Though not a specialist at all, when I was working at a large entertainment consortium I spent about five years in the internet security department (full of supposedly reformed hackers) and then another eight working with the people who specialized in data mining and selling profile data. Totally ruined me. Instead of the dawn of a new era, I tend to see the ugly, scary side of the Internet all the time.
I’m not saying that’s a good thing.
But being old enough to have lived most of my life in an analog world I have piles of books and records and folding maps and videos and cassettes and boxes full of typewritten and hand scrawled writing full of white out (remember sniffing white out?) and passages scratched out but still visible. I have photo albums, a dozen photo albums, stuffed with pictures that exist nowhere else but in that photo album. I have old flyers I made cutting and pasting. Cutting with a scissors and pasting with Elmer’s glue. The glue would get all over your fingers and make a helluva mess. Glue sticks were a revelation. The slightest invention made things simpler. A glue stick then was like an app on your iPhone now, a silly assed little thing that made life easier. But now it makes the virtual easier, while, back then it made the real less sticky. I remember thinking my Mr. Coffee machine was the greatest thing ever. A Mr. Coffee machine. Imagine how much simpler existence was then if a Mr. Coffee machine was a life changer.
I found a folder full of service manuals, all of which are available online. Things were tactile then. You could feel the paper on your fingers. There was glossy and non-glossy. I look at onion paper now and can’t remember why anyone used it. Onion paper. Typing paper. Note pads. Graph paper. All kinds of paper. Construction paper in a zillion colors. Even xerox paper in various colors. Paper filled up manila folders, stuffed file cabinets, could never be found when you needed it. Paper cut down whole forests, spotted owls and all, and left ugly scars across entire mountain sides.
And things like this, what I’m writing now, remained in notebooks, real paper notebooks, never seen by anyone, and when you died they were stuffed in bins and taken to the dump and no one ever knew. Now we write them in blogs for anyone to see. Anyone.
That’s the scary part, that anyone. Who is that anyone? I write something, think that anyone could see it, and that anyone might be someone, somebody, Somebody. So I delete it. Were I thirty years younger that would never even occur to me. Or else I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t know that everything I did online was part of the vast, inchoate internet, an internet that could conceivably some day reach across the entire universe, and it wouldn’t concern me a bit. If I were thirty years younger I’d read that paragraph above about maps and photo albums and hand scrawled writing and not get it at all. An ancient clouded time, primitive, sad. Not one with the body.
But in thirty years all my age will be gone, and so will memories of black and white television and the smell of freshly mimeographed paper. Of green stamps and paying cash for everything. Of 8 tracks and writing thoughts out on lined paper. Of terrible percolator coffee and how long it took to cook things before microwave ovens. Of checkbooks. Playboy centerfolds. Reaching for a dictionary or a thesaurus. The complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica,14th Edition, Revised, that sits ignored behind me in a corner and fed my autodidactism for decades. Those memories will be all gone.
And in fifty years the people who remember us remembering these things will be gone. People will think back to lives a hundred years before and wish they lived then, back in the 1950’s and ’60’s and ’70’s, without realizing just how much better it will be by then. They will re-create virtual versions of us doing things, fun things, mostly, but doing things. Driving our own cars. Cooking our own foods. Being hippies or punks or beatniks or fighting in World War Two. Reading books and making music and having sex in person. They’ll look at these virtual representations of you and me and sigh and wonder and wish.
But those people won’t be nagged by the memories of the days before the internet. And privacy. And things that were corporeal and real and tactile being better than things that are virtual and imaged and electrons. They won’t look at photos of themselves tagged and profiled and commented on by complete strangers and sometimes weird out. They won’t remember privacy, and long for a time when they weren’t on a zillion databases everywhere. They won’t fear the internet. In fact, they might not be paranoid at all. Maybe paranoia itself will die out, and acceptance will soothe them. Zen has long been the balm of those trapped in lives they can’t control. Don’t fight it, people will say. Just go with the flow.
I remember when 1984 was way off somewhere in the future and that book scared the hell out of me. Now I think back on it and the story just seems like a silly joke.