Burlington County Times, September 10, 2001

I am becoming a crotchety old lady. You know the type. They say to the younger generation, “When I was your age, I had to walk 6 miles to school, through 3′ of snow, in my bare feet. And I was one of the lucky ones – I had feet!”

But my comparisons have nothing to do with walking vs. school buses. It has to do with technology. “When I was your age,” I say to my incredulous kids, “we didn’t have microwaves or VCRs or cell phones or computers or satellite TV. We didn’t even have cable. In fact, we didn’t even have a color set. And in that cabinet over there — see those cardboard envelopes with black discs that look like frisbees? Those are called records. And some of them weren’t even in stereo. I remember getting my first transistor radio. What’s a transistor, you ask? I don’t know, but it was a lot smaller than a vacuum tube. No, I can’t explain vacuum tubes, either, but they didn’t clean the rugs. And I’m convinced that I got a ‘B’ instead of an ‘A’ in statistics because I couldn’t afford a hand-held calculator.”

What got me thinking about the changes was going to the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend (logo: the “Millennium Philcon”) and meeting up with some old friends I hadn’t seen since the last Worldcon I had attended, in Boston in 1989. These were friends from all over the country, some of whom I’d never met in person until 1989, even though I’d “spoken” to them almost daily for three years. They were cyberfriends.

Way back in the dark ages of the internet, before there was a World Wide Web, in 1986, I began corresponding with people via CompuServe, on a 300-baud modem. Our current modem, using the same phone line as 15 years ago, is 56K – that’s 56,000. And if we had a DSL line or cable modem, it would be 10,000 faster than 56K. It was slow. Our log-in name was a string of numbers. And there was text only. It was a major leap when CIS (which charged by the minute – this was before flat fees – and was referred to as CI$) added the capability of GIFs. I’ve no idea what the acronym stands for, but it meant that we could see pictures of each other. Now we’re trying to figure out how to get our webcam to work so we can see my father in Florida. Another innovation was the ability to email people who were on different commercial providers than CIS. Now we chat by voice over the internet with cousins in Israel.

It was a more innocent time in a lot of ways. My sons were at two different camps this past summer. Each one had a web site where the families at home could see pictures of the activities and the kids. But we had to have a password and be approved to view the sites. The fear was that pedophiles would use the children’s faces and paste them onto other bodies to upload onto child pornography sites.

Way back then, in 1986, we actually exchanged phone numbers and addresses, and even met each other face-to-face, through a series of what we called “East Coast Parties.” I’m not sure now if it was innocence or recklessness. I do know that I would never do the same thing today. There is a small group of us, all women, who “meet” daily on a Yahoo forum. The forum is unlisted and private, by invitation only. Yet I’ve never mentioned the names of my children or husband on-line.

It’s only 15 years since I first got on-line, yet it could have been 150 for all the changes. And the pace seems to accelerate. My children complain that our computer, all of three years old, is obsolete. Yet when we got our first computer, an Apple //c, we were convinced that it would do everything we needed it to do. We had no idea then the kinds of possibilities that would open up in the next 15 years.

I’m not one who believes that technology has eroded our interpersonal skills or ruined our ability to communicate via the written word. If anything, I am in touch more often than ever before with more people than ever before. Old friends who have moved away show up in our email in-box regularly. I just recently found my best friend from childhood, someone I’ve been trying to track down for years, by doing some electronic searching. But it’s become almost a metaphor for our times – the more that exists, the more we want. What seemed yesterday to be science fiction is reality today. And, rather than being a luxury, much of the technology has become a necessity.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: