Growing Up Digital
Information has become available more and more quickly, first within minutes and now within seconds. I know where we came from because I had Betamax tapes, music cassettes, and vinyl, but I grew up digital. So I’m not as nostalgic about paper books as I am for beige computer cases. I understand screen resolutions and why the amount of pixels per inch matter and words like “processor” and “megabytes per second” don’t scare me.
My grandpa loved technology, he was an enthusiast who loved to tinker. He and I didn’t have a whole lot in common. He was a Marine, I was a rebellious young boy, but with computers and printers and things that made beeps and boops, we had something we connected over. I was interested and he was willing to share his passion and bring me along. I’m not sure if it was his unrest for all things new and shiny that he passed along to me, or if it was always in my genes, but he encouraged it. In the early 90s, when computers were becoming accessible to anyone who wanted one, he had his hands full. I was young enough - early elementary school - that I don’t remember exact specifics or a model number, only that the first computer he passed along to our family was an Amiga. We got a new computer when he got a new computer.
My fondest memories of technology are those which it eased the process of communication. I never got a lot of practice talking on the phone before it wasn’t as necessary, but I did experience the agony of having to call a girl’s house, ask whomever answered the phone if she was there and if she could talk. But then a new world opened up with online chat, specifically AOL’s instant messenger, AIM. We, as a generation, perfected silently laughing out loud in a crowded room. We rolled on the floor laughing while sitting in front of the glowing screen, and started to use smiley faces like punctuation.
Beyond the victory for those introverts, chat programs taught us how to navigate the subtleties of written text, trying to guess the meanings of quickly typed words. Interestingly, I’d go out on a limb saying that within a group of similar peers, we actually have learned how to read between the lines and interpret subtle emotions in the way we write to each other online. Something that took many years of misunderstanding to develop, became this new fundamental skill.
Music also grew up as I did. Napster was cool when it first came out, but it didn’t shatter my world like it did so many other people. I was young enough that this program was new to me like everything else online at the time. I was naive enough not to understand that because the music was digital, it didn’t make it free. Using the service over dial-up, I just hoped that the songs I had been looking for weren’t cut off if the internet disconnected. Once those few songs finally downloaded it took almost as long to burn them onto a CD. First, it was Napster until the shutdown, then it was Kazaa and then a dozen other copycats.
Those were some long years between the birth of Napster and digital music stores finally ditching DRM. A lot of wasted time confusing consumers with ‘Plays For Sure’ and iPod lock-in. I was young and impressionable while the music industry figured itself out and it shaped how I see music today. I have always seen digital music as a product that could be sold for cheaper and then sold in increased quantities. If the music industry is - or was - fighting piracy, why not fight the battle so that it doesn’t end with severed limbs and a bloodied industry? Luckily music is form of art that keeps getting made and pushed forward whether or not the business side of it is keeping up.
I get what the world was like without the internet, even though it was technically created in my lifetime. I may not have only had black and white TV or rotary telephones, but I can wrap my head around what it must have been like to not have a big technology improvement and then to have it. It’s just in our human nature to explain what we grew up with and how we survived with so much less than what is currently available. I assume that soon I’ll be the one reminiscing rather than focusing on new technology just being released and coming out.
I grew up digital, this is embedded in my vision of the world. 1s and 0s litter my view on topics ranging from world peace to fixing the music industry. I won’t ever be confused about the speed of processors or why the listed speed is slower, but they still run faster than predecessors. No one ever imagines a world they don’t understand, at the very least one they don’t have a grasp on, but because I understand this current world, I know the day is coming when I’ll be lost on a new generation.
A new world will be rooted in biometrics, or something so complex with regards to exploiting the human body that I can’t even make up words for it now. The creation of new energy sources also seems like an inevitable topic that will one day meaningfully grace every person’s, in a third world country, mind. These are things I won’t fully understand the way the next generation will. My kids are growing up with iPads and iPhones like I grew up with TV. It’s the baseline for them, it’s not something they have to try to understand, but something that just is. The world won’t be filled with flying cars in 10 years and yet it will be so subtly and substantially different. In the way I straddled an analog world and a digital one, those born now will straddle a digital and a yet-to-be determined world.
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