I sometimes feel that I might seem a little irrational in my exuberance for the connected digital world. That may very well be so, but I think I have some pretty good reasons why. So in the grand old tradition of confessional blogging, I’m going to try and explain why my experience has lead me to my perspective.
I grew up in the small city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Hazleton is a small, dying coal city that is close to no large urban center and very isolated even from neighboring communities. Growing up, I was shy, quiet and very much an outsider. I came to be interested in things- music, art and the like that it took a *lot* of work just to maintain an awareness of in Hazleton. There were very few people who shared my interests, so I always felt like an outsider in my community.
In 1994 I moved to Pittsburgh to attend Pitt. All of my friends had gone to other schools (mostly Penn State Hazleton) but I had decided to head for a larger city. Most people feel Pittsburgh is small beans, but this city to me is everything I wanted in a big city with a lot of the smaller town feelings that I *did* like about Hazleton. When we got to school, the Web was in its infancy. But we had access to email, and almost immediately, I found a way to stay in touch with all of my friends. Phone calls and snail mail were basically out of the question, but we were still able to maintain close contact- something I truly believe was much more difficult only a few years before. To this day, my friends and I stay in touch over a distribution list- and while that list has grown with friends we’ve picked up a long the way, we are still as tight as ever. We see each other only a few times a year now, but the closeness is there.
So there’s that. But here’s the big one: In 1997 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s B-Cell Lymphoma aka lymphatic cancer. I had to leave school and for the next year I was essentially stuck in my house as my immune system was destroyed and I lost all of my mobility (as well as my hair) due to a year long chemotherapy treatment. At that point, though I could leave the house, it was a huge health risk- and there were times where I nearly died due to infection. I was sick and tired, I could hardly clime my stairs, but what I could do was sit at my computer and talk to my friends. I could find out about the world of music that was going on, even though I might not get to see my favorite bands. Before 1994, finding rare music was extremely hard- you relied on magazines or a college friend to clue you in; but now, finding out about new music was as easy as browsing to a web site, or subscribing to distribution lists devoted to whatever you can imagine. Instant messaging appeared around that time, with the program ICQ, and suddenly I could talk to my friends in real time. I had all of my friends in my Dad’s office, waiting for me, whenever I was well enough to get out of bed.
So when I go out of my way to defend human relations in the digital realm, it is because my life would be vastly different without the internet. I know I would not be as fortunate as I am. Like we said in class yesterday, fundamentally these things aren’t changing our fundamental humanity- the way we communicate and interact and think and feel, but the method in which we engage in those things has changed. In my case, it was for the better.
Oh yeah, I should add that I don’t doubt for a minute that my idealism is in some way inherited from the utopian fantasy of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sad, but true 🙂