Being an avid reader of science fiction, I was sure that the big technological change to mark our time would be space travel.  But it’s apparently an idea whose time has not yet come, because it never took off (yes, I meant to say that) the way the science fiction writers prognosticated.

Personal computing and the Internet, on the other hand, took me—along with most of the S-F writers—by surprise, even though they were part of my world from the era of room-sized machines and paper-tape input.  I never imagined how drastically they would change our lives.  Instead of exploring outer space, we have opened the inner spaces of our world.

Time, space, and grandchildren do not permit me to cover the vast scope of changes, but here are a few for which I’m grateful, even though there’s often a negative side as well.

Information  I guess that goes without saying in the information age, but I think people who came of age in the post-Google era cannot imagine how rare information was.  Questions often required a trip to the library, on the chance that there might be a book on the subject (no online card catalogues), then wading through the book hoping for an answer.   One could go to progressively larger (and more distant) libraries searching for more, all of which took time, time, and more time.  I love sitting in a library doing research—somehow I doubt the Internet will ever replace the smell and feel of old books—but I’m gratefully amazed at how much information is readily at hand now.  Information is power, and the Internet has distributed this power to the masses.

Memory  Are you, like me, perennially tortured by something that you almost remember?  A quotation you need to source?  A fragment of a quotation you’d love to know in full?  A snatch of music from some song you can’t recall?  A word that would be perfect for a sentence you’re writing but it just won’t come to mind?  In the past I mostly just had to wait and hope that eventually the missing information would appear from my subconscious; often the question was never answered.  Even I sometimes find it difficult to believe what life was like before Google.

Connection  We have friends and family all over the world.  I wrote earlier how thankful I am for the radical changes in communication and transportation speed and affordability.  Moreover, e-mail, blogs, and social networking sites have kept me in contact—or renewed contact—with people who would otherwise have faded from my life.  We are among that disappearing breed, the Christmas-card senders, and I can't imagine ever giving that up, but the connections that more frequent and instantaneous communication builds are even better.

Opportunity  I love to write. Unfortunately, I did not discover this strange state of affairs until after I graduated from college with a math degree and went to work as an assembly language programmer, so the opportunities for this form of expression were few.  I wrote letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, created a family newsletter, and kept a journal.  But it wasn’t until I discovered blogging (thanks, Jon!) that I started writing a lot.  It takes an unreasonable amount of time, it doesn’t bring in any money, and I regret that it has for the most part crowded out the above-mentioned outlets for my writing impulse.  I’d love to be able to do it all.  Still, I now have my own corner of the world in which to write, a small but loyal following, and a large number of people who have found something useful here.  That’s a good feeling.

Independence  I’ve written before about the way the Internet facilitates the work of amateurs, and how I believe this is for the most part a good thing.  We need professionals who will devote to their fields the time that amateurs do not have and the effort they do not want to make.  Yet for two reasons I believe the rise of amateur work is an important benefit of 21st century life.

First, so much information is now available that even the professionals cannot keep up with it, as everyone knows who has by his own minor research discovered important medical information that his doctor has missed.  This is not, in my observation, a rare occurrence.

Second, there is a tyranny of professionalism, under which professionals—and more so, their guild-like organizations—have encouraged a “leave it to us” attitude that most of us have bought into.  Professionals raise our food, bake our bread, make our clothes, take care of our lawns, attend to our health, teach our children, provide our music, and play our games for us.  Thanks to the Internet, computer software, and even television, tools and information once limited to professionals are now available to everyone, and many people are rediscovering the joy and freedom of doing things for themselves.  Someday we may even return to the neighborhood kickball game and singing around the piano at home, though this will take more than the Internet to recover.

I’m not unaware of the irony of trading dependence on a few professionals for dependence on technology and a vast, faceless “community.”  There’s a lot to be said for having local doctors, teachers, musicians, and bakers who know and are known in a true, small, physical community.  But few of us have that choice, and even then I’d like to have the best of both worlds.  In the meantime, I’m encouraged to see families and individuals discovering and rediscovering the basic skills of life.


This is the final post in November’s Thanksgiving series.  I doubt it’s the end of the Good New Days series, as there’s more to say there, but I’m thankful to leave behind the pressure to post something every day.  Smile

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 7:57 am | Edit
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