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Was there life before the Internet?

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Sometimes it’s hard to remember how we did things before we had the Internet and Google.


Recently, my rice cooker stopped working. I was going to buy a new one when I decided to Google "repairing rice cookers." It turned out that a simple $1 thermal fuse needed replacement. I ordered it online and received it two days later. After a bit of work, I had a fully functional rice cooker again.

Thanks Google! Before the Internet, I would have gone straight out and bought a new cooker, unless I knew someone who might be able to fix it.


An acquaintance was telling me how she and her spouse had built a porch based on what they learned on the web. Although they could have learned the same thing from a book, there is no comparison to the wealth of do-it-yourself websites and videos that are available online. It’s something we take for granted so much that it’s hard to remember that these resources have been around for less than two decades.


College-aged students today have never known a world without the Internet. I, on the other hand, was at university when I first encountered to it. The Internet hadn’t gone public yet — it was still mainly the domain of government organizations and universities. We had email and newsgroups, but the web wasn’t around yet. Internet sites were mainly file servers scattered around the world that required tedious commands to access. Search engines didn’t exist. We had to use their primitive forerunners — programs like Gopher to search for information online. On the plus side, spam was non-existent.


Gen Xers like me were the last to live fully in both worlds. We were young adults when the Internet went public, so we grew up in a world without it. Back then, sharing a video meant lending a VHS tape to a friend, and downloading music meant waiting for a song to come on the radio and quickly pressing record on your tape deck.


The world before the Internet was slower-paced. You tended to focus on one thing at time, whether it was eating dinner or watching a movie. Now, we eat dinner while simultaneously updating our Facebook page, watching a YouTube video, and sending out a tweet that we’re eating dinner.


The pace of technological change outstrips even climate change as a transformational force. Things that have been around for ages are fast becoming obsolete. Wikipedia has replaced encyclopedias, Kijiji and eBay have largely replaced newspaper ads, and phone books and landlines will soon go the way of the typewriter and slide rule.


Would I want to go back to the pre-Internet era? No. I don’t miss having only four TV channels or having to haul a pile of books back from the library to do research. I love the vast array of knowledge and services that’s available at my fingertips now, and how easy it is to keep in touch with people. But occasionally it seems like we’re experiencing too much change too quickly, and I find myself wishing for a balance between the world as I knew it and the world as I know it now.


Wayne Chan is a Winnipeg-based writer.


Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Lance area and would like to contribute to this column, contact jim.timlick@canstarnews.com.

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