One of my old jobs was as a Mac Genius (the ones featured in the South Park episode as oracles) in Albuquerque and Colorado.
Those people who know me well understand that this was a formative experience for me – it taught me a lot of social skills, a lot of conversational skills, and a lot – most importantly – about how people relate to their technology.
The digital divide – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_divide – is a problem. It is a wealth and utility inequity that means people with technology are frankly more able to function in society than people without. It exists, puzzling many, independently of national borders. There may be a stronger digital divide, for instance, between those in Manhattan and those in Queens than there is between Thailand and Japan, this being only an example without statistical backing.
So there’s this digital divide that comes from a difference in resources between populations and communities.
That’s not what I want to talk about – academia has that covered, and it was taught to me both at Pikes Peak Community College and Stanford as a growing issue.
I am talking about the divide between people who grew up with the internet and people who did not.
What I was hoping to be a blog post on this idea instead turned out to be a half-finished Slate blog post that mostly involves a truckload of cartoons talking about how people’s internet selves are separate from them. It talks about how people feel disconnected when they are disconnected from the internet, which – well, sounds like an accurate feeling.
Let me tell you a story about what growing up on electronics was like.
I grew up with the internet. I won a Nintendo when I was six years old. I grew up watching The Wizard with Fred Savage and wanting to do what the little kid did in Super Mario Brothers 3 because the idea of a red-clad plumber sprouting a tail and raccoon ears and flying off into a secret place in a digital and imaginary world was just so absurd and cool and better than the reality of my teensy tiny podunk redneck town.
My Nintendo even beat books for escapism in some cases.
Then I got a Super Nintendo. A Sega Genesis.
As a side note, we use these words casually as parts of a brand name, but Genesis is also the first book of one of the most popular creation stories in humanity’s history. Super is a word we use to describe, from dictionary.com, an article of a superior quality.
Enter Square. Enter roleplaying games. Final Fantasy. Phantasy Star. Dragon Warrior.
I didn’t have to be the smart kid who unfairly got teased for being fat and skipping grades anymore. I could be a brutally effective warrior, a devastatingly evil mage, a beautiful princess even! Maybe less so on the last, just because video games were primarily made by engineering nerds at the start.
They were beautiful stories told with exciting music, engaging little sprites on the screen, in worlds somewhat like our own but caricatures of everything that was evil and good.
I fell in love with Terra in Final Fantasy 3/6 depending on whether you were in the US or Japan. I soared with the cleverness Edgar in the same game displayed when he sunk his whole castle into the ground and took off on a mountable emu. The emus were called Chocobos, which made them magical, and they had personalities like the animals I knew, but also a whole range of human emotion.
Everyone I liked in my various schools either liked Chocobos or were enchanted by the idea of them. Our community – the gamer community? – was built out of the ten or so kids at Pocatello High School, Inkom Elementary, and the other eight or so schools I went to who wanted the better world video games represented over the shabby, droll world of physical reality.
You don’t often have to fill out paperwork to get benefits in video games. I had to fill out a form and write an essay to be accepted into the NASA/SSIP Mars Project high school competition. I didn’t have to fill out anything to become royalty in Final Fantasy. Of course I would choose video games over reality.
Video games don’t often break the social contract between the gamer and the game. If you do a quest, you expect a reward. If you don’t do a quest, you don’t get a reward. Sometimes a little quest turns into a big quest without realization dawning.
The gamers grew up in a different world than all the other kids who grew up raising farm animals, playing basketball, or obsessing about math.
I dropped out, most of them didn’t, we all took different paths.
Enough about video games.
Sega’s (a little research turned up that Sega came from SEcurity GAmes. It was done on wikipedia. I like names.) slogan after they changed it from “Sega does what Nintendon’t” was “Welcome to the next level.”
When I was ten-twelve-thirteenish or so, I started in on BBSes with my best friends. We played games like Legend of the Red Dragon and I can’t remember what else. All of a sudden video games had leader boards, competition that I had not seen in the roleplaying games of before. We were comparing ourselves to other people, like in sports. Whole new kick, whole new attitude. I ditched that because it was too easy, and I didn’t see any merit in trying to be number 2 on a leaderboard where the number one spot was occupied by someone who spent sixteen hours a day defeating the eponymous Red Dragon until their character was a digital god.
Books helped encourage the nerdy mass descent into worlds of fantasy.
After BBSes, IRC. Hacker communities began starting up. We went to 2600 meetings because we were unhappy with reality and wanted a jump on the next level to which Sega had welcomed us. Somehow we knew that digital was the future, and that our education in the world of the digital would pay off. While everyone was talking about how maybe, someday, each business might have a computational machine, we were getting lost in talking to people across the world for damn near free on 14″ black and green monitors via 300 baud modems. We (my friends and I) were also the only people in our area we knew of who could tell you what a baud was and how it related to a bit.
Those of us who didn’t get lost in games got lost in Google or hacking or, the ultimate fantasy world, drugs.
Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory is an adult representation of the Google option. Science nerds took to the internet like fish to water.
People started being dicks to each other, illustrated by one of Penny Arcade’s best comics ever, here turned into a T-shirt: http://store.penny-arcade.com/products/pat070381
People started exploring sexualities that did not yet exist. All of my sexual experimentation was done via text-based anonymous chats about six years before most people do that in college. At 12 or so. Maybe 13. Rule 34 came about: http://xkcd.com/305/
I went the route of arguing for a decade. Eventually, it felt dirty, and it made me angry at society. My society was the internet, and everyone was being a dick to one another.
There is an article out there – my Google-fu is failing me – that says that clinically, people tend to dislike people that they treat badly. Ahem. Perspective.
First time’s free, addicts. Next level’s always one hit away. Being a dick feels good, sort of. Or makes you feel better about yourself. Someone you were a dick to is beneath you. There was a whole social pecking order established only by how clever and insulting and damaging you could be.
If none of this seems familiar to you, it’s because you missed out on what I’m talking about, and you are not part of those in our society who have been through the entire psychedelic experience that is the internet and come out on the other side feeling like it’s not just a part of our body, but a part of our mind.
We used to memorize phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc. We have an internet to do that for me now.
We used to have political ideas of our own without analysis, formed entirely on whatever it was our personality was at the time. Now the internet aggregates it for us, and we pick what agrees with my values the most. Why am I comfortable doing this? I have a friend, Andreas C. Schou, who is an incredibly educated lawyer and political analyst. He shares my values, and spends more time on it. He uses the same tools I would use, better than me, and wants mostly the same things in life and government, is skeptical to a very fine point, and has extremely concise thinking on every issue I’ve delved into as deeply as he has.
One thing people on our side of this digital separation do is that we have made peace with getting our opinions from someone else – it takes too much time, blood, spit, sweat, and tears to aggregate that information when I could be finding funny, poignant research topics to blog about. And honestly, if I have a Juris Doctor handing me his opinions for free, that’s one of the great things the internet does for me.
We used to do a lot of things for ourselves that we were not very good at.
The internet, by example, crowdsourced a lot of what takes important time out of my day.
People who grew up with the internet on my side of this more personal digital separation feel disconnected when they are not on the internet because not being on the internet, even though it hurts our biological bodies to be on it more than a certain amount of time due to internet addiction, serotonin, and the patterns of endless searching, is like missing not just a leg, but a lobe of our brain.
We, the citizens of the internet who had not just utility but formative experiences on the internet, those of us whose development cycles are intensely bound up in the development of the world wide web, take information diets for the same reason people on marijuana take tolerance breaks. For the same reason that people who have been using meth for twenty years only do it once every six weeks.
We are now learning how to be responsible internet users, to use it in the way it is most beneficial to us. We are starting to come off of the sometimes years-long information binge and balance it with our daily lives.
We are faster at the internet. It is part of us. Our computers are limbs. Our hard drives are our memory.
Google is our Oracle.
Oracle is our syringe.
But there are a whole lot of people who do not see it this way. You might be one of them.
In the linked, abandoned Slate article, there are many comics about how people feel disconnected from the self they are on the internet.
Those people are on the side of this digital separation away from my side.
On the other side, folks, you start to realize that the person you have been being on the internet has been you all along. And that is deadly hard to realize, deal with, and most importantly, apologize to yourself for. Because while lots of people spend lots of time on the internet being defensive, self-righteous assholes, lots of us are now realizing that the internet is a community that needs policing just like any other – not because of kiddie porn, that’s for the real police.
lol…OMG! is a book given to me by First Generation and Low Income Dean Tommy Woon at Stanford University. It talks about the importance of not cyberbullying, and it was written by the creator of Geocities: http://www.amazon.com/lol-OMG-Reputation-Citizenship-Cyberbullying-ebook/dp/B0060FRNNQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333133582&sr=8-1
The policing our internet needs, I am arguing from the other side of this digital separation, is self-policing. You can be a dickwad on the internet, but that puts you on the ape side of the fence. You are adding static to a system that doesn’t need it, rather than solving it.
Those of us who have learned to be human, humane, kind, compassionate, and socially sustainable on the internet are just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.