Saturday, December 17, 2016

On One Other Thing My Father Doesn't Know

At the end of 1982, the year my father died, Time named the personal computer its Machine of the Year, as opposed to its Man of the Year. In 1987, my family became one of the first in my neighborhood to obtain a personal computer, and we bought a new one approximately every three years after that. In 1992, I played a Sierra game at a friend's house, the only house I knew of equipped with the Internet, which was then a painfully slow America Online. I wrote my first email in 1997 when I was 16 years old. Most of my mail were chain letters and long diatribes about Israel and arch-libertarianism sent by a fanatic in my high school class. When I was 18, during my senior year in high school, we were sharing homework notes via email. Later that year, I wrote my first email to a professor at college. I started reading the newspaper regularly, as it was easier to glance through the New York Times online than in print form. I set up an online profile on a dating site in 2003 when I was 22. I emailed all of my resumes when I applied for my first job out of college. In September 2006, when I applied for a Fulbright, I filled out the form online, printed it out, and then DHLed it from Latvia to the U.S. for fifty dollars. In November 2006, I joined Facebook. I had gotten my first cell phone when I was 16. My mother gave it to me to keep in my car at all times in case I needed to reach her. In my sophomore year of college I got my second cell phone which was so big, I had to get a special holder for it which I attached to my belt. In 2011, I got an iPhone for my birthday. I check my email incessantly, and now primarily communicate with people via text messaging, blogging, and Facebook. When I applied for another Fulbright last September, I did everything online. I didn't have to pay to mail anything. I have more access to music than my father could ever hope to have, and it's all free.

I know people who lost their virginities to people they met online. When I was in Bulgaria in 2005, I met a man who made his living stripping live on webcam for an audience in the West. I saw a near-revolution conducted in a Middle Eastern country driven by Twitter. I saw a presidential campaign won on Twitter. I saw a new sexual revolution come alive on the Internet. I saw the Internet drive a resurgence of anti-Semitism and white supremacy. When I give my students breaks in the middle of classes so they can walk around and stretch their legs, they choose instead to whip out their smartphones.

My father saw the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, Watergate, and the first sexual revolution, but this technological shift is far greater than anything he lived through.

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