in Observations, programming

the internet and i

If you are able to read this please keep it to yourself, don’t tell anyone about it. Your ability to possess information that others do not have access to is crucial to moving only in the forward direction. Yet there is very little information now that is not readily available to everyone. The internet is almost ubiquitous. Rewind a mere 15 years though and observe how the landscape has changed so dramatically.

Back then a PC was the something only the posh kids had. My school was fully laden with BBC micros that you could only use to control some piece-of-shit-circuit-board that you had cobbled together to light up a few LEDs in the form of a traffic light.

I still remember to this day getting my first PC – a (big) Compaq laptop of sorts. It was purchased second-hand from a shop that specialized in guns, knifes and guitars – I still have it somewhere. They probably didn’t even know what it was. When I read stories of people in the 80s having PCs it makes me laugh as, in my world, this stuff was sooo out of reach that you wouldn’t believe.

Still, what would the general public have done with the PC back then anyway (apart from gaming)? The internet was a luxury goods item at this point. Even at university only a few computers had internet access. However, between ’95 and ’97 it exploded. You were faced with a computer lab full of students looking up porn and printing out the pictures (I mean they were not much use unless you printed them out, right)! Those were the days of looking up what you wanted with reckless abandon without feeling that someone or something was watching you – soon to be quashed with the corporate firewall and government legislation. Make no mistake though, we are still in the golden age of the internet. Laws and legislation will likely mean that the freedom we associate with the internet now will not be the same 30 years down the line.

What puzzles me most is how we got by programming without the internet? If tonight I decided that I wanted to learn OCaml to build some super useful web service, then I would start by searching Google. I’d get binaries, sample programs and documentation in minutes. If I had a problem, I could search on Google or ask a question on Stackoverflow. The barrier to entry is just non-existent. I struggle to remember exactly what we had to do all those years ago. It must have been ridiculously hard compared to the present day. But this is good. We got information easily and moved forward. That said, the internet does have its bad points.

We now struggle to get things done because we can listen to music online, watch videos, read blogs, not to mention the ease with which we can communicate with friends using social networks. What the internet gives with one hand it takes away with the other.

I’m often tempted to unplug the router and see how I get on with work minus the internet. Invariably at the last minute though I find some compelling reason to have it switched on, then the thought of uplugging it fades into nothing and time just slips away again.

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  1. Well said. By the time I started coding, google was already a verb. I once asked my grandma how they knew what to do to can food back in the ’20s & ’30s. They went to the local agricultural office for advice. Information (useful, correct, or otherwise) is so ubiquitous now.