The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Sixteen: The Internet

And, well. This one’s sort of obvious, isn’t it. When a globe-spanning network of computers is directly responsible for much of one’s career, income, notoriety and daily life, what else should one say but “thanks”?

The Internet has been important enough in my life that it’s worth pointing out the good things in my adult life it isn’t directly or at least partially responsible for: My first job, which I got in 1991, before the Web opened up the Internet to any common schmoe; my wife, who I met because of my first job, and my non-fiction agent, who I got because of a column I wrote for the newspaper. Although the way he heard about it was that the column got e-mailed to him. Right, I owe the Internet for him as well. So: My wife and my first job. There you are.

Yeah, I owe the Internet tons.

It’s a little weird to think of it in that terms, and it does make me wonder how much differently my life would have unrolled had the public expansion of the Internet not happened when it did, how it did. Would I still be working at The Fresno Bee, the newspaper which gave me my first job? I’m not sure about that, but I think I probably would have stayed at newspapers and in print journalism rather longer than I did. Would I have published non fiction books? Possibly, but then my first non fiction book (and my first book, period) would not have been about online finance. Would I have become a novelist? Probably only if my wife decided she was going to handle mailing my work out to publishers, because I almost certainly wouldn’t have bothered — we know this because I didn’t bother in this timeline; I put my first two novels online, as much out of sheer laziness as anything other excuse I could offer. If I had published fiction, would I have been as lucky in my debut I was in this world, with my online presence helping to push sales? Who knows. Would I live in rural Ohio in a world where proximity to work mattered more than it does here? That’s a really interesting question.

In the end, in a no-Internet (or later Internet) world, I’m pretty sure I would still be a full-time professional writer, and I’m reasonably sure by this time I would have published at least a couple of books. I think I would still recognizably be me. But the details of that life — including some of the most significant, such as the job I had, the books I would write, the people I knew and even the child I had — would be changed enough as to constitute a different life. I would be me, my wife would still (hopefully) be my wife. Everything else is up for speculation.

I like my life, and it’s disconcerting to think that its course and shape has been significantly and arguably primarily defined by a system of computers originally designed to keep the country’s defense forces connected, and which now exists to (among other things) shuttle pictures of cats around at the speed of light. But then again, before the Internet, by life was being defined by an industry that wrapped words on low-grade paper around advertisements for underwear and used cars, the most popular portions of which involved comics about lasagna-loving cats. Anything humans do seems absurd if you frame it in sufficiently absurd terms, involving cats.

My life is what it is. It is what it is because the Internet exists, and I am on it, and use it, and profit from it in all manner of ways, commercial, personal and existential. Years from now, and perhaps not even before I’m dead, we’ll consider the Internet this hopelessly antiquated and ridiculous thing, and all the things on it as relics of a different and possibly silly age, which is to say we’ll have found new and even better ways of enjoying cats on a massive scale. When that day happens, I’ll say to those around me, yes, perhaps it was a little ridiculous, but it gave me so much. I’m glad it did, and I’m thankful. Now, please, stop sending me those brainwaves about bacon.

28 thoughts on “The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Sixteen: The Internet

  1. Cool picture. I think I see a small piece of fairy cake there in the corner.

    I’m guessing it would be hard to find anyone in the developed world whose life hasn’t been impacted more than they would realize by the internet. Maybe not in ways quite as direct as your own, but still.

  2. “Anything humans do seems absurd if you frame it in sufficiently absurd terms, involving cats.”

    This is, I believe, exactly what the cats intended when they brainwashed us to feed, pet, and provide warmth/AC for them.

  3. Yeah, I consider that too. As a freelance writer, I’m hard-pressed to imagine how I might have done this job if I had to run off to the library (or wherever) to do research and use the US Post Office to send queries out along with SASEs that eat into my budget.

  4. While my husband remembers me from our college days, I don’t remember him at all. Since he never worked up the nerve to ask me out back then, without match.com we never would have met, and married, ten years later.

    I would not have the large network of friends I do without the internet. I’m disabled and effectively housebound, and thus my only “real life” friends (actual human beings I can contact and physically see pretty much at will) are the people I met through my husband after we got together. Almost all of my own friends are online-only, and the few “real life” friends I can call solely my own I see maybe once every two years (thank you, Hydrocephalus Assn conventions! http://www.hydroassoc.org), if that.

    On that note, without the internet I would not have amassed the support network I have which relates directly to my disability–almost all of my Facebook friends are people I met through FB forums devoted to my disability and the issues surrounding it. My disability is rare enough that many people refer to it as an “orphan” disease, and before the internet I knew absolutely no one else with my disability. While I may not come into physical contact with my online friends very often, just knowing they’re out there has been a big help to me.

    The internet also makes it easier for me to keep track of exactly the things I want to keep track of. My local newspaper has a free online edition, and although it’s unashamedly a pared-down version of the print edition, I’m able to find the information which interests me, without having to pay for–or throw out–an entire physical newspaper.

    Yay intarwebz!

  5. I have a happy, if not particularly remunerative, career in a field that didn’t even exist when I entered the job market (also as a newspaper reporter, as it happens. I have a partner I’d never have met were it not for Usenet. Hell, I have a computer; before I got Internet access, I thought of them as too-expensive typewriters. And thanks to high-speed service and search engines, I’m a whole lot smarter than I was before my cybernetic brain enhancement. Yay, Internet!

  6. You are too modest. Next century your cat’s non-kosher dilemma will appear in school textbooks as a watershed moment in the history of mass communication. A footnote will mention that your blog was damn good too.

  7. Wheter or not you would still be at the Bee, it does seem likely that you might have stayed in print journalism longer — along with untold multitudes of others. The internet really did a number on print journalism, and the process drove lots of print journalists into other fields.

  8. I thank the internet for my friends in the UK, Australia and even the US of A. Without it, I’d never met those people.

    And I thank the internet for hosting my little comic and pushing it to the ten, twelve people that are rea – without it, nobody would see it and I most likely wouldn’t even bother to train my art and writing. So yeah.

    Thanks internet!

  9. I’m older than some, and I use the ‘net every day. Don’t remember how we got along without it. Nowadays if I want to buy something, I just do. Like books. Just yesterday learned that a certain author had written a sequel to something I liked. Five minutes later my Amazon order was concluded, and it’s on its way. In the old days I might have spent a month prowling book stores.

    The other day I ordered something from a custom maker. Two e-mails, Paypalled him the down payment and that was that.

    As for friends and social forums, I participate in a few, and get to ‘meet’ people with similar interests from around the world. I discuss archery with folks in Norway and Australia, from my chair in Massachusetts! When you can pick the best brains in the world, you learn ;-)

  10. So, essentially, you say Garfield is the LOLcat of print media and therefore maybe the very first LOLcat ever? Interesting point!

  11. I have to say that I probably couldn’t function as a translator without the Internet. Not only for communication with clients and finding new clients, but without it I would have to have a gajillion different specialist bilingual dictionaries, which is a huge expense in space and money. I would also have to replace the more technical dictionaries every few years as they became outdated. Thanks to the Internet, I can look up the most obscure stuff for free without getting out of my chair, let alone without having to find a bookstore to sell me what I needed. As with John, it also allows me to live where I do in the middle of nowhere and still function economically.

  12. So by default, you are also thanking *snicker* Ross *chuckle* Perot *guffaw* … I couldn’t say that with a straight face.

  13. I met my wife on Usenet. It may have also sucked up enough of my time to keep me from becoming a successful scientist in graduate school, but on the other hand this led me to take up a far more lucrative career, eventually working on Internet-enabled technology. And I suspect the popular-science expositions and stupid jokes I ended up putting on the Internet had more influence on humanity than my scientific work ever would have.

    (My eventual career path, I can actually trace back to my high-school science-fair participation, which heavily involved early personal computers but not the Internet.)

    I suspect that without the Internet, I would be living the poor but noble life of a fourth-string academic at some out-of-the-way college somewhere. Most likely, single and lonely. But with a longer list of publications.

  14. I have a job that has been on its visible way out for at least 15 years because of the Internet. I am a publisher’s sales rep. Still love the Internet but I won’t make it to retirement! More and more books are sold on line. Both eBooks and dead tree thru Amazon et al.

  15. Well, gosh, I get to actually and honestly say “You’re welcome!” Only for a few small parts.

    I shall tell some of the other folks you thank them as well.

    :)

  16. Speaking as one of the mostly-anonymous people whose job is to keep the internet working properly: you’re really very welcome.

  17. I did not meet my wife through the Internet — but I do claim to have met her through computer dating. (I was a grad student/computer operator and she was an undergrad math/comp sci student, both at the same university. She handed me an IBM 5081 card — a punch card for any youngsters reading this — on which she had written the names of some batch jobs she had in the system and asked me how long it would be before they ran. I looked them up and then, before going back to her, keypunched HOW ABOUT DINNER AND A MOVIE SATURDAY NIGHT on the card. That was in 1977. We got married in 1979. Our youngest child is now 26.) However, I did find the job that morphed into my current job thanks to the Internet in 1995 via Monster Board (www.monster.com) and although I used to have to commute to an office, for the past several years I have able to perform my job from home thanks to the Internet. So “Thank you Internet!”

    And I’ve been reading “Whatever” since sometime early in 1999. I cannot remember how I first came across your site or when exactly I found it, but I remember that Athena was an infant. That’s where I first discovered Old Man’s War — when you were posting a chapter per day but said to send you a couple buck via PayPal and you would email the whole file. Your website not only led me to your books, but to at least seven or eight more writers whose work you had praised or who you provided with a platform to discuss their Big Idea.

    Thanks, Internet! Thanks John Scalzi!

  18. So, if you like the Internet, have you called your congresscritter about it yet? Congress is holding hearings on a bill TODAY, that would get Whatever thrown RIGHT off the ‘net, the first time anybody posted a comment containing or linking to copyright-infringing material. And those occasional Youtube videos of Journey you post? Doing that would be a felony, “unauthorized streaming”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act <- Handy article with provisions of the bill.
    http://www.contactyourcongress.org <- handy website that lets you type in your address and get phone numbers & addresses for your own personal Congressman and Senators.

    Bleah. I hate being That Political Asshole. I hate running around in circles screaming that the sky is falling. And then stuff like this happens, and I have to go do it anyway. Stupid @#(*#@ Congress.

  19. The internet/world wide web is our version of Gordon Dickson’s Final Encyclopedia in accordance with Gaiman’s Second Law.

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