I was just reading the Author’s Note at the beginning of Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80’s. It goes a little something like this:
And it got me thinking about the 1980s. I was alive then. I wasn’t old enough to vote, drive or sign up for selective service, but I was alive. I remember the 80s.
I remember waiting at home for a phone call before the days of cell phones. I remember having heated arguments with no clear winner because there was no internet on which to look things up to settle the matter once and for all. I remember getting lost constantly because there was no GPS. I remember thinking, “What else has that actress been in?” and never having an answer because there was no iMDB to look it up. My sister and I were the remote control. If our parents wanted to change the chanel on the television, we had to do it for them. We had an ancient and concise set of encyclopedias in my house that I actually consulted all the time because there was no wikipedia. I had to go to the library to do research. Worst of all, I remember writing down my thoughts on paper because blogging wouldn’t really happen for another twenty years.
I was reading Hunter S. Thomson’s words and all of that came flooding back. In this era of omnipresent technology, we often forget how lucky we are. We forget that things like smartphones and laptops haven’t always been around. Even in my own lifetime, I remember not having cell phones and PCs. Smartphones have been pervasive for a only the last decade or so.
When I lived in Boston from 1995 to 1999, I had a cell phone. It was a huge clunky thing with terrible battery life. It had to be plugged in nearly all the time. I remember thinking how awesome it was that I could charge it in my car. It did not have GPS or the internet. All it did was make and receive phone calls and even that was spotty at best, depending on how close you were to a cellular tower. When I moved from Boston to California in 1999, I took it with me. It cost me over $300 in roaming charges. Remember roaming charges? If you don’t, well, you’re too young to be reading this blog or you live in a third-world country. If the latter is the case, congratulations on having the internet.
My first personal computer was in Boston, too. I’m not counting the TRS-80 and Atari system we had when I was a kid. I remember spending three days painstakingly typing in line after line of code from a computer magazine into my Trash-80 and the result was a spinning clown head that I thought was the most awesome thing ever. Or the Choose Your Own Adventure games that were just text. “You come to a door. Do you open it? Y/N_”
I got my first not-plugged-into-a-black-and-white-television personal computer sometime around 1996. It came second-hand from a techie friend of mine who built it. I put it in the dining room. All I used it for was checking email. I had my first email address; I can’t remember what it was now. I had long email conversations with friends from Detroit. It was so cool to not have to have long distance telephone charges to do it. I had a dial-up connection that was slow as hell. Dial up, remember that? Remember not being able to get through to someone on the phone because they had their computer hooked up to the phone line? Remember that set of screeches your modem used to make when it was connecting to the world wide web?
We take all of this for granted now. I’m sitting outside writing this on my laptop, which isn’t plugged into anything, puffing on an electronic cigarette with my smartphone charging through USB. The entirety of human knowledge is right here at my fingertips. I can look up anything I want in a matter of seconds. I’m always surprised now when the internet doesn’t deliver something up. For example, I went looking for an animated gif of the spinning clown head I spent three days working on and came up empty. What once took me three days of code to create might have been instantly available to me if someone had bothered to put it online.
Most of all, what we take for granted is this. This blog, this post, these words I am typing now are available to you and anyone else with an internet connection as soon as I hit the publish button. You, who are sitting a few miles or a few time zones away, can read my words. I am not writing this in a paper bound book. I am writing this on the internet. I can connect with you, my internet friend, in a way that I couldn’t have in the 80s. I do not know what your voice sounds like, what you look like, how flowery your handwriting is, but I know you through your words just as you know me. We should never forget how lucky we are to know each other. High five.