Just some thoughts about how the internet has changed my world.
14 years ago, back in the very early ’90s, when I was at university studying for my degree, no-one had ever heard of the internet. I’d heard of cyberspace, thanks to William Gibson, but I’d never seen its closest living relative, the internet.
This was a time when all of my essays were written out by hand, using a pen, on paper. The only reason the library had computers in it was for us to look up which books were available!
When I was studying for my Masters during 1996-97, I still wrote essays out by hand, but the library at my university did have a few computers to access the web on. Not that anybody really knew what to do with it.
I still recall sitting down at one of these, opening Netscape Navigator (I did at least know that NN was the way to access the web back then), typing “Modernism” into the address bar, and being perplexed when an error came up. Eventually I gave up and went to have a look at some proper paper books. The point is: nobody knew how to use a web browser then, and – importantly – this was less than ten years ago!
I’m just writing this because I do a hell of a lot of research at work, and 99.9% of it is now done on the web.
When I started this job, seven years ago, the office had one PC that had a dial-up modem and could be used to access the web to look things up. We didn’t use it very often, partly because it took so bloody long to connect, but also because we had quite a reasonable selection of reference books that could be used to check things out.
Trust me, subtitlers have to check some pretty weird things out.
What’s my point?
Now we use the internet for almost everything. We all have network access to a super-duper gazillion megabyte broadband connection. If I want to check a spelling, or a fact, or find out what on earth something means, I no longer have to go and look it up in a book; nowadays I can look it up one-handed on the internet in seconds. Copy it from Swift, our special subtitling software, then paste-and-go it into a search window in my browser (Opera – so much better than Internet Explorer).
And that’s it. You can look up anything, find out anything, in seconds with just a few finger movements.
Come on, that’s a genuinely god-like power you’ve got there. Move a finger, find out anything…
When I was younger (note: not “young”, just “younger”) if I was reading this article and, say, I didn’t know who William Gibson was then I’d have to go to a library or a bookshop and find a book about “William Gibson”. I could ask people I knew if they’d heard of him, or I could maybe write a letter to the British Science Fiction Associationand hope they would eventually write back with some information.
Now you want to know who William Gibson is? What he’s written? What he’s writing next? What awards he’s won? Where he lives? What he likes for dinner? Who his wife is? If he has a wife?
Click on his name: William Gibson. Click on some of the links around his name above. That’s all you have to do.
I count myself as being pretty computer-literate and up-to-speed with current technology, but even so, when I think about how easy, how fast it is now to find out something you don’t know, then it’s almost frightening.
Going to a friend’s house, but don’t know the area they live in? Previously, you bought an A To Z and took that with you. Now you look it up on Streetmap.
Want to keep up to date with your favourite band? I’ve got some old copies of Smash Hits from 1986 at home, and the back pages are full of ads for fan clubs.
You’d pay your money (oh, yeah – you had to pay for this privilege) and if you were lucky you’d get a newsletter from them a few times a year.
That’s right: a few times a year.
Want to buy an old out-of-print book? Go to Amazon, or to Abe Books.
When I was researching my Masters thesis on science fiction I had to find some pretty obscure old books, and I found them all (except two) by scouring second-hand shops. Everywhere the Lovely Melanie and I went we’d dive into any old junk shop we found and I’d flick through all the books.
It took a long time.
But then, just as I was coming to the end of writing my thesis, I heard about this “internet book shop” in the US called, weirdly, “Amazon”. You typed in what books you were looking for and they could tell you instantly if they had them. It was absolutely incredible – and they were pretty cheap, too – even with postage from the US!
I was pretty nervous about buying something over the internet – who the hell were these people? Were they for real? Could they be trusted? But in the end I sent them my details and, sure enough, a copy of Blood Music and A Canticle For Leibowitz – hitherto unobtainable – arrived at my door within a week!
Nobody thinks twice about it now, but at the time this was just crazy stuff. Again, move a finger, and stuff from the other side of the planet is sent to you.
So my point is, I think, that Millie’s going to grow up in a world where this is the norm.
She’s never going to type “Modernism” into the address bar. Everything she could ever want to learn is going to be available for her within seconds. She’s never going to wonder “Who/what/where/why/how is X?” and not be able to find out.
She probably won’t use shops (“shops” as in “buildings that contain a limited number of products for sale to physically present customers”) much at all, except local ones that sell milk or Mars bars.
Hell, I almost never go to shops for anything but food or drink, these days.
No, really. I can’t remember the last time I went somewhere to do some “shopping”.
And this is what Millie’s world will be like: very different from the one I grew up in, in a way that mine wasn’t different from my parents.
Is it good? Is it bad? I’m inclined to think it’s more good than bad; but the one thing I am sure of is that I can’t imagine how Millie will shape and use this “god-like” power available to her, never having known anything different.