in Things that make you go "hmm"

Life before the Internet Sucked

Do you remember before the Internet?

It drives me nuts when people try to suggest that things were better before the Internet or cell phones. Long before the iPhone existed, it was already the thing I kept wishing I had. (Why can’t I have a frickin’ browser in my POCKET? Why can’t I just ask my phone for directions?) Not being able to look things up on Googlepedia is offensive to me. Before smartphones, I could only ignore people by staring off into space or writing in a notebook; now I can actually get real work done, or chat with more interesting people who aren’t there. Or more commonly, look up articles about the topics of conversation around me, but written by smarter, actually informed people. [1]

And although I was using the Internet before it went mainstream (a geek, not a hipster thing) I remember that everything was worse before the Internet[2]. Not just before the Internet itself–I remember how many friends I lost touch with when I moved to a different city, because f*** writing letters on paper that you have to put a physical stamp on and bring to a letter-depositing-thingy. Red box thing. Whatever that was. Ick. With email and various online chat systems I kept in touch with some people.

Even the early days of Internet commercialization sucked, because suddenly there were ads everywhere but you couldn’t really buy stuff. The ability to buy books online to be delivered, or even groceries, was a definite improvement. What’s even better than that is finishing a novel in bed, and buying and downloading the sequel, ready to read in 60 sec.

Similarly, Netflix streaming is better than TV. Sure, you can complain that the latest episodes of your favourite shows aren’t on Netflix, but being able to watch 3 episodes in a row when you have the time, from your TV, tablet or phone, is much better than having to remember to set your PVR and trying to keep track of which episodes are which. And the streaming system encourages the better form of storytelling we’ve seen since TV shows became popular on DVD, that can take advantage of people watching episodes in order to build more complex story arcs and characterizations. The model is much better than the days when you either caught the latest episode on TV, or missed it.

Definitely some things suck. But that’s mostly because it’s a changing environment and we’re still figuring things out, like cell phone etiquette and how to live a life that’s not constantly interrupted by FB messages, emails, texts and even phone calls. It does mean that you need to learn to take charge of how you use technology in your life. But having the ability to turn your cell phone off is much more empowering than not having the device in the first place.


  1. Footnote in case your irony alert didn’t go off.
  2. This was the article that, with the xkcd cartoon, inspired this ranticle.

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