I say this with no exaggerations and a bit of emphasis on information-sciencey things: Google provides one of the most important technological advancements since the Dewy Decimal System.

It’s hard to imagine what the world would be like without Google. How would you find answers to those trivial questions? How would you look up recipes that incorporate garbanzo beans, onion, sweet potato and raspberry jelly? How would you be able to find out anything about anything without having to consult a book or no a specific website that you trusted as being authoritative in its information, just because it was the only one you knew of?

I know that I’m making these statements and Q’s as a millennial (snake person): someone who was born into an era of unprecedented access to technology–smart phones, laptops, videogames, the internet–between the years of 1982 and sometime after. And I also know that I’m saying this from the stand-point of a middle class guy who’s circumstances gave him access to a number of electronic diddly-dos.

Remembrance of Digital Things Past

I did not have a smart phone in my hands by the time I was twelve (like so many of my more recent millennial kin), though I did have a small brick of Kyocera cell phone that was endowed to me via a long story.

(I spent summers with my Dad in Chicago and he didn’t have a LAN line and I would often be at the houses of a random string of suburban Chicago teens and so having a cell phone was the best way for my Dad and any other authority figure to keep track of me–see a long story.)

I did not have a tablet or my own or my own laptop, but my family did have an HP and then later Dell Desktop that I cherished and throttled through excessive illegal downloads, gaming, hardware modifications, and a number of virtually transmitted diseases. We also had a Super Nintendo, which I loved, and a Nintendo 64, the arrival of which was a techno-consumerist awakening moment. I recall sneaking over to my neighbor’s house to play their N64. Even though my older sister was better friends with the girls who lived there, they would take pity on me and allow me to play. Shortly after that, I made my first best friend, who coincidentally also owned an N64.

The game console was a god box. You’d pit a lifeless cartridge of plastic and microchips and then conjure up a whole new world on the screen. Unlike the Super Nintendo, whose actions were confined to moving left to right or right to left, the N64 allowed you to move your virtual avatar in any direction–left, right, up, d0wn, forward, and back. Super Nintendo’s Mario looked drab and ungainly compared to his N64 3D counterpart. I was intoxicated with power.

No doubt, my Dell Desktop could perform the same gaming functions, but its mysteries were more difficult to unlock. It wasn’t just plug in a cartridge and play, it was: insert disk, install program, file directories, shortcuts, system requirements and more. The PC was a god box itself, but one that was foreign and infinitely unknowable. A relic to be interacted with most delicately, that responded to incompetence with harsh punishment–system crashes, computer slow-down and more.

That same esoteric mysterium that pervaded one’s computer gaming experience extended into every aspect of the machine. My millennial education progressed and as it did, I started to learn how to hide my true snake person form and also found myself being required to interact with the computer god box regularly. No longer could I just read a book and write a report on it, or explain the US History as according to my US history textbook through a demonstration of historical figures dangling in paper form from a wire hanger, I was now being required to create school work on the computer. 

Pedagogy of the Tech-pressed

It starts off innocently enough. They have you take typing lessons. They teach you about what the internet is through dumbed down on rails web browsers, but then you start needing to write papers using “Word Processors” and researching papers via the internet. I now marvel a the transition here in educational policy that schools must have been grappling with at the time. At first the computer was a thing that some families had and so the educational assignments that required using them were slim. If you needed to use a computer for something, you’d have time to use a school computer or might have to go to a municipal library. At some point, the balance swung so that the assumption was that everybody could be required to do digital work, because everyone had access to a computer. Fascinating.

My high school had vast computer labs that you could access to up until a certain point in the evening (6ish?) if you felt like being a recluse and sticking around the school after everyone else went home to socialize, engage with extracurriculars, or otherwise escape from the institution where they had just spent the past 7-8 hours before doing the requisite homework for the night/week/month. At this time, I was regularly making use of and abusing my Dell at home. Civilization 4, Red Faction, Morrowind,, Doom, Youtube, Homestar Runner, porn, and of course homework all found their way onto my screen. But I didn’t have a lap top. And my phone was still stupid. And I was still able to hangout with friends without checking my personal device for emails, updates, event notifications, and a thousand other things that connected me to the limitless digital world.

At college I really lucked out. My sister was in school at the same time (also at Chapel Hill) and it was up to our single-income mother to help put us through higher level education. My sister and I maintained a number of after-school and summer jobs, but our privilege was that of being expected to go to college without being pressured to independently put ourselves through college. We were allowed to explore theater and swimming and Guitar Hero instead. Loans were a seldom talked about subject. And although I wish they were discussed, although I wish I was taught better financial literacy when I was a kid, although I wish I knew more than “not spending money good; spending money bad,” my financial story did not end up that bad. Again, I consider myself really lucky.

My treasure chest of government subsidized goodies included a grant, work-study eligibility, subsidized (later subsidized) student loans, and….money for a laptop. The Carolina Computing Initiative (CCI) at UNC Chapel Hill is an awesome program that gives special laptop grant to first-time undergraduate students in financial need. Seven years later, I still have my CCI laptop. In fact, I’m typing this on it right now.

Closing the Time Loop

My poor Thinkpad has seen much wear and use. It’s been reformatted several times. It’s had bourbon spilled on it (necessitating the speedy and costly replacement of its keyboard). And of course I have put it through the same rigors of gaming, downloading, and porn that I put my Dell through so many years ago. But since I started learning about computers years ago, since my first interactions with the Hewlett-Packard and the Dell, since my techno-imagination was triggered with the Super Nintendo and later the N64, I’ve learned so much about how this complicated god box works. I’ve learnt to better respect and appreciate it and the digital world to which it connects. And contrary to what I would have thought years ago (well almost, see below), I now work for a company whose job it is to ferry people across this digital ocean. To help them understand and exist better in its pixelated membranes. I take an unbelievable amount of pride in my work.

I live in an exciting time of increased connectivity between everyone in the world. I live in an exciting time of instantly retrievable information. I live in an exciting time of I live in an exciting time.


 

What Brandon legitimately thought his future occupation would be, in no particular order, circa 2015:
  • Secret agent
  • Professional vagabond
  • Green beret
  • Video game designer
  • Starving poet
  • Starving actor
  • Rich actor
  • Moderately wealthy author
  • Video game writer
  • Pagan priest
  • Robot
  • Stay-at home dad
  • Food Network chef
  • Professional line cook
  • Professional bartender
  • Sailor
  • Superhero