The first chapter we covered spirituality. Next was music. Now we delve into the only non-human entity that has grown up and matured with me. The Internet.
I remember what life was like without the Internet. The larger Gateway desktops. Solitaire, Free Cell, Math Blaster…Encyclopedias. Then came dial-up. America Online. CDs in the mail giving out 500 hours of free Internet access. The first games I played on the Net were on Shockwave.com and Cartoon Network. Load times over five minutes. Hours wasted were all regained when we got broadband. Mp3 players became iPods. iPods became iPhones. I couldn’t even fathom a device like the iPhone when it first came out. Now it seems to be the standard for all smart phones. It seems as if everything has become instant. A whole world in my hand. Abracadabra. I think of something and, within seconds, I can get it on my screen. It’s crazy. It’s scary. And for the most part, it’s all free.
When I think about all the knowledge I have acquired because of the Internet, I start to realize how much information was inaccessible by the masses in the past. The Net has truly changed the game between the oppressors and the oppressed. Yet like television, it has also become a distraction.
Life before the Internet: What the hell did I do? Well, I was a kid. Fortunate enough that the world had not yet killed off my imagination. I had my Sega Genesis, GameBoy, books, and the five or six channels on basic television. I was set. At school we had a few fat desktops that could barely function beyond Solitaire, Paint, and Notepad. Some of the computers had a few more games, like Treasure Island. But no Web access.
Whenever I needed to look something up for homework, I had to use a dictionary or my grandmother’s encyclopedia. She gave it to my dad around the time I started school. If the dictionary couldn’t help, and my parents were also stuck for an answer, my mom resorted to calling someone she thought might know the answer. Usually an aunt or uncle.
In school, we had classes throughout the year on “how to use a library.” Surprisingly, this was a skill you kinda had to know, or you might never find the book you needed for your research project. The library was where I found any information I couldn’t find in a textbook or encyclopedia. Even then, if it was a very specific topic, I would sometimes end up going to more than one library.
PBS was my infotainment. I didn’t realize how much I was really learning. It was just great programming. Arthur, for example, made reading cool. But besides that, he made diversity cool. Every character in Arthur was a different animal. All of the animals’ families got along fairly well with each other. In addition, all of Arthur’s close friends were of a different animal species. By using animals instead of humans, the producers could get away with creating a highly diverse society. Something ideal but still not fully realized in America yet. This trend was apparent throughout much of the programming on PBS: Sesame Street, Clifford, and Zoom, among others.
Nickelodeon also kept me entertained on those days before I had Internet. My family had cable briefly when I was a kid. But during my generation’s “golden age” of cartoon shows, we got rid of it because of the monthly costs. So going over my grandparent’s house was something I actually looked forward to.
“Put on whatchu wanna put on” grumbled Poppy as I came in after school. Half-blind, smoking his pipe and sippin’ whiskey on the porch; he rarely would get mad at me or my cousins. Yet he sure had no qualms at all with giving a piece of his mind to anyone who defied him. But his grandkids, man…we could do no wrong. I believe he trusted us more than anyone, including Nanny, my grandmom. After school I would count up his money at his request. When I was of age to count the big bills, he was pretty much blind. Yet he would always know exactly how much was supposed to be there. If someone was messing with his money, he knew it, and didn’t have to say anything. After I counted everything up and told him the total, he’d say, “ Take a twenty aside and order whatchu wanna order.”
I was living the life after school. Cheese pizza, fries, and cartoons. Watching cartoons like SpongeBob, Hey Arnold, and Doug. Shows like All That, and Keanan & Kel. I felt a sense of diversity among these characters. Even though the lead character wasn’t black all the time, there were always supporting characters of various ethnic backgrounds. In addition, the ethnic characters weren’t just there for comedic relief or to fulfill a stereotype. They were just being human. Even on the more comedic shows like Keanan and Kel, everyone was a little off mentally. Not just the two main characters.
Television, books, movies, and school were what shaped my ideas of the world around me before the Internet came along. I was so young at the time. I didn’t realize how much the media I consumed was molding me. Fortunately, I wasn’t surrounded by too much negative media (besides the news).