Sunday, May 8, 2016

Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the internet.

I am reading The End of Absence by Michael Harris. We'll see. I like the premise but it seems a little ooey-gooey. In his opening chapter he wonders:
Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the internet. What does the unavoidable fact mean?

For those billions who come next, it may not mean anything very obvious. Our online technologies, taken as a whole, will have become a kind of foundational myth — a story people are barely conscious of, something natural and, therefore, unnoticed. Just as previous generations were charmed by televisions until their sets were left always on, murmuring as consolingly as the radios before them, future generations will be so immersed in the internet that questions about is basic purpose or meaning will have faded from notice. Something tremendous will be missing from their lives - a mind-set that their ancestors took entirely for granted - but they will hardly be able to notice its disappearance. Nor can we blame them.
Not soon enough? We are already there.

I caught the leading edge of the first wave, coming through high-school in the late seventies and learning to program in a couple of languages and seeing some old card reading machines shoved over in the corner of computer labs in college. I wired up one of the first LAN networks in Atlanta and lobbied hard for standardizing on Macintoshes. I recall the thrill of receiving a beta 5 meg external hard drive, almost unimaginable storage capacity when you were accustomed to, what were they, 128k floppies?

I am working with a Silicon Valley start-up and the young (25-30) kids struggle to envision a world without smartphones and the internet much less a world of command line entry computers.

I think it is The Second Machine Age in which they discuss the disorienting pace of change arising from Moore's Law. It is not just the doubling of capacity every two years, it is the aggregate capability that this exponential growth creates.

The cycle time between capacity and product is disappearing.

Yes, that slower world has disappeared in the cutting edges of civilizational advancement such as big cities and I am sure that there is much adjusting to be done. But I suspect past experience provides some counterbalance to panic.

My parents grew up as children of the Great Depression and those stories of deprivation and hardship were passed to my generation and then through us, to our younger generation coming of age now. My children have not experienced the disruptions and want and uncertainty that my parents experienced circa 1935-45 but they know of it.

The observable consequence is a general inclination among my generation of siblings and cousins to save and to live within means. There is an inclination to recycle and not waste that long preceded the trends of sustainability and recycling.

There is a complicating factor which calls into question whether these traits are a consequence of the Great Depression. There is a lot of Scottish ancestry in the family and perhaps this is a family culture of Scottish Calvinist prudence and carefulness. Notably, our ancestral Clan Lamont has the family motto - Neither Spare nor Dispose. You can't get more Scottish than that I don't think.

So perhaps there is some familial culture that is being handed down, but I do think that there was a strong reinforcement during the Great Depression which echoes on today.

So I suspect that some of what Harris is expressing concern about is a real risk, particularly to those from fractured or dysfunctional backgrounds. But those from intact families, particularly story-telling families are likely somewhat insulated from this feared amnesia.

No comments:

Post a Comment