How many of you remember your very first email address? I do. Mine was a Hotmail account, with an embarrassing Hanson-related handle. (Don’t judge me. It was the ‘90s.)
My cousin from Winnipeg encouraged me to sign up so that she and I could move our longstanding pen-pal letters from paper and stickers to online. We were 12 and 13, you see – it was time to mature.
At the time, I knew nothing about the internet. In my mind, it was an abstract concept – a nebulous space that existed somewhere beyond the perceivable world. I couldn’t comprehend how MP3 players worked… where did the songs live, if not on a CD or tape? I viewed texting as some sort of magical voodoo. It was not to be trusted.
But only a few short years later, my high school friends and I had shifted from phone calls to MSN Messenger as our primary mode of after-school communication. Musically-inclined people had MySpace pages. Internet-savvy friends used LiveJournal to blog all of their feelings, and participated in chat rooms. And when I was 19, I created my first website: a Yahoo GeoCities monstrosity with a black background and neon pink text.
Throughout high school, I was always the person with a camera at parties, in the hallways, and on trips – my huge photo-album binders were my pride and joy. (I loved to write funny captions under each photo.) The GeoCities website was my first foray into online photo albums – of course, I didn’t know how to create a gallery back then, and simply placed a single photo on each webpage with a button at the bottom to go to the next photo. Yikes.
Looking back, I was a prime target for Facebook and other visual-based social networking platforms. Facebook itself didn’t emerge on the mainstream scene for Canadian university students until my fourth year of undergrad. I held out at first, deeming it a waste of time (if only I had known…) but as soon as I dipped in a toe, I jumped in headfirst and have been a frequent and enthusiastic user of social media ever since.
I cannot imagine what it must be like for teenagers today, growing up with such a drastically different media landscape and comprehension of the digital world. I have significant sympathy for the generation or two ahead of mine, who were already trained and proficient in their working fields when, suddenly, this new and often incomprehensible method of communication was thrown into the mix.
I’m old enough to remember the bafflement of trying to wrap my mind around a technology that was not only leaps and bounds ahead of anything I’d known before, but had the audacity to continue to change and evolve at a pace that made it difficult to keep up with. It’s no wonder many people simply refused to change their systems.
It’s this story – my memories of the past 20 years as an Internet newbie to professional – that I keep in my mind as I work with people who haven’t quite let go of the paper version of the world yet. For those of us who do remember a different time, it can be quite a journey.
Photo credit: txinkman