The last 15 years of life before the Internet were a magical time… Or so historians might write one day.
For me, the start of the digital revolution coincided with my own independence.
When I look back at 15, the year before I could drive, the year before freedom came my way in the form of my own vehicle, the year before girls, the year before work, the year before Tim Berners-Lee thought interconnectivity would be a good thing for this world, I see the last vestiges of a simpler time glowing like the embers of a late-summer fire.
Maybe mobile and smartphones were the bigger revolution, but when I was 15, I still dreamed. I went camping with my friends and spent time at coffee shops without staring at a screen every five minutes.
I read paper books cover to cover.
We listened to music together and went to concerts and only watched television on Saturday and Sunday nights, and it was appointment viewing with commercials that we couldn’t fast forward through.
The girl I loved didn’t know it yet, but I still wrote paper notes to the ones I didn’t.
Do you like me? Check yes or no.
We used landlines to connect to our friends and waited without wondering what was taking them so long, because text messaging hadn’t been invented yet.
It was simpler from the rearview, but it was complex from where we were at. We knew what was possible from the science fiction we were increasingly exposed to, but the world was only just free of the clutches of the Cold War.
At 15, I didn’t know that my future career would be in a realm that was only a proposal on a piece of paper at the time. Before then, you did what your dad did, or you did the opposite.
Life beyond the small town you grew up in was fantasy, and what you didn’t know couldn’t really hurt you.
Now, with all the knowledge of the entire history of the world at our fingertips, we hurt all over. We’re cracking at the seams.
I don’t blame the Internet though. Like with many brilliant advances in history, the world wide web was just a little before its time.
When we found bronze, we turned it into weapons instead of infrastructure. When we found iron, we made armor to defend ourselves against bronze. When we found steel, we made swords and spears to pierce the armor.
When we discovered black powder, we chose to make bullets instead of energy.
I’m glad I had 15 years before the Internet. No matter what becomes of us, I’ll have the two experiences to better understand this world.
The Internet is not bad. Just as our world is made of bronze and iron and steel and energy now, all in good time, so too will the Internet come around as a thing for good and the betterment of mankind.
Right now it’s raw and undecided and trying to fit into a multigenerational world.
Someday it will be part of the backdrop of our world, and I’m glad I got to know the world before it ever existed.