Almost twenty years ago, I received a phone call from a polite young man studying at the USC Center for the Digital Future at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He asked for my help with a project.
Yeah, I know. It always starts out that way. Then you end up on YouTube with a Kardashian.
But eager to lend a hand to educate the youth of America, and as a former advertising major sympathetic to those whose semester grades hinge on cold-calling people about their favorite brand of mayonnaise (I had to do this once), I fielded his questions.
This is the essence of what we discussed all those years ago: Yes, I have access to the Internet. No, we have just the one computer, the one phone line with a dial-up modem, and the many arguments about who is doing what on it when. Do I “know” anyone online that I’ve never met in person? One or two people, and it’s sort of intriguing, like a blind date that never happens.
Then the school sent me a check for ten bucks and asked if they could continue to keep tabs on me—I agreed. The concept of the study intrigued me, and I like getting an extra ten bucks from time to time. The questions have changed slightly over the two decades I’ve been playing guinea pig. I now fill out an online survey instead of answering a call, and the money goes right into my PayPal account, but the intent is the same: to measure the impact the Internet is having on people’s lives.
Here’s how it’s changed mine. In the past twenty years, Art Husband and I have accumulated more devices that can access the Internet. A cable modem and two Macs reduced the arguments. Gone are the daily newspapers and most of the print magazines; we listen to radio stations through our computers. We watch TV and read books on our tablets. Both of us working from home means many Internet hours logged.
I also have friends. Lots and lots of friends. Where previously I could have rattled off the names of my Web buds for the USC undergrads, the quantity of my online colleagues, friends, and acquaintances has grown from “a few” to “a couple dozen,” to “are you kidding me?”
It’s a pretty amazing thing, though. I love your support and knowledge and jokes and friendship; I love that any time of the day or night I can go online and “reach out and touch someone” anywhere on the planet. I’ve taken it a step further by getting away from my computer and meeting a few of those online friends face to face.
My regular Internet checkup makes me think about how my life is changing, good and bad, from staring into this little box that gives me a window on the world. Each year, there’s usually one question on the survey that gives me pause. This time it was about the validity of the information on the Internet. Which sources do I trust? Blogs, government, newspapers? How much of what I see would I consider reliable? Not as much as I used to think, apparently. And that’s kind of sad. The good news is that if you’re interested in parsing out the sources, you can get a decent enough cross section to arrive at something resembling accuracy. That takes work. And time. Which not everybody has or wants to commit to these days.
It will be interesting to see how I feel about this issue when the next survey rolls around.
What do you think? How much of what you read “out there” do you trust? Has the Internet changed your life for the better?
What an interesting study. Would be fascinating to see their results down the line.
I spend a great deal of time on my laptop, so I have to make sure to disconnect on the weekend for a bit. I also read a real newspaper every morning with a cup of tea. That helps keep me grounded in some small way.
That’s a good practice, Carrie. I make sure I unplug regularly, too. And I just found this online—a wrap-up of last year’s results. It turns out I’m not the only one losing faith in the accuracy of info. http://www.annenberg.usc.edu/news/centers/usc-annenberg-center-digital-future-study-paints-picture-how-internet-changing-american
Thanks for the link. I’ll look through it when I get a chance. Looks interesting.
I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. Without it my virtual accountancy day job was so much more difficult – dependent on faxes and couriers and long turnaround times for information on both sides – now, with the exception of the time difference, it’s almost as if I was sitting in the office. And, of course, the internet has allowed me to self-publish so I’m grateful for that, but I do begrudge the amount of time I spend sitting in front of a computer. I hand write my first drafts and do my first major edit on hard copy because a)I find my imagination works better away from the computer and b)I don’t need the computer to write, but I have to use it for my job. I find the more I restrict my computer use the healthier and happier I feel.
Good point, Mel. In essence, I owe my employment to the Internet. I’m looking for more opportunities to get away from the screen when I need to. Getting that balance has been tough. Thank you for stopping by.
I watched my mother’s world shrink as she became old and sick. I refuse to let that happen to me and the internet is my cupboard into Narnia. 🙂
I hear you, Meeks.
While I am still almost phobic about learning new skills on my computer I have to agree that since I bought my first 286 in 1990 my life has changed drastically.At first I used it only for university essays. Now half of my life is spent on-line at my keyboard. I still refuse to use it on my phone, though. I still use a pc – but have promised myself my next computer will be a laptop – so I can be mobile.
The days of sharing a computer feel like so long ago. Now our SmartPhones make any type of info accessible at the drop of a hat, which can be a good and bad thing. There is a huge gap in school curriculum when it comes to teaching digital literacy and online citizenship. I would make attempts when I was a teacher, but standardized tests apparently matter so much more than teaching students how to best utilize the tech tools they access every day. Don’t mind me and my soapbox… 😉 I know for sure I read less as a result of online distractions. It’s a constant battle.
But we’re finding that balance, Jeri. Interesting—I work for a community college and see how the students use the Internet. Good and bad. I think we’re all learning how it fits into our lives. Everyone running around there staring at their phones. They should start printing signs on the floors!
I live on the internet. I could be one of those virtual people inside the machine you see in scifi movies. Thanks for your viewpoint. (Indies Unlimited sent me.)
Thanks for visiting, Richard! I live on it far too much, at times. 😀