Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Internet is an amazing thing (or, why aren't there jobs any more?)

This will be a long, rambling, going-nowhere kind of post. You can skip it. You won't hurt my feelings. I'm just thinking, with words and stuff. Might as well post it.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s. That should say a lot, but here is a list of things that define me as a child of the 70s....

1968 Mini
  • ABBA
  • Going on vacation in a Mini (think Mr. Bean or see right)
  • Records...LPs!
  • Pay phones
  • The Muppet Show
  • Bunny ears on my TV
  • AM radio
  • Disco dancing!
All of this complicated even further by the fact that I was born and raised in England until 1981 so my cultural references are always slightly off. When you say "Sesame Street", I say "what?" When you say, "crackers"? You think Saltines. I think Christmas crackers.

Most of my American pop-culture references of this time are grown-up ones, not kids ones. I remember, for example, watching the Dallas finale on British TV when a sitter came over one evening to sit on me. (That would probably not have been OK with my parents since I was only 5 at the time. This was back when people cared what children watched on TV.) I didn't have a clue what the heck was going on, but noticed that Americans lived in the country and wore big hats and were very concerned with "Who shot JR?"(which I think they damn well should have been.) And, we also had the Dukes of Hazzard. Another winning piece of Americana and further reinforcement of the Dallas lessons to boot. So when we moved to the States you can imagine the information pool we had to pull from to anticipate what life would be like in the Colonies. (OK, we didn't really call it that, but it was pretty close.)

And, then there was the 80s...
  • Princess Di and "The Royal Wedding"
  • DOUBLE-pierced (!) ears (which I actually did. Only on one side. I was such a rebel!)
  • Writing ones deepest, most private thoughts in a diary where no one else can see or read them
  • FM radio
  • Colecovision,  Atari 64, PAC-Man fever!
  • Legwarmers, clogs, Alligator shirts, Tretorns
  • Young Kevin Bacon and Michael J. Fox (before his unfortunate diagnosis)
  • ET, Ferris Bueller, Ghostbusters, The Goonies, Back to the Future
  • Getting dropped off to meet my friends at "The Mall"
  • Station wagons
  • Cablevision!
  • Remote controls that connected to your TV by a long wire that the stupid dog would always chew through forcing you to get up out of your seat anyway just like you did the year before in the old days
  • MTV with MUSIC videos!
  • Madonna-the Like A Virgin (but not actually one)/Material Girl version
  • Michael Jackson-the PEPSI/Thriller/Beat It version
  • Journey, Van Halen, The Police (not the "lights and sirens" kind)
  • Recording songs from the radio onto cassette tapes by holding the recording device up to the speakers of the radio device waiting for the song you want to record to play. All the while, hoping that no one coughs, laughs, or otherwise interrupts your split-second judgement for getting the song without the DJ messing it up. In fact, if you were really smart, you'd call the radio station ahead of time a d request the song be played without them talking over it. Sometimes they would comply and you would accomplish the near-impossible comment-free recording of a song. Then, you would put all these perfect copies on one mix-tape to listen at your leisure. So exhausting, but that's how it was in the old days.
  • The space shuttle
  • Rubix cube and all its derivatives
  • VCRs and VHS tapes (We never did get beta)
  • Trivial Pursuit
If I wanted to know something or do a "report" for school, I would have to haul the Encyclopedia Britannica off the shelf and damn-well look it up. The. Hard. Way. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to live in a home with a complete set! A trip to the actual library was rarely needed.

Now the plus-side of all this ignorance was a simpler life. If I wanted to wait for someone to call me, I had to sit by the phone. Doing virtually nothing, except maybe reading an actual book made of actual paper or watching reruns of The Flintstones (which I still love). And wait for the phone which was connected permanently to the wall to ring. If I wanted to play with my next door neighbor, I could go next door and ask. It didn't require looking at a master calendar and setting up a carefully contrived play date.

Apple IIe c. 1983
But, then, in the mid-80s, we got a new-fangled invention called the "home computer" Apple IIe! A new world was on the horizon. We did basic programming by plotting points (square dots on a grid) in BASIC to draw pictures and played gripping games like Lemonade Stand, but no email or Internet. I still typed actual letters on my dad's ribbon typewriter and put the letters in the actual US mail! Beyond that I didn't really touch a computer until I was in college. College! 1991!

It wasn't long thereafter that the Internet was invented by Al Gore. And suddenly, everyone became experts in everything. And then there was Wikipedia which made it nearly impossible for me to continue my career path as a pathological know-it-all. I had to find some thing else to do and stat!

Now, I can think of any obscure topic and zoom in to outer-computerworld to find an answer from other career know-it-alls. (There is a club.) The answer might not actually be right, but that's inconsequential really. I can look at anything. I can even look at lots of things I didn't mean to look at. For example, I now know that if I want to go to the White House (in DC) web site, I have to go to WhiteHouse dot GOV, not dot COM. (Don't do it. You'll regret it!) The world is a frightening place.

And then there's a whole slew of other deviations from the old traditional way of doing things....

Phones. They go with us. Everywhere. It's magical. I can stand outside of some one's house and call them to "see if they're home" when I can see them in their kitchen window making dinner! Then I can bust them on Facebook when they post that they are in China posting Photoshopped photos of themselves on the Great Wall of China by asking if I can stop by for dinner since I'm "in the neighborhood".

Music. Doesn't. Exist. Anymore. It's all just an illusion. You give Apple money. They play the song on a device that is completely unique and incompatible with any other device. "Proprietary," they call it. "Rip off," I call it. You can't even will your music to someone when you die.

Journals or diaries are now blogs (web-logs) which are technically diaries with personal, private ideas out there for public shredding consumption and COMMENT. (Yet, for some reason, we are all still very wrapped up in our privacy rights.) We publish our business, a few people read it, probably laugh at us, and go on with their day. Crazy. Right?

Social media. Facebook where one hooks-up with everyone with whom one has ever crossed paths. And I'm talking everyone. It is sooo awesome! It helps us visit the uncomfortable worlds of our past and present. Simultaneously! And, Twitter which, frankly, I still (after 7 years) don't get. I need more than 140 characters per thought. But it is perfect for all those kids who can't string more than that together even with a gun to their head.

In the meantime, computers are getting smarter and people are getting stupider. (Sounds wrong, I know, but it's the right word. The internet says so.) We need less people to do the same amount of things; yet the populations abounds. Someone needs to create an effective method of dumbing down the computer population so that the human population will still have options for a paycheck. That master mind will make a bundle!

That's it. Told you I wasn't going anywhere with it. Thanks for stopping by.

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