Reading smart commentary about social media the other day left me thinking about the different ways in which I interact with the internet now, compared with when I first started using it way back when; specifically, the fact that — for all intents and purposes — I essentially live online now, and the way I interacted with it back then.
I mean, I actually try to draw lines that prevent me spending too much time actively online, a lesson learned the hard way; after work each day, I try to leave my phone/laptop/iPad alone until just before bed, and even then, that’s just me using whatever app to do some reading before I sleep. (And, if I’m brave, checking email to see that there’s nothing disastrous waiting for me in the morning.) But still; I work online, I interact with friends and family online, so much of my life is spent on the internet. It’s there for… everything. When you factor in the fact that my TV is powered by online streaming services instead of, you know, “traditional” television — something I’ve started to think of as being “passively” online — then it starts to feel omnipresent in a somewhat unsettling manner.
I still have the very strong sense memory of the internet being a limited resource, way back in the dial-up days: that you would “log on” for whatever purpose, and then get off the computer once that purpose was over — even if that purpose was (as was the case for me) looking up long screeds written by old fanboys about the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, or Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, or whatever. The sound of the dial-up, the feeling of needing to get on and off the internet in as little time as possible because, hell, someone might need to use the phone.
There’s something about that that I miss, now; the idea of the internet as a destination, perhaps, something you actively choose to do, a place to visit but not somewhere that is ever-present all around us. We used to call the internet things like “the world wide web” and “the information superhighway,” both of which suggested these tangible, physical locations or entities, and there was something about that that made it seem like these were places you could “go,” as opposed to some state that we permanently exist in and have to report in to regularly.
Remember an internet we didn’t live in? I miss that.