vinyl ruled them all. Then Compact Disks came along in the later ’80s and redefined fidelity. Now the very idea of physical media for music is fighting for survival. MP3 provides the same quality as CD and is infinitely more portable. I was 16 before I first connected to the Internet at blistering 14.4 Kbps. Now it’s a daily part of my life and lets me talk to anyone who might stumble by my neck of the cyber-woods.
When my dad was growing up, certain things were consistent and reliable for his whole youth. The biggest innovation in my dad’s pre-30 years might have been the advent of color TV or the VCR, but those were more than a decade apart; even after introduction, there was time to adjust to something before the next big innovation. Now, it feels like the next new big thing is introduced before you’ve thrown the box out for the previous new big thing.
My vintage-1978 brain still feels flexible enough to adapt to new technology for now. Cell phones are starting to make me gnash false teeth and scream for these damn kids with their internet devices to get off my CDMA lawn, though.
Will my daughters regale their unimpressed children with tales of how when they wanted to go online, they had sit (!) at a computer (‘what’s a computer?’), and click on a link (‘what’s a link?’) and load the page at a measly 6 Mbps (‘How many Mbps in a Terabit per second and what do you mean ‘load’?').
Standing outside my house and looking around, the Earth seems no different than when I was a kid. The grass is still green, the trees are still tall, majestic and made of raw wood, the sky is still blue and the clouds white. Then my cell phone notifies me that I got an SMS message from a friend pointing me to a website I’ve just got to see right now because they have all the latest spoilers on the movie I’m dying to see, so I click the link and read the news on my phone, not having left the spot, as I have a conversation with my friend, without speaking or hearing his voice, while the breeze blows by, stirring the faint memory of my analog childhood.