Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius.

Unexpected Internet Lessons

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Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius.
Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius. Copyright WGBH 2015.

This isn’t one of those articles about Important things we no longer have because the internet killed them:

  • Blockbuster Video!
  • Travel Agents!
  • ABBA’s Greatest Hits on Vinyl! (Although it had a terrific gatefold cover that you can’t get on iTunes.)

It’s not about things we no longer do because technology changed how we interact with each other:

  • Looking at each other at dinner!
  • Driving like not killing ourselves and our passengers was somehow important!
Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius.
Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius. Copyright WGBH 2015.

It’s like one of those articles, only less so.

There was a time that I didn’t know how tall Ed Begley Jr was.

He always seemed tall on TV. But now I know he’s 6′ 4″. It wasn’t hard to find out. It is not one of those heavily disputed heights, like Jake Gyllenhaal’s. But even his seems to be solved. When I first came upon the Web (when it used to be capitalized more often than not) I had no idea that it would one day allow me to determine celebrity heights with such ease. I might have bought a modem sooner because determining celebrity height is often a topic of interest in our house.

The Internet hasn’t just impacted our understanding of height. I grew up in England, and even a camping trip to France used to seemingly cut us off from knowing the most basic things, such as the weather forecast for England (which my mother would obsessively ponder while at home or abroad) or the news headlines. We would have to content ourselves with discovering this information retrospectively by seeking out two-day old copies of the Daily Express in French tabacs.

<img class=”progressiveMedia-noscript js-progressiveMedia-inner” src=”*yolH62RjsjoODPpm0jspJA.png”>

In these newsagents we would also purchase postcards to send home. These would typically arrive in England two weeks after we did, representing yet another temporal blip, one in which our past selves would be wishing that our current friends would be here, a here where we had been but no longer were. Status updates and posted photos have drowned those out.

 Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius.

Image from Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius. Copyright WGBH 2015.

Beyond height and time, we must also consider speed. Now at college, my elder daughter’s Google Search for her own name continues to spew some walking-pace track scores from middle school that she has tried in vain to expunge.

She would need to move to the EU for her right to be forgotten. But for now she is motivated to blog, be the next James Bond, or somehow attract the paparazzi–anything to push those search returns down to The Place No-One Has Ever Been Or Will Ever Go (page two of Google’s search returns).

The following gaps are all truly ripped from the everyday life of my teenage kids and younger colleagues. I had no idea that one or other didn’t know these:
  • How to fold maps.
  • What Microsoft Office is.
  • What “desktop” means.
  • That postage stamps cost actual money.
  • That people still own remote controls.

But they all seem to understand data plans and who Jenna Marbles is and how Snapchat Stories work, so that’s something.

I don’t want to spoil Mad Men for people who are yet to discover it (or is it them?), but I’d just note that the main mystery trope underpinning Draper’s double identity would have taken Facebook’s face recognition about eight seconds to straighten out. And then where would he be?

And his heart-warming carousel of 35mm slide memories would not make sense in a world of disappearing Snapchats and instantaneous Instagrams. In other words, Don would not be half the man (or men) he was if he had to reckon with the internet. He’d be writing ads that have selling power when you fast forward them, view them on a tiny screen between rounds of a puzzle app, or when you skip them after 5 seconds. Is that the makings of an EMMY-winning TV series? I think not.

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Things I Used To Do:

  • Meet other parents when I collected my kids from their house. Now I just text my daughter to say “Here” and she scuttles out. As a result, I’ve no idea who many of these parents are. Does that make me a bad father, or simply an efficient one who can also connect with teens on their level? I know the answer, you don’t need to tell me.
  • Not take a lot of selfies.
  • Sit awkwardly in clothing stores waiting for my wife. Now I stand there staring at my phone. I was literally mistaken for a mannequin recently in H&M, and a woman started when I eventually moved.
  • Have to tolerate racist cab drivers. Now I have to tolerate racist Uber drivers. One slowed down in traffic to show me some video he kept on his phone of how many Muslims there were in Luton, a town west of London.
  • Not check my email every five minutes. Sigh.
  • Text only once when sending a message. Now I find I’m sending a lot of second texts with amendments acting as auto-correction-manual-corrections: “Not buttons. Butter” and so on, like I’m the New York Times. Even the single acknowledgement “K” for “okay” get’s auto-corrected to “L” which makes no sense. So I now send a lot of L’s followed by K’s.

Just last week I was dictating a text to my younger daughter about our sports-based ride sharing that said “Katie’s parents will pick you up” and Siri literally corrected that to “I’ll pick you up.” If Siri thinks I’m not pulling my weight in this carpool, she can say it to my face instead of pulling passive-aggressive stunts like this.

Meanwhile, I’m now long overdue to check my email, I see several more have just arrived…

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3 thoughts on “Unexpected Internet Lessons

  1. Just a note: Travel Agents aren’t gone. Only Travel Agents that sell airline tickets! However, if you’re booking a cruise, you should *absolutely* use a travel agent. Because a) The price is exactly the same, b) you can get some value added to your trip when there are freebies available and c) because you’re supporting small businesses. I won’t name my specific agency, but there are over 500 CruiseOne franchise agents who have buying power of the entire hoard. I know that my wife (the cruise agent in our company) works *very* closely with the cruise lines’ local BDM’s (business dev. managers) and we put on free events all the time with food and wine, etc.

    If you want to book air only, you don’t want a travel agent. If you’re booking a cruise or a land vacation…you should absolutely get in touch with one!

    Other than that, great article, Bill!

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