I don’t understand the internet. I just don’t get it.
That might sound mildly ironic (or just plain worrying) since I’m both sort of studying it, and using it right now.
I’m not saying that I have no comprehension of it though. In fact I can recite, and explain, a load of internetty facts. To wit, the internet is not the web, HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and internet access isn’t internationally ubiquitous.
But being able to recall trivia isn’t all that useful in actually understanding something. (Unless all you’re trying to understand is how to win a pub quiz.)
I’ve come to the conclusion that my problem is generational.
It’s not that I’m too old (or too young!) to wrap my head around, or use, the internet. It’s precisely because I’m neither of those things in fact. I’m part of that in-between age group.
I remember a time before it was considered normal for every home to have an internet connection. In fact, I remember dial-up well. I remember when, as How I Met Your Mother put it, bar debates weren’t settled by simply using a smartphone.
However, in the same way that I can’t remember everyone riding around in horse-drawn vehicles, I can’t remember what it was like to be a teenager without the ease of communicating and making plans online, ostensibly for free. I can’t remember what it’s like to write an academic essay without the ability to quickly search for information on the web. I can’t remember what it’s like to work in an office where you couldn’t quickly contact someone on the other side of the world by email.
I think I simultaneously understand and do not understand how this level of easy connectedness has changed life as we know it so hugely. I’m able to reflect on how it changed the ways that I act, and how I interact with other people. However, there are aspects that I can’t quite contemplate because I never really fully experienced them before the internet-led changes became normalised.
I intellectually understand that searching for specialised information without recourse to search engines and subject-relevant databases must have been horrifically lengthy and irritating- but I’ve never really had those experiences. There’s some shoes you can’t entirely put yourself in, because you’ve never even seen or touched the type of material they’re made from.
However, looking at it from a historical point of view does help with contextualisation. Which is why I particularly like this, a people’s history of the internet from The Guardian. Not only does it do a good job of explaining various developments, I found the running total of the number of hosts (starting with 4) helped me to mentally picture how the internet (and everything on top of it) actually developed.
Nonetheless I still don’t, and don’t think that I ever can, quite get it. I mean, how is our world held together by a bunch of old underwater cables? The idea just boggles my mind. Is anyone with me on this?