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Friday, 8 July 2016

Entering the Digital Age

There are different methods of periodisation - the tendency to separate human history into arbitrary, non-overlapping blocks of time. You've got pre-history, then the stone age, bronze age and iron age (often viewed together), then the middle age all the way up to the industrial age. From my small amount of research, it seems that these shifts in the times are caused by major advances in technology. The stone age began when early humans first learned how to make tools out of rocks and wood. The iron age came when we learned how to smelt, making weapons, building structures and trading in it. After we learned about the ways in which fossil fuels could be burned to create energy, we created the first steam powered engine and suddenly we were in the industrial age. Everything became faster and more hungry for power and things were produced at a rate never before imagined.

The general theory is that sometime in the mid-20th century, we left the industrial age and entered the information age. I think that's close, but not quite right. Because in the 1990s, there was an advent in technology that changed the whole direction of mankind just as much as the steam engine, the blacksmith and the wheel.

The internet.

Whether you're very young and have lived with smartphones your whole life or very old and complain about the young people's dependence on them, there's a very, very high chance the internet shapes your life in some way. I call this the digital age - the period beginning in 1990 when a computer scientist took a developing "network of networks" and turned it into the world wide web. Our dependence on the internet exploded after that, to the point that just a quarter-century later, we have toasters that are communicating with kettles, TVs that can download movies and supercomputers that have all of the world's knowledge in our pockets. One of my favourite stories is from 2012 when I took a trip to Perth, Australia. I went into a store to buy some new board shorts and couldn't decide which one to buy. So I took a picture of myself wearing each of them, sent them to my friends back in Adelaide (2700 kms away) and got a response from them by the time I left the changeroom. I love the digital age.

But what I find really interesting is that I'm at a weird age where I grew up with the very last of the analogue era. I'm just old enough to have held a cassette recorder next to the radio when I wanted to keep a song for future use. Failing that, the only music I'd hear came from the CDs that I bought, which I would listen to on my Discman. The same goes with analogue cameras. We would take holidays overseas with our bulky camera, looking through the viewfinder at the top to work out how it would look. I would be sternly warned "Don't open the back!" else we'd lose the last few shots we'd taken. I remember getting prints back from the chemist and only then would we know if the photos had turned out alright. My formative years were still in that time where you would call up your friend on a landline phone and talk to them (using your actual voice) for ages. If your friend wasn't home, it would be unlikely you'd be able to contact them until they got home and called you back.

I wonder all the time what it must feel like to have been born just ten years later than I was. People older than me grew up in a world where the internet didn't exist at all. That shaped their lifestyle in a certain way. People younger than me are growing up in a world where the internet controls and runs everything. That shapes their lifestyle in a certain way. Me, I'm in this weird half-half generation, where the internet existed, but hadn't yet taken over. It must be similar to how people feel if they were born after the first 9/11 or the first World War. Growing up in a world where events like that have already happened would have a vastly different feeling to being in a world where they haven't yet happened and are therefore unimaginable.

I've generally embraced the digital age like many who are older than me have not. I log into a lot of things using my Google account, I stream TV shows from Netflix right to my phone or to the TV with Chromecast, and the moment I driverless cars become a reality (and I can afford one) I'll get one. But on the other hand, I'm very slow to embrace most new technologies. My gaming console requires a separately sold device to be able to go online, I only discovered and bought my Chromecast a couple of months ago and I'm usually one of the last to try out a new social media service or app. It's a weird place to be. But it's also kinda fun.


14 comments:

  1. Digital is evolving as we write our blogs. It will be interesting where we will be in ten years. I guess a time capsule post would be of interest just to make a comparison.
    Cheers.

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    1. What would you propose with a time capsule post?

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  2. I remember asking my mom as a kid if ttime went like this: First came the dinosaurs, then the cowboys & Indians, then the wars, then modern day. She said "Kind of."

    I think I was gauging time by my brother's toys.

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  3. I was about 35 when we entered the internet age so I've really got one foot in the past and one in the present. While I do adopt the new technology, I do so slowly because it does intimidate me a bit and I need someone to show me how to use it. I don't have a terrifically intuitive understanding of it the way young people do who have never known anything else. I've been very lucky because I use computers and the internet at work, which forces me to keep more or less abreast of things.

    Speaking of driverless cars, I recently listened to a program that posed a fascinating moral/ethical dilemma for the designers. Should such cars be programmed, in an inevitable crash situation, to save the lives of its passenger(s) or to save the lives of others (like pedestrians)? Quite a poser, eh?

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    1. I've heard that one too, and it is a hard one. The first thing I'd do is get it to pick the action that results in the fewest casualties.

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  4. I remember when we only had four channels. (Not counting the weird channels on UHF.) Then cable came out and changed all of that. (I was in high school at the time.) It is wild to think of the before and after. But the Internet is the biggest one of recent years.

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  5. I think you bring up a great point (or at least I think that's the point), that our generation seemingly has the best of both worlds, because we can appreciate where we came from, but we can also appreciate where we're at. The two of us make fun of a lot of the digital age on our blog, sure, but we wouldn't go back to the past. Could you imagine having a question about something, and either driving to the library to look through some books to find it out, or just shrugging and saying guess we'll never know? Uh, no thanks. Google can fix that in 10 seconds or less.

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    1. Yep, you got my point :) But I do worry what will happen on the day that Google no longer has our best interests at heart.

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  6. I think my family had a computer before my neighbors because my brother was going to school to learn how to build them. Now, decades later, I'm a programmer, yet I still resist climbing on board with some technologies, such as social media. Someday I'll get it. Maybe.

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    1. Wow, a programmer that resists technology. That's like a vegetarian shark.

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  7. You're so right to call this the digital age. My youngest daughter was born in 1989, just before the internet was born in 1990. I love technology, even though I'm old by many standards and remember those cameras which took photos of my children that have faded away and been destroyed by damp or heat. I wish we'd had digital cameras back then. Well, we have them now. I'm a huge fan of the internet and also of things from the old days - like books. But I do have a kindle for when I'm on the road. Great post btw.

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    1. Thank you! I do wnjoy looking back on those old print photos, if only just for the nostalgia of it.

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