Could There have Been Life Without the Internet?

. December 1, 2016.
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You just can’t do homework anymore without the internet.

Whether it’s Quizlet, Khan Academy or trusty Google, there are very few nights in my house that various devices aren’t fired up and running. Most of our search histories would bore Homeland Security– in one night alone, it was history, anatomy, Spanish and calculus.

It makes me wonder how I survived 13 years of public schooling without it.

The olden days

The other day I was talking about ancient times, when we had to get up to change one of the 12 channels our TV received. If I had a question I had to call a friend on our rotary dial phone and sit at the kitchen table because the cord didn’t reach very far. When I went to the library I had to look in a card catalogue that was limited to the books my library had.

But what stopped my kids in their tracks– and what seems impossible even to me– is that I lived before the internet existed.

I remember my first time online. I was working at my first newspaper job and we got one computer hard-wired– no wifi– to the internet for the whole newsroom. We were encouraged to look up anything we wanted, just to get the hang of the thing. The first thing I Yahooed– Google didn’t even exist yet– was that classic mid-90s show, Party of Five.

While the internet was handy for work, it was about seven years too late for high school.

The wifi less traveled

What could my life have been like if I had Khan Academy when I was struggling to understand trigonometry? Writing that senior research paper would have been so much easier if I could have cited online sources instead of writing bits and pieces on 47 index cards. And Wikipedia would have beaten the living room encyclopedias a million times over in about a twentieth of the time.

Now, it only takes a few keystrokes to find the answer to a thorny homework problem. Researching a topic takes only searching a few moments instead of driving down to the library before it closes. And, unfortunately, it is far too easy to cheat by finding old answer keys online.

I am, however, grateful I didn’t have easy answers. Not understanding trig taught me a lifelong lesson– always ask for help if you don’t understand something. I still prefer a printed copy over trusting the little men in the computer to save my information. And just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s right.

Time marches on

The internet is just as revolutionary, maybe even more so, than the first automobile, atomic bomb or Moon landing. Which, by the way, were all done without the internet. Karl Benz didn’t Google how to build a gas-powered engine for his automobile. Manhattan Project scientists made good use of pencil and paper.  And the geniuses at NASA used computers that were about as powerful as the calculator most students bring to school.

When my children ask for homework help, my first response is to ask if they’ve Googled it. I’m still waiting, however, for an assignment that requires a dictionary, encyclopedia and card catalogue.

When that happens then? Step aside, Professor Google. I got this.