What was life like before the internet?
I think that people had more free time before the internet. Days were longer, more time was spent with family. Well, perhaps that's an exaggeration. Days were never actually more than 24 hours, and people didn't really have an abundance of free time. It just felt that way since our attention wasn't so divided.
For many of us today, we'll be the last generation that can answer that question firsthand. The internet has added value to our lives and changed the world in so many ways. Many aspects of daily life have drastically changed since the internet was developed.
Take the field of genealogy as an example. In the past, you'd have to travel across the world to research your roots. People would write letters, they'd sit in libraries, museums, archives, and spend hours poring over microfilms.
Technology crept into my life when I switched from my beloved black portable manual Remington typewriter to an IBM electric.
Just a few years ago - relatively speaking - personal computers were just appearing on the scene. We researched the old-fashioned way - handwriting letters, loading rolls of film in our cameras, visiting dusty archives and winding through endless rolls of microfilm in resource centers. It took hours of effort to search for family information.
Today we connect in ways we couldn't imagine only a short time ago. We communicate almost instantaneously with email and messaging, and we access ever-expanding Internet resources for family history. Everyone is connected by computer, by smartphone, by technology.
Once upon a time, my tech arsenal consisted of an electric typewriter. Period.
Think about it. All those websites with genealogical records (birth, marriage, death, military service and more). Don't forget that Twitter is now archived at the Library of Congress.
Occasionally, I do a search on specific people. To my great surprise, a reference to a prestigious state event our daughter participated in during her senior year in high school popped up. Nothing I didn’t already know, but to actually see it in print – and we are talking some years ago – was quite exciting. I’d use it as an illustration, but she wouldn’t talk to me again! In any case, it has been saved to our family tree for future reference.
So, what will our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren find out about us after we are long gone? I’m sure there will be interesting items, funny things, perhaps somewhat embarrassing things … and what about all our Tweets available online?
Marcelo Gleiser’s blog post for National Public Radio illustrates this development rather personally when his stepmother died.
The Internet offers a kind of passive immortality, the kind acquired through the accumulated storage of the many interactions an individual has with the World Wide Web, leaving his or her mark. It's not necessarily the writing of books, or the proving of theorems, or composing ballads or symphonies. (Although those would be there as well.) Just the Facebook or Twitter account, the mention in a newspaper or magazine article, the speech that was recorded in someone else's Google+ page, an exchange of recipes, even an obituary.