Thursday, October 18, 2012

You were not born an internet user - you became one

I was alive when the Soviet Union existed.

This one fact alone does not mean anything. Being alive and being aware about what's going on is not the same thing, and the insights I could glean from the sudden collapse of Empire were somewhat limited by me being a mere two years of age.

Still. I was around, and can say I was around without lying too much.

By virtue of being born back in the days of global antagonistic superpowery, I was also around to see something else. Notably, the nineties. Which was the strangest of times, I might tell you. There were no cell phones, no easily used computers, no internet as we know it, and - most importantly - no escape.

If you were somewhere, that was where you were. Brutally.

Which is harder to explain than to contrast, so I'll do that instead. Think of any ordinary day and count all the times you communicate with someone who isn't there. Then remove all these instances (all the blogging, tweeting, texting, redditing, googling etc), and see what remains. I'd wager that it is very unlike the ordinary day you ordinarily celebrate, and that you'd get some interesting abstinence symptoms rather fast.

Such was the nineties. And I was there, alive and aware, and taking it for granted as the way things had always been.

It may sound strange to you, but the internet was introduced in my lifetime. I saw it happen, saw the transition from the Before to the Now.

The reason for me writing this is not only my coming to terms with the whole "getting older" thingy. It's also a more general theme that recurs in my thinking - how when you were born determines what you find natural, strange, relevant or irrelevant. If you were born ten years before me, hiding under a desk in a nuclear drill was a natural thing to do. If you were born ten years after me, the internet had never not been around.

I can't help but think that all those years of me going around being all offline has shaped me in some way. Some way that those who are born closer to now really can't understand, simply because they were not there. Some attunement to the brutal loneliness of being unconditionally offline that thankfully is not necessary any more.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm the last outpost of a generation. The last one out of the disconnected, and the first one to be plugged in. Not one or the other, but both - eternally on the generational fence.

I was alive when the Soviet Union existed. Soon, those who celebrate their first day in school won't remember a time when there was no Facebook.

These kinds of thoughts occupy my mind a lot. I certainly wasn't a born internet user, and I suspect many of you weren't either. But an ever larger number of people are, and they are not going to understand all the fuss that was necessary back in the olden days. They are going to do what comes naturally to them, and this is going to be one of the biggest remix projects the world has ever seen.

Let's hope it won't turn out that I'm too old before I even got around to be young. -

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