Year 20 Anno Internet

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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42 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    Saul and I were born in 1980. We had a computer in our house growing up in the 1980s but it was mainly used by my dad for work and us for games. My dad didn’t get an internet connection until AOL came along even though Saul and I were vaguely aware that something called modems existed and you could use them to do cool things with your computer. We weren’t quite firm on all the details though. Even after we got email, we didn’t use it for much. It was when I was in college and law school that the Internet became a bigger part of my life. By accidentaly discovering usenet and its discussion groups and using napster, I began to spend more time online. As the Internet increased in capabilities so did the amount of time I spent on it. It just became a part of my life.

    What I find most puzzling about the generation raised on the Internet is that there wasn’t much of a fight to oppose it. When television and video games came along, there was a lot of concern about kids watching too much tv or playing too many video games rather than being outside playing. The fight was largely unsuccesful but parents seemed to express more concern about tv and video games than they did the internet. With the internet, parents seemed to have largely given up the fight. There was concern about sexting and easier access to pornography but nothing like the past moral panics surrounding comic books, television, and video games. Its not like their was an outbreak of parental sanity, just a lack of willingness to fight for some reason.Report

    • Mo in reply to LeeEsq says:

      There was no fight because most of the things that would cause panics were relatively niche or lower quality than their real world analogues. By the time they got to a reasonable level of parity with their non-connected equivalents, it was too late and the internet was entrenched. 256 color nude images are a very poor replacement for magazine glossies and the people using the internet to play Trade Wars or Food Fight were a niche minority. Rightly or wrongly, the internet was largely seen as a productivity and educational enhancement first and the kooky stuff came later.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Mo says:

        I’m not sure if I really buy this. There has always been moral panics about kids and teens having access to porn. Even in the AOL days of the Internet, it was clear that porn would be a big thing on the Internet. Like with video, porn companies were a very early adapter to the Internet and probably led to many of the rapid advances in Internet technology. Sexting seemed to have taken parents by surprise though.Report

      • Mo in reply to Mo says:

        I agree. However, AOL had a walled garden, which made AOL much cleaner than the general internet (and made AOL an acceptable haven for parents). Also, it was so slow to download images on a modem. So the combination of modem access being crappy and walled gardens reigning supreme for home access really limited things. The unfettered fast connections were at universities, where parents can’t see what’s going on.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Mo says:

        Mo, we must have been using two very different early Internets :^) Granted, I started when it was still restricted to academia and private-sector research labs, but there was every sort of kinky thing you could think of there from the beginning, if for no other reason than that it provided access to the full USENET panoply. All of it available through any public ISP if you knew where to look.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Mo says:

        Michael Cain, my understanding is that computer scientists started making computer games fairly quickly after they invented a working computer. This was during the time where the idea of home computers was considered a joke than a serious commercial proposal. It doesn’t surprise me that the Internet was developed to its full perverted potential long before it became commercially viable.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mo says:

        It started being true very early that porn drove internet technology. At least, if there were other binaries that were uuencoded into ASCII, broken into reasonably sized chunks, and then posted to Usenet as “part M of N” so they could be downloaded and reassembled, they were swamped by dirty pictures.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to Mo says:

        Lee, and as soon as there were networks they shared. At one point, way more than half of all USENET traffic was in My company blocked it because of the amount of disk space it consumed, even with a 24-hour timeout on articles. Alt.binaries made piracy of all sorts of things quick and easy. The first “internet purchase” I ever made was a used dynamic noise suppression box from a guy at one of the U’s of Wisconsin, negotiated in one of the groups (people thought I was crazy). An enormous range of stuff, both naughty and nice, was available by anonymous ftp. I vaguely recall a downloadable list of available stuff built by someone using anonymous ftp to somewhat random IP addresses — a precursor to Web crawlers and search engines.Report

      • Mo in reply to Mo says:

        @michael-cain I’m not saying it wasn’t out there (trust me, I used BBSes and my home internet access when growing up went to the wide open web rather than being largely limited to a walled garden. But the vast majority of America’s first experience with the internet was through AOL’s walled garden, which was very safe and clean. AOL was the Blockbuster video of internet.Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:


      I was born in 1973, and my family got our first computer sometime in the early 1980s. It was a Commodore 64. We had something like a word processor–called “The Bank Street Writer”–but none of us knew how to use it. I literally (as in, truly really truly) believed that I had to finish the long tutorial before I could even be “allowed” to use it, even though no one would’ve stopped me. I never finished the tutorial.

      I didn’t have my first email account until 1997, when I started my MA program and was told I needed to get one to get departmental announcements.Report

  2. Mo says:

    There’s no reason not to know when you’re holding a smartphone

    It’s actually the opposite, there’s no reason to know when you’re holding a smartphone because you can look it up. Before, there was more value in knowing things in your head. Now you don’t need to memorize anything because you can just look it up on your phone. Which is great in some ways, but it will also make people more susceptible to “knowing” things that aren’t true because of what it says online..

    I do miss the hours long bar arguments over trivia instead of the 3 seconds it takes to look it up online.Report

    • Patrick in reply to Mo says:

      This depends on what level of knowing you’re talking about.

      I try to make this point all the time when I talk about online access and what it means for education and information processing.

      It’s not necessary for me to memorize all the bits in the IP header. It isn’t necessary for me to remember that the 49th bit is a reserved flag that is always zero.

      It may be necessary for me to know conceptually that IP has a checksum built into it for error-correction.

      It *is* necessary for me to know that information transfer protocols require error checking.

      It *is* important for me to know that information transfer protocols have different sorts of error checking depending upon their implementation constraints and design considerations.

      The different levels of knowing there imply different levels of usage. If I’m designing information transfer protocols, I should know that error checking is important and a few different methods of performing that error checking. This applies whether I’m building an RF protocol or I’m trying to design a dead drop system for a human intelligence agent under cover.

      If I’m designing a hyper-efficient highly-error resistant supernetwork I can engineer *out* lots of the weight of TCP/IP if I compensate for that using other error correction capabilities suitable for my supernetwork, but I still have to remember how to put all of that weight back in at the endpoints where the regular o’ Internet touches my thing.

      If I’m trying to filter out some other information on a mass scale (say, I’m only interested in destination IP addresses), I need to know where that info is located in the IP header.

      If I’m just jawing about how information transfers from one thing to another on the internet, I can be informed by all this and use it as an example.

      And so on.

      The Internet gives you access to reasonably reliable first-order information. It gives you access to all sorts of second-order information, of all different levels of quality. It gives you no knowledge whatsoever about third order information (or, how to assess second-order data sources for accuracy).

      As long as you know how to build your own second-order information off of primary sources, you can use the Internet for primary sources and you can eventually get to knowledge.

      As long as you know how to assess second-order information sources, you can use the internet for secondary sources and you can get to knowledge one step faster.

      If you’re no good at either of those two things, the Internet is for kitten pictures.Report

  3. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Just think of all the “Back in my day… AND WE LIKED IT!” jokes we will have at our fingertips.Report

  4. zic says:

    I guess we were early adaptors, 1.5 decades older, but the same story. Our first computer connected to the internet by the time our kids started school. In second grade, my daughter won an award from the Boston Computer Society for an animated movie she made; but the actual video file had to be submitted on a floppy disc, not online. Remember floppies; the big, floppy ones? Where a single Word Perfect file could fill the whole thing up?

    My sweetie, the first programmer hired by his office (he wrote them an email system, among other things. It had a 10 minute hold on deliveries, and allowed you to rescind the submit in that time), he was occasionally flummoxed by bio-statisticians in his office who would save their work to their floppies, and then store them on their computers with a magnet, and want him to recover their data.Report

  5. Saul Degraw says:

    I am always amazed when I hear stories about kids under 5 who are already expert Ipaid and Iphone users.Report

  6. zic says:

    And looking at what the internet hath wrought, seasonal reporting would dictate consideration of the Facebook voting buttons (I voted/I’m voting on election day) and the studies they’ve conducted on its import.

  7. Burt Likko says:

    I once worried about too-easy availability of information diminishing the powers of a person growing up surrounded by technology to cultivate memory. I recalled that Plato condemned books for the same reason, but maintained that the ubiquity of handheld devices was different.

    I no longer think this way. I’ve seen too many high school students with brains very well-trained to memorize and regurgitate a staggering amount of data. I hesitate to use the word “information,” though, because “information” seems like something qualitatively more complex than “data,” something involving the connection of multiple facts together into a larger conceptual framework.

    And that, I’m afraid, is something that a lot of people have always had trouble with, books or no, internet or no. Making those connections, building to successively higher-level concepts, critically thinking about what has been learned — that’s just plain too hard or too distasteful or too time-consuming for most folks, and now I’m of the belief that this is as it ever has been.

    All the internet has done is reveal this distasteful truth in a fuller extent.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I agree with this. A lot of people really don’t like abstract thought or anything similar for a variety of reasons. Its exhausting and very if your days are generally relatively stress free, it can take a lot out of you. Especially, if your not used to it. It requires a deeper reading than most people do. You need to really absorb and contemplate what your reading, going over the same passages repeatedly until you reach some sort of understanding. You also need a degree of introversion because abstract thought is best done as a solitary activity. If your a very social person than abstract thought is troubling.Report

  8. Kim says:

    How very mechanical of you.
    What the internet has done is connect people, allowing millions of lives to be saved by motivated small groups.
    I just bought glass tumblers from a multinational company being mostly run by children.
    The potential for people to get together, and change the world, has never been greater — farmers have better knowledge of markets and crops, the list goes on.Report