Friday, January 06, 2006

Happy Epiphany! (Also known as Three Kings Day.) It's the 12th Day of Christmas, and I'm expecting loads of birds and other strange gifts from my true, wait, anyone who loved me would know better than to give me all that! Actually, it's the day we need to finally take down our Christmas tree.

And now for something completely different (insert strange sounds & animation here).

If you're old like me--that is, if you didn't have the Internet in high school or college--have you thought about how your life would have been different if you did? I'm not thinking so much about the easy access to information (which is hard to remember how I lived without!), but more about the Internet as a social medium. I have to think about this stuff a lot in writing for young adults, because there's been a profound shift in the way teens communicate from the way they did when I was one, and I can't afford to ignore that when I'm writing. I think my own life might have ended up very, very different, and probably not for the best. I'm pretty sure that if everyone I knew had e-mail and instant messaging when I was a teenager (not to mention if I was meeting people online back then), I would not be where I am today. Of course, today I'd love to be anywhere else, since this move thing is driving me crazy, but in general, I'm glad I ended up where I am in life!

I'm sure high school would have been unbelievably different, but for me, college might have been even more different. I went to college three hours from home, which in my case meant a lot of snail mail letters. I probably got more than 200 letters during my first two years of college, not to mention running up shocking phone bills in those days without cell phones or flat rate long distance! But if I'd had an easy, free way to communicate with my friends back home...would we have said more, because it was easier? Would we have said less, because it seemed too immediate? Would our perception of the distance have seemed different, knowing how easy it would be for a long-distance friend to respond? Would I have kept further away from the people around me at school, or gotten to know them even better because we could send instant messages so easily? (Or read & comment on each other's blogs, or whatever!)

I think people will say things in letters that they'd be less likely to say in e-mail, but they will also say things in e-mail, and especially in instant messaging or chat rooms, that they'd probably think better of if they had to sit down & write it in a letter. And while my online relationships as an adult have been fantastic, making it so much easier to connect with people, I imagine that as a teen, with relationships being so fraught with angst as it is, it could be both suffocating & frustrating to know that everyone you knew was only a few clicks away anytime...or could be if they wanted to...and that people might even be watching to see when you were on and offline. I don't think I would have lacked for correspondence--I'm sure I would have a lot more than 200 e-mails from friends in that same time period, most of them lost to old operating systems, old file formats, & hard drive crashes by now (I've lost tons of e-mails when old computers died, including many I'd love to have back about my kids as babies, etc., though I do have a bunch of e-mail messages printed out from my first few years working in Austin...say, 1993 to 1995, when e-mail was new to me and quite exciting!). On the other hand, I think they would have had a different impact, and taken me down different paths, and as a result I doubt I'd be exactly where I am today. Though now, I've been active online for 12 years (using text-based browsers & newsreaders until there was an alternative), so my Internet connection seems almost as essential as food and shelter! But I do think the medium can greatly affect the message, and I'm kind of glad in retrospect that I didn't have the Internet back then. (But then...if I'd had the Internet and NaNoWriMo and all the online writing groups and opportunities that are out there these days, maybe I would have had a book published years ago!)

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