In my childhood, starting around age 8 or 9, the World Book Encyclopedia was my gateway to the world. I must’ve read every article there was in that 20-volume set on countries of the world, all of the states, and many, many other topics that interested me when I was young. I was also starting to read science fiction novels and mystery stories such as The Hardy Boys. Little could I have possibly imagined in high school and college, and later in my jobs and careers, that something called the World Wide Web and the Internet would totally capture my time and attention and change my life and that of so many there around the world. As far as breadth of information is concerned, Wikipedia, for example, many times over dwarfs what was in the encyclopedias and other reference sources of decades past. I used to think The World Almanac, updated every year, was the be-all and end-all for everything of a factual nature you could ever want to know. I usually bought one every year, information and statistic nerd that I was in my youth. It’s still being published, and I imagine there’s a Web site for it, but it’s been many years since I’ve gone to it to look up anything.
We are now overwhelmed with information. Information overload is a real problem for me because I can’t get enough of what’s out there. Not only do I do most of my reading on the Internet, but I do just about everything else. I type these entries on my phone, I pay bills, do my banking, chat and send emails on my phone, post and process all my photos, and, of course, I use my smartphone device as an old-fashioned telephone, and now smart phones are quickly replacing landlines.
I was an early adopter of this new technology. Starting around 1995 when I first found out about the Web at work, I was hooked. Within two years I had my own Mac desktop computer, a Performa 6100, I think it was. It took me three days to get it set up, and all the software installed with floppy disks. And, when I finally put one of those early CD-ROM encyclopedias in my computer, and it popped up on the screen for the first time, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was so amazed and startled. I had a primitive printer And started wastefully printing out documents in color. My first Internet service provider charged by the hour in those days before unlimited Internet through DSL and broadband. I got so carried away my first month that my bill was $150. What a shocker and a wake-up call!
From the time I had my first epiphany about the kinds of transformative changes the Internet would swiftly bring, I jumped aboard the Web Express with unbridled enthusiasm and abandonment of nearly all previous distractions. I was, and am, a natural for this because of my background in education, journalism, and information technology, and because I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity.
In those early years 1997-2000, I devoted all my spare time to the Internet. I rushed to the bookstores in search of the latest World Wide Web Yellow Pages directory of hundreds of useful and fascinating sites. It seemed like everyone was creating Web pages. I’d check off dozens of URLs in those big, thick directories, which at the time seemed like huge books full of treasure maps.
I placed my bulky Mac desktop on a card table in my bedroom, got a computer chair and a box and foot cushion to prop my feet up on as I slouched comfortably in that chair, mesmerized by the sound of dialing into the Internet with those now primitive and slow modems. We searched the Web with the Yahoo and Excite directories and the Alta Vista search engine. Then around 1998, Google made its appearance, and the rest is history. To know anything we “Googled.” We accessed the whole world of information, knowledge, and the collective wisdom of the ages, as well as vast new networks of people who were as swept up in this computer communication revolution as I was.
Everything was progressing nicely until a sweltering day in July 2001 when my iMac suddenly and inexplicably crashed. I rapidly came back down to earth. For three days I had no computer and no Internet while my Mac was being repaired. Twenty years later, I can totally relate to what happened then because I’d probably freak out even more today because the Internet is now my total information, communication, and entertainment source. I don’t get a newspaper delivered any more. I can’t recall the last time I went to a movie theater. I have no cable TV, but my iPhone is attached to my right hand, and I have six Bluetooth devices to stream music in any room of the house. My books collect dust, magazines pile up unread, and life will never be anywhere near the same as it was for most of my life before the Internet.
I dug back in my journal archives and found this entry about The Great Computer Crash of 2001.
July 6, 2001
Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.
This past Monday night my computer went down with a system crash. I rebooted and got the same error mesage. I did it again. Same thing. I stared at the screen in disbelief. The machine, this sleek, pretty iMac, is never suppposed to fail. What is going on? I tried everything I knew. Nothing. It was as if there had been a power outage, the phone line had gone dead, and the sun had set at sunrise.
For three days I was without my computer. I could not e-mail and IM, read journals, or write journal entries – I felt cut off from the world. And all because of a mechanical failure. Is this what it’s all come to? I asked my self in mock disbelief. I looked for the start-up CD-ROM to reboot from that, but it was lost in one of the piles of clutter that dot my apartment. I sat on the recliner chair in frustration that night, not wanting to do anything.
The next night after coming in from wherever I had been, I did the same thing. I sank in the soft, comfortable chair that I rarely use and sought out nothingness. There was nothing I felt like doing. I didn’t want to read a book or a magazine, or look at TV, or watch a video. Nothing interested me. I was completely shocked and startled that I have become so set in my routines that I am miserable and dejected when everyting is suddenly upended – not a real disaster at all – just not being able to do what I do day in and day out.
I looked around the living room and the study at all the good books to be read. They must be read, I said. Now is the time to re-direct my life. Take a leave of absense from the virtual world and join the real world.
As I listened to a CD listlessly, three nights into the ordeal, it slowly dawned on me that I had even forgotten how to do nothing well. I had lost the fine art of happily daydreaming while listening to music. And doing nothing else. Why do I have to be doing something every minute. The world of the Web and the Internet do that to you. They give you this false sense of security and connectedness, busyness and pre-occupation, an escape from reality, as if your total well-being depended on it, when in reality it is only a slice of life, a major distraction and a giant gobbler of time and energy. That’s all. But has it ever sliced into my life!
It is late Friday night now, and I am back online, but I think tomorrow I will go somewhere and just sit for a long while, thinking idle thoughts, and looking up at the clouds and the sky. Yes, I’ll probably go to the beach and do that because it is now a st eamy, sticky mess of a July in Charleston and there is not much likelihood of doing anything strenuous, such as hiking, outdoors. I’ll try to be lazy and forget about the allure of the Internet. I’ll yawn as I think about all the fascinating Web sites I’m missing out on. The conversations. The e-mail writing. I’ll… I’ll probably be right back to where I was before. How much wiser? I really don’t know.
Last updated February 01, 2021