Mile Markers Along the Superhighway

Two comments made in my world this week have brought my mind to rest upon the role of the technological age in my life.  First, a man near and dear to my heart stated: “Some people’s parents shouldn’t be allowed on Facebook” and then a woman I know via preschool stated that “Facebook is my water cooler.” (Apologies to Jak and Katie if I’ve misquoted you.)  My reaction?  Holey moley, how our world has changed!

See if you can remember the precise moment when the following imprecise list of words had meaning for you:  WYSIWYG, personal computer, internet, email, Google, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, DM, IM, chat, blog, Skype, jpeg, 3G, html, Hulu, Netflix, BlueRay, cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Pandora, OLPC…. I could go on and on.  But let’s start first with this Mile Marker:  The Information Superhighway.

I am a wee bit of a technophile primarily in that I love what it can do for me, even when I have no idea exactly what it is doing.  I am married to a whiz-bang (we lovingly call him my Techno-Daddy) and so I am fairly content not knowing much more than how to do what I need to do.  But I will never forget the day he called me over to his work computer in the bowels of Pacific University (GO BOXERS!) and said, “Check this out.”

I warn you, if anybody ever utters those words to you, you may be in for a life changing event.

My DH was typing some mumbo-jumbo on the screen, and to my question of “Um, what’s that?” he informed me I was “talking” to a professor at the University of Minnesota using Pine and Gopher.  Uhuh.  And while I may not be much of a cutting-edge-techno gal, I recognized the experience for what it was:  a big ole change to life as we knew it.  In fact, my first blush with the internet led to my master’s thesis on technology’s role in separating students from the “haves” and the “have nots” to an even greater extent.

Back in 1995 I was already thinking about how lives would change from the ability to “meet” and “talk” with folks from all parts of the world.  But I wasn’t thinking about how that would impact me. But it sure has, let me tell you.  Here are some examples:

I lived in Wales and London in 1989-1990.  I would scrape together all my pence and call home as often as possible – it would take all the change I had to let them know I was still alive and well. My parents phoned me once – on my 21st birthday.  It was too cost-prohibitive and the time-differences limited communication to air-mail.  I missed them heartily and I know they worried as war became more and more imminent. For students and parents, email and social networks must have changed the “study abroad” experience immensely.  (Not sure if better or worse…thoughts?)

My first foray into the world of social networking was via MySpace, which I grudgingly finally accepted the invitations of my siblings in order to inexpensively keep in touch with them (I was living in MN at the time).  It was an easy way to keep my proverbial thumb on their collective pulses which I could fit into the brief moments between teaching, parenting, cooking, etc.

That experience followed a meandering path to Facebook, Twitter, and this blog.  Most of the time, I dug my heels in quite firmly until I had to admit that, eureka!  These things are fun!  As I start creeping towards connecting with larger groups of people, my world is changing.  For a SAHM, having grown-ups to “talk” to helps make the temper-tantrums of children a bit more survivable.  Having more smart, witty, and interesting folks to share ideas with makes my brain engaged in a world larger than chicken nuggets and Legos.  For the first time since “retiring” from teaching, I actually care if I end a sentence with a preposition or use an adverb to modify a verb.  (BTW, these are rules I frequently break with no apology.) Information that had been gathering dust in my  cranium suddenly has a use, once again.

I think the greatest experience for me, however, has been Twitter.  I love that FB allows me to reconnect with folks I’ve known in my previous incarnations as student and employee, but Twitter has allowed me to find whole communities of folks interested in things that interest me as well.

The virtual friendship/acquaintance world is a slippery slope, isn’t it?  When I was a child, I had a pen pal (Bonnie, from Goldendale, WA) with whom I was paired via the Ruralite magazine. (A publication for the folks who got their electricity via that organization in BFE Washington and other parts equally unknown.)  Bonnie and I would trade school pictures and anecdotes from our small-town, farming-world “tainted” lives.  If it had been possible, I’m sure my parents would have happily arranged a “meet-up” between we two farm girls.  People didn’t flinch over pen-pals.  The use of the US Postal Service made the whole thing seem harmless and wholesome.

Two years ago, I had the chance to tag along with my husband as he took a business trip to New York City.  I contacted a cyber friend I had known since 2000 and we arranged a meet-up, much to her husband’s dismay.  “Who is she REALLY?” The internet and our ability to reach out to unknown folks now days has changed everything.  Is this a wholesome connection?  How well do you “really” know this person, anyway?  How many folks have evil machinations and how many are just happily finding new pals?

Myself, I’m glad for the many mile markers along my path down the information superhighway.  Without it, I wouldn’t know the group of comedians I perform with, I wouldn’t know a growing list of authors I am inspired by, and I wouldn’t know what my siblings are up to.  (Just how many ways can I incorrectly use prepositions, anyway?)

I would love to hear your thoughts on how your life has been changed since “information” went viral.

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3 thoughts on “Mile Markers Along the Superhighway

  1. Funny, I was thinking about this same thing the other day. After college (er, about 12 years ago) I lived in Venezuela for awhile teaching English. My husband and I were just dating at the time, and I remember what a big deal it was to schedule a phone call every few weeks. Though email existed, it was via an extremely slow, unreliable dial-up connection on a central computer that was used by everyone in the entire school. Sometimes we exchanged snail-mail letters, but international mail was crazy slow, and very unreliable. When I think about it now, I’m amazed our relationship survived so well despite our inability to keep in touch.

    Now I find myself getting annoyed with him if he doesn’t pick up his cell phone when I call him at the grocery store to remind him to grab milk. How times have changed!

    Tawna

  2. Although the internet became available to me when I was in high school I am happy to know that I have experienced a life without it as well. I will be able to say to my boys, when I was your age I had to…(fill in the blank with use a phone book, dictionary, encyclopedia, map, TV guide, on and on.) That is the difference between me and generations to come.
    By the way, glad to be a part of of your blog:)
    Katie

  3. I was just thinking about this very thing, too. Is it possible to be a technophile and a technophobe at the same time? I love the internet, and the connections it allows me to make with like-minded people, and of course all the networking opportunities it provides writers. OTOH, I’m a little worried about the extent to which it can take over one’s life. During our blizzards this year (it’s been quite a winter) my first worry at the threat of losing power was not that we wouldn’t be able to heat the house, but that we’d lose our internet connection. And then I felt vaguely pathetic. *grin*

    Of course, I blame hubs–he’s the tech pusher in our house, and the one who got me hooked to begin with. (<–Uh-oh. Ended with a preposition. Bad, bad ex-English teacher.)

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