Thursday, April 21, 2011

Technology... Evolution...Reflections

Sometimes I wonder what we did before we had the internet.

I know there was a time when it didn’t exist because I actually remember that time. Sadly, I can remember computers when the movie, “War Games,” almost seemed like science fiction. I mean, that movie has Matthew Broderick hooking up a phone to get his computer to talk to another. Nowadays, people would laugh at it and say, “wow- that’s the olden days!”. (Confession: I watched that movie last year and actually did laugh at it and say “that’s the olden days!”)

However, back in 1980-whatever when that film came out, it was amazing to consider that a computer could talk to another one. I’m revealing my age here but I remember when the first home computers started coming out. We used to load games with a tape recorder on a cassette tape. If you bumped the tape recorder, the game would crash and you’d start over. It would take up to a couple of hours to load a game. Anything under an hour was amazing.

I feel like my generation has actually watched this evolution of technology from the very beginning. Certainly, there were computers way before my family owned their first Sinclair Spectrum (that ended up being defective so we swapped it for a Commodore 64). However, the Commodore 64 was one of the first mainstream machines to actually be small enough and usable enough that it could sit in the living room and be used for games and other purposes.

After that, things started moving fast. Cassette recorders gave way to rather large floppy disks that you could cut in half with a pair of scissors and loaded WAY faster than cassette recorders. Then the floppy disks started shrinking and, finally, after several different versions are now becoming obsolete in favour of flash drives and portable hard drives.

It’s interesting to be from this generation because we know what life was like before the internet and we know what life is with it. It was only when I was in college that we were really able to get online. It was before the world wide web even really got going that I got my first email address and all we could do were find usenet groups and use Unix to do stuff online. Then within a year, there was Webcrawler and Lycos and, well, that’s pretty much where the internet became a part of life.

Yet before those days, we used to have to physically go to stores to buy stuff. We used to have to go to the library to look something up. We used to have to discuss TV shows, books and movies in person or over the phone. We had less self-diagnosed ailments because it was way harder to self-diagnose without Web-MD and way more work. If someone had termites in their house, they’d have to wait until the next business day to call someone to take care of them. They couldn’t make an appointment online five minutes after the termites were discovered.

You probably get my point: Life moved slower. At the risk of sounding like an old cranky grandmother, back in the olden days, we had to do more for ourselves and we had to have more social interaction.

It’s a toss-up as to which was better. I’m a self-confessed internet junkie. It supports to my need for instant gratification of information. If I’m trying to figure out what that weird metal thing is that flew up out of my old lawnmower when it exploded, I can go online and do a quick Google to discover it was a piston. If I decide I’m craving cauliflower cheese for dinner, I can go online and find a good recipe and figure out if I need to go to Kroger before I go home.

The internet does make it easier to avoid talking to people. In my job, we can approach candidates via phone or email. I tend to choose email. My coworker prefers the phone. He’s older than me. This is not an insult, just a fact. I don’t choose email because I’m a coward or I’m shy. I choose email because it’s what I’m used to and from my point of view, I find it far less intrusive than a phone call. I make calls when they’re necessary or I need to move really fast but if I’m just trying to see if someone’s interested in a job, I think email is very effective. When you cold call them, they tend to be irritated because you’re bothering them at work and they say “Send me an email” anyway. Also, email gives them a way to get in touch with you whenever they have time which is why I get a lot of emails after midnight.

Yet I don’t hide behind email. I use it as the tool for which it was invented. I still make sure I interact with people. The idea of not being able to meet people and talk to people is a little alarming to me yet it’s becoming more and more frequent. Sure, the younger generation interacts but they do it on Facebook and via text and via instant messenger. It makes it far easier to stay inside and be a hermit than it used to.

It’s just weird to consider life without the internet. I was reflecting back on that today which is what inspired this blog. I remember life without the internet. It really wasn’t so different just a little less…virtual. I used to be addicted to the set of Encyclopedia Brittanica’s that had been left in our house by the previous owners. They were missing one of the “M”’s which was a pain in the rear but I still made full use of them. I went to the library a lot more. I went to the mall. I read more magazines.

You get the picture. There was life before the internet and it’s a life I remember. It’s just now, I use it constantly at work and at home. For work, it’s our lifesource- it’s how we find resumes and resumes find us. At home, it’s my tool for everything from the pups having an upset tummy to me having to order a new Lawnmower from Home Depot and finding out which is the best model and value for money.

It’s really amazing how life evolves and it happens so quickly but, simultaneously, so gradually that we don’t really notice. It’s only when we stop and actually look back that we see how far things have come and in how short of a time. I’m sure the same can be said for many things in life but, for me, it’s in technology I notice it most. It’s not just the evolution of life from the actual to the virtual but the streamlining of the technology itself. We no longer have the giant, clumsy computers and mainframes from “War Games.” We have tiny, thin, light-as-a-feather laptops that we can shove in a backpack. We now watch movies without having to insert anything into a machine instead of massive videotapes that could get chewed up if you forgot to clean the player.

I could go on and on. It’s just weird to look back to less than 20 years ago and think that there was yet to be a Google or an or an iTunes when these things are such a part of our lives nowadays. In a way, it forced us to be more self-sufficient but, in a way, we wasted a lot of time and a lot more gas to get places.

As with everything there are pluses and negatives. However, even though it’s a massive time waster and allows us to hide behind our electronic personas, I choose to think that the invention of the internet is a good thing.

After all, without the internet, I wouldn’t be blogging about there being an internet. Which is actually quite surreal when I stop and think about it.

Perhaps I better not. This blog is long enough already.

Happy Friday, have a great weekend and thanks for reading!

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