As a nerd in the 80’s I got to watch a lot of cool things happen and participate in a small way. When I say nerd I’m not kidding. Like a lot of kids I had quite a few posters up in my room - including a couple of developers from Electronic Arts. I spent a lot of time on my Vic-20 at home and the Apple IIe’s at school. As a teen I remember seeing my first CD and I was reading better and better books that gave me glimpses of what was coming. I was fully on board.
By the 90s, more of it was taking shape. I had stepped out of the computer scene for quite a while. I’d spent some time living on a ship for my uncle and the I think the highest tech I used that whole time were sound powered phones and the electric weight selector on my Mk 7 Mod 3 arresting gear engine. (And I didn’t touch any of that electric stuff if it broke - we had ‘smart’ people for that equipment. I was strictly a grease and wrench guy.) But when I got out, got to school (bought a typewriter for my freshman year) and moved into my dorm, there was a guy on the floor that owned a PC. I got sucked back in a bit. It was a while before I could get my own but I still remember well going to Montgomery Ward and getting a Packard Bell 386SX. My first personal computer since that Vic-20. It ran MS-DOS 5.0.
Sorry, I get all nostalgic lately. I need to work on that - the point is stuff was moving at a breakneck pace and I was loving it. It’s fun to watch reality catching up with your fiction and in some cases surpassing it. Much like R.A.H. missed personal computers ( Slipsticks!!!! in SPAAAACE!!!!! ) I really didn’t see the web coming.
I was buying massive copies of computer shopper - even back in those Vic-20 days, just to get phone numbers for local BBS’s. I loved the idea of connecting - but the web and what it would mean, I just didn’t anticipate it. But once I got on, it blew me away. In the late 90s I went back to school to get an Information Technology degree. I got my first laptop and I discovered FOSS. It all came together for me. Anybody with a computer and a connection could change the world. You didn’t need to pay thousands of dollars to Microsoft, IBM or anyone else just to have the tools for change. All you needed was a machine and your brain. Linus, the GNU folks and others like them had laid a foundation that made anything possible. I was so pumped.
So I think you can understand my consternation as I look around me today. I mean it’s all still true. The tools are all there. FOSS has won in a big way on some really key levels. At the same time we’ve traded one set of dangerous giants for another set and the laws are as stupid as ever. But what concerns me more and what I didn’t anticipate (too much of an optimist I guess) is just how many bad actors would absolutely thrive on the web. I didn’t anticipate how many people would be absolutely horrible at filtering or using any kind of discrimination about the information they take in. It’s just so discouraging.
The ability to have a global platform for your ideas is exciting - I just didn’t know so many bad people would be so well received by so many people. I should have I guess. I figured the internet and web would make us smarter, not dumber. The whole thing is a bit depressing. I try not to worry too much. A year of isolation and dealing with the pandemic have really thrown off my sense of scale but it’s still just overwhelming. I see people I know and care about spreading the most vicious lies and misinformation. I get to actively choose every day between confronting damaging content or keeping relationships that are important. It’s sad.
My big hope is that I’m a part of communities that are outliers. I’m hoping that I just know a lot of people that are part of a minority that will increasingly have less impact on the world. My hope is that the problem just isn’t as big as it feels to me. Probably more optimism that’s misplaced but I’m gonna role with it for now.
And me - I’m still trying to find (or build) the lever that will multiply my contribution to moving things the right way. For the last 10 years my contribution has primarily been helping others get their hands on the right tools. And I’m sure that’s gonna stay a focus for the rest of my life as long as I have the gift of a functioning mind and body but I still have a seed of hope about the limitless possibilities. I’m pretty sure I wont be an astronaut, rock star or best selling author at this point. But I might do something.