What did People do Before the Internet?

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Horn and Mane genZ

Photo Credit: ThisisEngineering RAEng

Musings from a Generation Z(oomer) who’s never known life without Internet, social media or wifi.

I grew up surrounded by computers and technology. Because of that, most of my memories are backed up by digital hard copies that can thread millions of micro-moments into one big life story.

For those of us growing up as part of Generation Z, knowing that we could rely on technology for information made tackling the unknown more manageable. We’ve always known that if we’re not able to find the answer to a question ourselves, we have a safety net to fall back on – our computers. This cycle has become so continuous that having internet-connected devices in our pockets (at all times of the day) has become our new normal.

A large part of our interaction with technology today plays out on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. These social channels allow us to socialise, network and promote ourselves from anywhere in the world and at any time of day.

We also have a strong emotional connection to our computers. These little machines offer us the opportunity to connect and freely express ourselves whenever we want. New technology has even helped us erase the fear of being criticised by others online, as new digital features now let us block offensive comments and negative people from our online world. The gateway to this digital world is often our mobile phones – a valuable possession that fits in our back pocket and gives us the freedom to comment on everything and anything at all hours of the day.

We’ve never known a time where the only way to share an opinion was live and face to face. Being exposed to technology in the 21st Century has given our generation access to real-time and immediate information and communication – something generations before us never got to experience.

For us, having a phone or computer within reach has come with several perks; for example, our entire lives are stored on these devices and, with just a few clicks, we’re able to bring up summer photos from 2005 and then with just a few more clicks, recent images from 2021. With our old memories tucked away safely in the cloud, we can focus on creating new ones and don’t have to worry about forgetting them after we’ve stored them away for safekeeping.

Another perk? Suppose we decide we want to explore the benefits of entrepreneurship. In just a few minutes, we can search for recommended website developers (in alphabetical order) and attach our credit card for payment. Once our website is complete, we can look for help with advertising. A few more clicks, and we can set up our brand-new social media profiles (on multiple platforms) for free and start promoting our business. There are very few barriers to what we can do.

The 21st Century has also brought with it wireless technology. Our generation has never really known a world where we can’t study and/or work from our portable and lightweight laptops, from any location we choose. We can work from school, in a coffee shop or even on-the-go, travelling on busses and trains.

We’ve also always been able to socialise with other users from all around the world. We genuinely don’t know what it’s like to live our lives without these privileges. The digital world has removed boundaries and borders that previous generations had to deal with.

Interestingly, when asking friends – who are also Generation Z – what their thoughts were on the subject, one answer truly stood out, “nothing really surprises me, I guess it’s because I’m used to it”. Our generation is so accustomed to doing everything over the Internet so it’s hard to express our thoughts on technology and the role it plays in our lives. We simply don’t know a life without it.

From a young age, the Internet has been used to facilitate almost all aspects of our lives. Whether it’s work, school, or socialising, the majority of us wouldn’t know how to live ‘normally’ if it were ever taken away from us. When I was asked to reflect on the “computer age” and “internet age”, I jumped at the chance to dig into the past.

Here are just a few of my thoughts on the evolution of computers.

A Look Back at How It All Started
The first computer that was developed in 1936 would be so impractical for our generation today. When I started researching it, the size and frame alone would have deterred us from using it. Because we’re ‘always on the go’ it would be impossible to use a large and heavy computer attached to a wall. That just doesn’t make sense to us.

It was quite fascinating to reflect on the evolution of the computer. I was surprised to learn that they began as slightly more advanced calculators, so they began as number crunchers and that’s it!? That is mind blowing knowing their current form and functionality and the impressive storage of information they can now hold.

1941 – Atanasoff and his graduate student, Clifford Berry, design a computer that can solve 29 equations simultaneously. This marks the first time a computer is able to store information on its main memory.

The idea that people couldn’t look back through saved photos and messages to reminisce was really sad to me. I can’t imagine just using them for numerical calculations. Computers (as we know them today) house all of our childhood memories and we can conveniently reference them whenever we want. I realized through my research that older generations don’t have that same luxury.

1978 – Gary Thuerk sent the first spam email to 400 users of Arpanet advertising his DEC’s new range of minicomputers.

Understanding the annoyance of constant, unwanted spam emails truly makes this knowledge discovery humorous to me, as there is an undeniable feeling of jealousy toward those who never had to experience such torment. The fact that we now have ‘junk’ folders in our emails where those messages go automatically is pretty funny as our new technology has been updated to counteract the old. Sorry Gary.

1999 –The term WIFI becomes part of the computing language and users begin connecting to the Internet without wires.

Wires? Never heard of them.

The word WIFI is one of the most common words you will ever hear people my age talk about. You’ll hear us constantly asking “what is the WIFI password?” or complaining “I can’t connect to the WIFI, what do I do?” My generation has been fully conditioned to rely on the Internet. Want to test that theory? Just take away our WIFI and see what happens. When the Internet goes down, our first instinct is to scramble to get it up and running again as quickly as possible. Our entire lives are saved on these devices, including our banking details and work schedules, so when we lose them, even for a brief moment, we feel a great sense of panic and/or loss.

We’ve become so attached to our devices that they’re almost like our personal friends. This might sound dramatic to pre-Gen Z’s who feel that a technology-driven future is not natural or too fast-paced. But we have absolutely no problem reminding our parents and older family members that our computers also have a positive impact on our lives. They motivate us, inspire us, and teach us new things almost every single day. Technology also allows us to connect with people all around the world, connecting us with new contacts who have similar interests and complementary skills.

We might not always want to admit it, but our generation is in love with our devices and everything they do for us. Technology gives us freedom so we’re not limited to what we can achieve. And as we continue to explore new avenues, search for answers to bigger and bigger questions and prepare for new adventures, we can move forward knowing that it’s a dependable ally that we can always fall back on. Technology is one of our best friends.

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