I’d only been online for a year or so and was using a requisite stupid email. My father told me that the internet would be important in the new century but I had reservations. Dial up to our house in the country was exceedingly slow and we had a good stock of books. I could look up my homework in our Encyclopaedias and Chronicles and be finished by the time Google loaded. When I arrived at Durham University in 2001 I was awed by the library. I had a laptop in my room for writing my essays but internet access meant a trek to the computer rooms; something I rarely bothered to do.
Scroll forward a few years and my morning routine consists of a cup of tea while I check my Tweets and see what’s been said on Facebook. Yesterday my boyfriend bought a new car and so I’ve uploaded some photos I took of it last night and posted them on a forum we both frequent. I manage my work with The Big Picture and my iGoogle toolbar is invaluable for reference checks. When my peers and I left school we were told that we’d have careers that not only had we never heard of but which hadn’t been invented yet what has surprised me more than the jobs we now do, is the way we interact with each other.
Ten years ago the notion of meeting someone you’d found on the internet was eyebrow rising but when I told people in 2008 that I was flying to Bangkok to meet a guy I’d met on a forum and that we'd be backpacking around Cambodia together, this evoked no reaction beyond well wishing. The internet has completely changed what we understand by the word ‘friend.’ Many of my Facebook ‘friends’ are online acquaintances who have simply moved from forums to the social networking site. Some people I have met in person (my boyfriend being a particularly positive example), some I hope to meet and some I doubt I ever will. I largely work from home and my online friends are the co-workers I don’t have by the coffee machine. It seems natural to chat about the news with people I identify by username and would recognise by their car before I did their face.
When the planes hit the towers in New York, I was working as a waitress in a cafe. It seemed surreal and impossible. A few years later, my parents thought I was in Moscow when a bomb went off; I was in fact boarding a train for St Petersburg and far away from the action. It was several days before I called home, email still being alien for speaking to my family and of course my mobile only worked in the UK. That kind of gap in communication is unimaginable now. In 2008 I was looking at the stars in the Gobi desert, my Ger camp the most isolated place I had ever been. From sheer curiosity I turned on my phone and it was with a touch of disappointment that I discovered I had a signal. I cannot imagine a 9/11 happening today and not immediately talking to people but at the time I expressed horror to my boss, finished my shift and caught the train home. My brother had been alone all day and I turned the TV on. Many hours after the impact, I was insisting to him that it wasn’t a joke and trying to find a channel showing the news. What a bubble of isolation he was in back then and how quietly such bubbles have popped.
It seems absurd that the fact I’m only online when I’m at my laptop makes me rather traditional but I appreciate a little downtime now and again. No doubt an iPhone or similar will feature soon enough but that’s still a step too far for the present. The world has changed before my eyes. In 2005 I visited Vietnam for the first time and saw women in Saigon wearing the Ao Dai everywhere. In 2006 there were miniskirts and skinny jeans. The city changed so much in just eleven months that I felt myself to be in another country. I’m fascinated by how it happens and while I know that Twitter is a new trend, I struggle to remember how I used to search for the tailored news feeds I now receive with ease.
The first decade of the 21st Century has indeed been amazing and outstanding and living in a predominantly Muslim country for a year certainly created some distance between myself and the porcine world. I celebrate the technologising of our lives; I love social media and networking, I appreciate online banking and browsing Amazon’s marketplace over a coffee certainly beats the battle of the high street. I can see how I’ve changed for the worse; I’m increasingly impatient and intolerant of people I’m forced to interact with and find myself lamenting the lack of ‘block person’ button in the real world. But I love that I can create my environment and that my friendships and relationships aren’t limited by geography. I also have a greater appreciation for the real and important things. I kick leaves in the park, I cook joyously, I read to my boyfriends kids and get competitive over games of Connect4. The ease of booking trips and buying groceries online means time is freed up; time that is cherishingly spent playing Guitar Hero, the scores of which I’ll blog about later.