Finding Yourself in the Internet Age

Finding Yourself in the Internet Age

Do you remember life before smart phones? I sometimes have a hard time imagining what it was like. I mean, I was there; I should know. We had to write down the directions to drive places, since we couldn’t just bring it up on our phones. We had to have our music collections in some sort of recorded format, like tapes or CDs, and keep them in the car. You couldn’t just look up any fact you wanted to know in an instant. But you did you know a lot of other people’s telephone numbers.

My BFF tells me I’m too dependent on my phone now. My little pocket assistant. I get lost driving without it. I’ve tried to navigate on my own; to challenge myself to get somewhere without using Google maps. Usually that doesn’t work, and out comes the smart phone to rescue me.

It wasn’t always like this, but through the fog of time it’s hard for me to remember those ways of life, from even just fifteen years ago.

One thing I do remember is that back in the mid-2000s, when Web 2.0 was still new, I had a pretty good Internet presence, if I do say so myself. Granted, it was a Web 1.0 presence: a static vanity web site, a blog. I did a little bit of manual search engine optimization, editing the metadata on my static HTML pages in my text editor. It was good enough for us back in those days. A Google search of my name ca. 2006 would have had my pages on the top of the search results; I kid you not!

Today, that’s not likely. My Internet presence is lost in a sea of like named people, because everyone has a smart phone and multiple social media accounts now. I’m no microinfluencer, not even a nanoinfluencer. I never realized how many people with my name there are out there; I thought it was kind of unique. I was used to being the only “Barrera” in whatever social milieu I was in, outside of my family. Now that my social milieu is all of humanity on the Internet, I’m discovering that my name isn’t so unique after all.

It’s the same with usernames. Technically, I was on the Internet as far back as the 1980s, since I had user accounts and email addresses at Virginia Tech, where I went to college. I remember my email address was “sbarrera@vt.edu.” For a long time after that, I was used to being “sbarrera” or “stevebarrera” whenever I signed up with a new account somewhere. But no more; those usernames are always taken on any major site. I have to come up with something clever, or settle for a username with a string of numbers at the end.

As the global population continues to soar and the Internet continues to gobble up civilization, how will we have usernames for everyone? We’ll all end up named with numbers at the end, like in a dystopian sci-fi society. Like THX 1138. The future is here, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Internet. I spend most of my waking time there. I’ve been fascinated by computers since I was a teenager, and chose computer work for my professional life. I’ve been on the world wide web since the beginning, and always had fun with it. The Internet is where I live; it’s surely where I’ll die. It’s always in our pockets, part of the background of life.

2 thoughts on “Finding Yourself in the Internet Age

  1. I’m always interested by what you write, here on your blog, Steve.

    Largely because we’re from the same ERA and similar background. But I’ve had undiagnosed Dyslexia as long as I can remember. Numbers and letters swirling around in my head. Pathways of logic become fractured in places I can’t explain. Reading more than a dozen words or so can be a LABOR for me.

    As such, I’ll probably never get completely comfortable functioning in “digital space”. I consider myself an “analog human”. While I certainly appreciate the value of Search Engines and photo references, I still write my thoughts with pen & paper. I still prefer face-to-face communication. (Even over the old-time telephones.) When I MAKE things, ALL of my senses are involved! (Well, maybe not TASTE.)

    This article reads like a eulogy, to me. The death knell of “flesh & blood”. A plastic-electric barrier between each and every individual… And I fear we are “rotting away”, like zombies from a pop culture story.

    I’ve always been “too sensitive”, too empathic. I *feel* what those around me are feeling! It can be frightening! But it can also be fulfilling. As if my *spirit* is intermingling with other people’s spirits… I can almost “taste” the sweetness and bitterness of emotions… But that’s all fading away. Like the characters in the film “Infinity War” (only much, much slower), I feel like everyone around me if dissolving, and all that will be left is their disembodied fingers, typing away on their plastic boxes.

    Truly tragic.

  2. Thank you for the kind words about my blog, Nathan. It means a lot to me to know that people are reading it.

    Me, I’ve always been comfortable in the digital space, as this post makes clear. But I get it that it doesn’t work for everyone, and that some people are happier in the more tangible world of physical things.

    Actually, there is one sphere in which I also prefer the physical world over the online world, and that’s in board gaming. I would much rather play a physical game with pieces on a table top and real people I can look at and chat with than play over the computer. But with the pandemic, that’s been very limited and so I am glad that online versions of board games exist so I can still play with friends over the Internet.

    As for the article being a eulogy for the “flesh & blood” world, I can only say that I expect future generations to eventually favor the real world over the artificial digital creation of the older generations (meaning us) – these things work in cycles!

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