Keeping up in a weird, wired world
LINCOLN, Neb. — "Just click on this icon, and then wait for it to dial-in," Mrs. O'Brien told me. I watched the screen and listened to the modem connect, those touch tones and that static noise that accompanies your entrance onto the information superhighway.
Once connected, I used the arrow keys on the keyboard to jump from link to link, specified by bold letters on a black and white Mac screen. Having found the link to a search database, I clicked "Return" and spun in my chair as I waited for the connection to register a change in the screen.
An hour later, I will have downloaded an executable or two and a few files. I will have used another hour of Mrs. O'Brien's free minutes. I will have concluded my first online experience.
That was all of six years ago.
Now, the very fabric of my existence is threatened by the Internet. By being exposed to so much information, and so quickly, I seek such stimulation in real life and find real life to be lacking. Classes drag on, and the simple commutes between classes take a surprising amount of time.
Because of e-mail, I now expect to be able to communicate with anyone at any time. Whether it's seven in the morning or midnight, I use e-mail throughout the day to "talk" to people, and they similarly respond whenever they choose.
Because of Internet chat, my normal social barriers are being taken down. The anonymity of chatting allows me to fearlessly assert my opinion, on trivial things like politics and on subjects normally considered taboo, like sex, no matter how right or wrong I may be. This seeps into real life, when I might accidentally make an inappropriate comment, or when I feel, inexplicably, the need to say "lol."
These effects, as noted in my own personal existence, are hardly significant. What interests me is what will happen to the next generation.
There is already talk about how exposure to TV has affected the younger generations. Trying to find ways to interest students in learning, educators are incorporating more and more entertainment into their curriculums. But that's just TV, a multi-channeled, non-interactive source of entertainment and news.
The Internet poses an entirely new problem. What will happen as a generation matures, having grown up in a point-and-click culture? How can a professor lecture to a student who has lived a life full of interaction? How will one satisfy the ever-pressing need to be stimulated?
The Internet has pushed life to a higher speed. Can you imagine junior high and high school at light speed? My sisters are temperamental enough; it doesn't help that they have the Internet to prolong their juvenile squabbles and inflame their crushes.
The next generation, I expect, will push life even faster than it is going now. Their language will be laced with influences from chat-talk to speed up communication. Emoticons may pervade the culture — a culture already lacking in eloquence of the written word. :(
They will be an unruly sort. They won't understand why it takes so long for a senior check. They won't be so willing to wait for a long-winded professor to get to her point. They won't be as patient with their elders — those of us used to using a computer without a mouse.
These changes worry me.
Not that there is any great, romantic, Walden-like beauty to the way our world is now. I will regret the passing of full sentences about as much as I regret the passing of hand-written letters. It will be simply a changing of the guard, like from hard rock to hip-hop-influenced rock. I am not afraid of a high-strung, technology-obsessed culture. I welcome it for the same reason everyone younger than me does: it's more exciting than real life.
I am worried because I have come to it too late. I may never be able to change fast enough to deal with my youngest sibling, now nine years old, who will have grown up with the speed and entertainment of the Internet. I was introduced to the Internet when it was young, when e-mail was still unusual and not free. My mind is hard-wired like an Atari game console, not like a Sega Dreamcast. I'll never be fast enough.
I'm worried because, someday, when I'm old and gray (read: 30), I'll look at all the kids and I won't understand how they live their lives; the Internet will be such a part of their existence.
I'll look back to the day when the Internet was still primarily a research tool, a tool for communicating with peers. I won't miss the slower pace of life, but I will miss my ability to keep up with the pack.
This column first appeared in the Daily Nebraskan at the University of Nebraska on Jan. 28, 2000 and is reprinted here courtesy of the U-Wire.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not neccessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, February 1, 2000