I am a pen and paper girl at heart. I have a certain romanticism associated with snail mail. In fact, if given the option, I would probably still lick that stamp and send off a letter to my nearest and dearest even if it meant that they didn’t hear of my exciting news for a week or two. There’s something that has always felt very real when opening a letter from a friend, seeing their writing and knowing that you’re holding something that they have taken the time to create. But, oh, how times have changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a digital native and, as such, there are many things I cannot live without. That includes my smartphone and access to the internet. In fact, I have become so attached to it that when asked last week in class how much time each of us thinks we spend online on an average day (for work and for personal use) I calculated that should I be awake for 16 hours, that my entire work day and at least 4 hours per evening was spent online, bringing me to a whopping 12 hours of my daily life or 75% of my waking life. It’s a slightly scary thought, but then you realize how much of what we do takes place online and it’s not that unfathomable.
On any given work day, many of the programs I use have an online component to them, whether it be e-mail or data/survey software, I have to login over the internet. When I get home, I might do some online banking, make a restaurant reservation online, download some music off iTunes, reply to personal e-mails, do some shopping, update my blog and before you know it several hours have passed me by. While those purposes aren’t anything exciting per say, they have become a necessary aspect of how I get things done.
What is interesting to think about from today’s perspective is that 5 to 10 years ago, some of these online possibilities were only in their infancy. Yet, we can barely live without them now.
This long introduction leads me to the reading of chapter 6 in Clay Shirky’s (@cshirky) book Here Comes Everybody in which he discusses the idea of collective action and how people are now using online communication tools to challenge existing institutions in ways that weren’t possible in the past. His example of the difficulty of sharing a news article because you needed to cut it out, put it into an envelope, find a stamp and take it to the post office was enough to deter many people. But, with the advent of e-mail and access to information on the internet, the several steps it once to to share something, now means it takes one or two steps and only minutes to do.
This accessibility to various and numerous sources online and the ease of sharing has led us to this present state whereby news and information has the ability to spread like wildfire. With increased tools and platforms available for people to network, collaboration is easier than ever before. Whether people are using it to change the world or to just get through the work week, we have to admit that we have come a long way from when personal computers worked on DOS systems, had very basic games like Lemmings and was very much a static thing in the sense that it wasn’t able to communicate.
Do I miss the simplicity of those times? Perhaps. Would I trade what we have today for what we had back then? Never. If you asked me when I was a child what I thought computers would allow us to do, I wouldn’t have thought of half of what’s available. Now, I can only imagine what the future will bring. Though I might still be nostalgic and send a letter by post from time to time.