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.