Judging by what I’m hearing on the news, yesterday’s game was one of the biggest in UK history. After three overtimes, the University of Kentucky Wildcats came back to beat the #1-ranked LSU Tigers, 43-37. The word here is that sports fans will be talking about it for years to come.
This whole neighborhood is decorated by large attractive trees planted alongside the road, which are covered with white blossoms in April. I learned at the time that they’re an ornamental pear tree, called the Bradford pear. We’ve got one in front of our house, next to the mailbox, and last May Leive found a robin nesting in it with two or three babies (no partridge, though). Yesterday I checked to see if it had any fruit on it, and found out why it’s called an ornamental pear. Here you can see the pear I picked; it’s smaller than a dime!
But now on to the reason why I’m writing. It is now ten years since my household first got Internet access. I don’t know the exact date, just that it happened sometime in early October 1997. At first we didn’t use a computer, but a WebTV box; anybody remember that appliance?
WebTV was nice for surfing the Web, and reading and answering e-mail, but I couldn’t do as much online as someone with a real computer, so ten months later I bought a Compaq with a dial-up modem, and the rest is history. Speaking of history, I started building The Xenophile Historian in December 1997, so for several months I had to go somewhere else, usually to my parent’s house, to upload new files to the website; it’s amazing how much I got done that way, now that I look back.
Back when I was a kid, I remember having a science book entitled “Robots and Electronic Brains,” and on one of the pages, it told how someday it may be possible for two machines to communicate over a telephone line as easily as humans. They illustrated it with a cartoon of two robots holding telephone receivers, enjoying a good conversation. At the time I thought it was a neat idea, but not a big deal. Little did I know how much that concept would change our lives.
In the 1980s, I got my first looks at computer bulletin boards while attending college. On one I remember in particular, the participants were talking about a science fiction novel they had read, “Chapterhouse Dune” by Frank Herbert. I got the impression that they were having a good time. Shortly before I graduated with my Master’s degree, I remember my professor telling about a service he had called Compuserve; I wasn’t sure what it was, but according to him it was a nifty thing to have.
Then in the 1990s, the masses got hold of the Internet; it wasn’t just for computer geeks anymore. At work I was shown a demonstration of it in early 1995; the company network guy tried connecting to some websites, but the connection was so bad we hardly saw anything at all, after watching for half an hour. No wonder they called it the “World Wide Wait.” I think my brother was the first in our family to have Internet access, around 1996. In the same year came a news story about the Internet going down one weekend, over much of the country. They thought it was bad news then, but imagine how it would affect our economy if it happened now!
Finally in 1997 I found out for myself what others were talking about, with http://, gopher, dotcom and all that. Last week I read a column that told what an effect the Internet has had on our lives, “What Hath Google Wrought?” by John Steele Gordon. He told how he was interested in reading Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last inaugural address, given in January 1945. In the past that meant a trip to the library, with no guarantee that he would find such an obscure speech, but now he did a Google search and found the complete text in just 30 seconds! That’s the power of the Information Age for you. As I read that piece, I recalled how as a teenager I made regular trips to the library on my bike, often spending up to two hours in there, but now that the world’s greatest library (cybrary?) is just a mouse-click away, I haven’t been in a real-world library in a few years; I think the last time was to return some books Lindy had borrowed. I know we’re eventually going to need a library to educate the kids we plan on adopting, but I didn’t bother to look for the libraries in Lexington until I had been here for nearly a year.
I heard once that Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch philosopher, was the last man who ever lived who could have known everything. That is to say, he could have known every piece of knowledge available to somebody in his time and place (Rotterdam, Netherlands, around 1500 A.D.). Since then, knowledge has exploded, starting with the exploration and discovery of the world beyond Europe, and the birth of modern science. Nowadays we hear that the amount of available information doubles every few years; I doubt if anyone today can even hold one percent of it in his head. That’s why when I was a teacher, I devoted two or three days every semester to showing the tricks I learned for finding stuff on the Internet. In 1955 a wise educator said, “An intelligent person is not someone who knows everything, but who knows where to find it!” If it was true then, imagine how much more true it is now.
“In the past, you had to memorize knowledge because there was a cost to finding it. Now, what can’t you find in 30 seconds or less? We live an open-book-test life that requires a completely different skill set.”—Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and founder of Broadcast.com & HDNet.
Hmmm, ten years in cyberspace? It does seem longer, in view of all that has happened in the past decade. In Internet time that’s seventy years, right? But seriously, you may want to check out my Internet Milestones PowerPoint presentation, which shows the main events of Internet history from 1945 to 2005. If I update it, I will probably add that Microsoft launched Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 7 in 2007, the first major changes to its software since 2001. Now I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled websurfing.