Generation Internet

In the Northeastern hills of Pennsylvania, Southwest of the Catskill Mountains, 3-leaf clover grows in abundance. I know about the clover because growing up, in the summer, I would walk, often barefoot upon it. It was a privilege, of coming from a family who discovered some lakefront land, negotiated a price, bought the land, built a home, and have, ever since, enjoyed the refuge, the peace of Long Lake.

When I return to Long Lake, as I did for a recent weekend, I indulge in the remoteness of the place from the perspective of someone tethered to the digital world. I bring my laptop.

I especially enjoy sitting on the red picnic table my father built which sits on the enclosed porch overlooking Long Lake. It’s good for the soul; looking out, being lulled by the serenity of the water’s surface. The view helps with the flow of words — that sometime hazard encountered when language is your means of conjuring meaning.

My computer was up-front with me. Immediately, when I powered up and my desktop icons appeared, I was informed that my wireless connection was unavailable — A reminder that I was disconnected from the speed and pulse of my DSL connection, the telecommunications protocol that provides near instantaneous access to the global interchange that is the World Wide Web.

At first, I didn’t mind. It was enough that Microsoft Word was operational. All I needed was my electronic tablet; a place to store the words that came to me as I looked out at Long Lake.

Then I got the urge to Google.

It was the direct fallout of a conversation I had had with my mother and her two sisters. The girls (as my mother calls her sisters) are my only two surviving aunts from a cadre of 10 on my mother’s side. Including my mother, the three are a generational trio. Each woman is chock-full of memories, stories and anecdotes of lifetimes spent living through decades of war, technological revolution, political upheaval and revolt.

One of the reasons I enjoy spending time with them is because I am able to quiz them on history. I get to pepper them with questions having to do with the generations claimed by things like the economic magnitude of the Depression, the advent and use of communication devices like television, a Hollywood less explicit, a social contract more binding.

Taken individually, they are: Veronica, 78, Millie, 81, Kay, 86.

Each woman occupies a unique place along the spectrum of opinion concerning our digital world. Veronica, my mother, is wired. She’s connected at home. She’s connected at work. In her leisure time she enjoys playing Mah Jong on her laptop. Millie, is curious about learning how to email, has observed, with displeasure, the computer habits of her 13 year-old grandson and refers to computers as toys. Kay, prefers print to computers, cooking to cyberspace and believes that the Internet is the perfect predatory environment for pederasts.

“You’re a curious person Aunt Kay. Why aren’t you interested in learning about the World Wide Web?” I asked, while the four of us sat talking as the day drew to its close and the night sky began to rest upon Long Lake. “I have other interests,” Aunt Kay said. “I’m a reader. I’d rather read a book.”

“My friend Evelyn uses the computer to play cards with people all over the world!” Aunt Millie exclaimed. “But if I’m going to play cards I want to play at a table where I can see the people I’m playing with.”

When I returned from my most recent excursion to Long Lake, there was a message on my 5.8 GHz Digital Answering System. It was from an 87 year-old friend of mine, a United States Navy World War 2 veteran. I returned the call and asked a question: “Irwin, do you have a computer?” “My son has been on my neck to get a computer for the longest time,” he said.

“You know there are websites for veterans,” I marketed to Irwin. “Oh yeah,” he said, disinterested. “Let me tell you something, I have a television with rabbit ears that gives me four channels. That’s enough,” Irwin explained. “What I don’t understand, Irwin, is how you can be a fan of an invention like the record player (he owns 500 LP(s)) and not be the least bit interested in an invention like the Internet!” “A record player is simple,” he said. “You put on a record, move the needle to where you want it and listen. It’s not as elaborate as computers.”

“But don’t you ever wonder about things?” I asked Irwin, getting ready to launch into one of my proselytizing arguments about the informational reservoir that is the World Wide Web. “At my age you wonder about all kinds of things but nothing that keeps me up at night,” Irwin said.

My mother, a world traveler, recently returned from a European excursion that took her, among many places to Mainz, Germany. It was in Mainz where Johann Gutenberg mass-produced the Bible in 1456. In keeping with her tradition of sending word from her trips, my mother sent me a postcard from Mainz with an illustration of Gutenberg’s printing press. The postcard serves as a reminder of the potent possibilities of technological ingenuity. After all, some historians credit Gutenberg with bringing about the Reformation.

Analogous to Gutenberg’s invention is the early nineties creation of HTML (hypertext markup language) used to create web pages. Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf worked in concert designing and developing the protocols and structure of what has become the Internet — Two men with imaginations that spawned revolutions in commerce, banking, journalism, medicine, law and government to name just a few.

The rippling effects of HTML — like a stone thrown upon the water.

© 2006 Julie Holley

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