Life Beyond Cyberspace

8 Jan

Did you know?

William Gibson invented the term cyberspace — and this definition for it — in his book Neuromancer, the original cyberpunk novel.

–from the endnotes for Netiquette by Virginia Shea

I think I had heard this somewhere before, but I saw it again in one of my readings for class today, which happened to come from this book.

I have spent about half my life using the internet actively in some form or another, starting with an AOL free trial that I coerced my parents into signing up for before starting high school so that I could email my friends. I learned how to type and use a computer even earlier than that, playing Mavis Beacon and typing up my science fair projects in elementary school on Lotus.

So when I see questions like “Are you comfortable using a mouse?” on the Online Learning Readiness Assessment that I was linked to in my first class for my MLIS degree, I do a double take. Then I think about people like my mom, for whom it is a great accomplishment just to send an email.

The thing is, I don’t even use a mouse anymore. My primary computer has been a laptop for the past ten years. And ever since Apple introduced gestures with multi-touch technology into their products, I’ve been using my trackpad for so much more than just pointing and clicking.

So yes, of course I am comfortable using a mouse. Yes, I use word processing software all the time.

I know the site is just making sure that we have the minimum skills needed to access and complete online courses, but some of the answers made me wish for more… accuracy. Yes, I have my own email account. In fact, I have more than one. I have lots. Yes, I browse the web all the time. I have an iPhone with unlimited data.

The technology around me has become so invisible that I don’t even notice that I’m using it.

I felt like it had been so long since I’d learned new technology that I worried about the information overload I anticipated from learning the different technologies associated with this degree. Just getting this WordPress blog to look the way I wanted it to made me wish for the simpler days before Web 2.0. And then I viewed my blog on my phone, and none of the edits I made mattered anymore.

We’re already moving beyond Web 2.0. Technology is constantly changing, and (especially for Mac users like me), it’s getting more and more intuitive. I’m learning new and more efficient ways to interact with the world around me using technology every day, but most of the time, I don’t realize that I’ve learned something new until I think about it in retrospect.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check my phone. I tell my smart journal Path that I’m awake, and then I check my email and whatever “virtual life” game(s) I am currently playing. My current one is Kawaii Pet Megu, based on the Tamagotchi virtual pets that were popular when I was in middle school. The process reverses at night when I get ready for bed, as I check everything one last time and then tell Path that I’m going to sleep.

Life was definitely not always like this, but I can’t really remember when it became “this.” Was it when I installed Path on my iPhone? When I first got an iPhone? When I first got a computer?

But since I’m already so integrated into cyberspace, it’s not that hard for me to add “check class updates” to my morning (and evening, and basically all day) routine. I usually have multiple browser windows with multiple tabs open on my computer, sometimes on more than one computer. And since a lot of the content for my classes is optimized for mobile browsers, I can do my reading and check the discussion posts whenever I have downtime (waiting in line, etc.) or when I first wake up in the morning and don’t want to put on my glasses to look at the computer…

I still can’t create Word documents and upload them from my phone, though, so I have to actually sit down and do the assignments on my laptop. It takes a little more discipline, but so far, I’ve found that it’s very similar to when I am freelancing. I’m responsible for my own schedule, but I have a deadline when I need to get the product (in this case, the assignment) uploaded or emailed to the client. This is especially true because the majority of my freelance work is done online, and I rarely meet my clients in person.

What is interesting to me is how my attitude toward school has changed from when I was an undergraduate. When I was at Yale, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and I was just doing what I had to do to get my degree. I chose classes that I thought would be interesting, but in the end, it felt like I was just choosing the lesser of (multiple) evils. I had a great experience in college, but I feel like my attitude toward the academic part of it was not as focused as it could have been.

It’s different now that I have a goal I’m working towards. There are still a lot of uncertainties with where I’ll end up, but I feel like there are so many interesting and exciting possibilities that are available to me once I earn my degree. (I keep staring at the internships page wondering when I’ll get my turn to try a few.) I am pleasantly surprised to find that many of the assignments themselves are encouraging me to really think deeper about why we’re doing all this and how everything connects to the real world. Instead of just completing assignments to get them done, I really have a sense of ownership over everything that I’m producing.

This is only my first week taking online classes, though, and so far, the material has been very interesting and not too challenging. I hope I can remain this positive about my classes when I have to write that paper at the end of the semester…

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2 Responses to “Life Beyond Cyberspace”

  1. Jena January 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    It’s funny, I remember when I first read that book…and the excitement and sense of wonder the idea of “cyberspace” brought me. I’m guessing I’m a good bit older than you.

    Now, checking my iPhone on the way to work, checking in with friends scattered across the world, via blogs and Facebook, I’m so immersed in “cyberspace”, I hardly notice it anymore.
    I think my sense of disappointment that there aren’t more A.I. beings in my life, or that the cool aesthetics of the cyberpunk movement didn’t weather time well must be like what people who grew up in the 50′s feel when they see The Jetsons on TV.
    No glass bubble houses and no hover-cars…sigh…

    • nita January 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      I took a class called Science Fiction/Science Fact that had Neuromancer as required reading, so I’ve got a copy on my bookshelf. You’re making me want to go back and read it now. :)

      I caught the tail-end of the cyberpunk movement growing up, and I was actually just wondering the other day what had happened to all the cool hackers I used to see in TV and movies… I guess reality caught up?

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