Something just happened that brought me back to my college days— my Comcast Internet service stopped working. A phone call to their recorded message confirmed that it’s nothing personal; “Your area is having technical difficulties,” the voice said.
Until now, I had not realized how reliant on an Internet connection I had become just to write
an editorial column an essay a blog post. Every idea that pops into my head needs to be researched. Examples must be hyperlinked. Images must be found. Questions demand answers.
And how can I complete a task without pleasant diversions like an email from my wife or a Facebook post by my son?
My, how times have changed. Grab the hyperventilation bag, children– my college education in computer science was over by 1986. Yes, that was six years before the World Wide Web. No, the computers were not steam-powered or gear-driven.
In fact, wonder of wonders, we had a primitive real-time messaging system for students logged on to the college’s DEC VAX minicomputer. The speed of my 110-bits-per-second modem meant I could almost see the individual characters streaming into my home. I can still remember the excitement I felt . At that time, it seemed a slightly naughty, self-indulgent and wasteful way to use computer time, which only a decade before had been so precious that it had been rationed and made available only to the privileged few.
Little did I know how complete the reversal of perspective would be a quarter of a century later. Now, communicating via computer seems like the whole point of them.
In the 1980s there were two methods available to send our data to the outside world: print it out or physically transport it via floppy disk. With no WWW and no Google, research was by phone or library or by travelling to interview an expert.
In my first real job out of college, writing for Chilton’s Owner Operator magazine, I watched a frustrated older journalist named Carl struggle to adapt to new-fangled computer terminals after a career spent in front of a typewriter. He retired soon after I got there, never really getting the hang of the things.
* * *
Here is the relevance of this little nostalgia trip: People like Carl are still with us today, only now instead of resisting computers, they resist social media, the utility of apps, the connection with how younger people are doing things. They are still trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and will do so until retirement.
I’ve learned a thing or three since 1983:
1. Don’t be too hard on the Carls of the world. Their perspective comes from an earlier world where they did lots of great work before the rules changed.
2. Do find ways to (a) get along with them and (b) work around them. Both are necessary.
3. You will live long enough— if you’re lucky— to be as old as Carl some day. When you get there, remember to flex. Try to accept the new stuff, and the younger people who get it without apparent effort.
And if your Interwebs brain implant goes down, be prepared to do some thinking on your own.