I grew up in that sort of ‘in between’ generation. The internet had, of course, been invented. We used it at school and in libraries either to search for books or to read them. Many people had bulky, ugly desktop computers in their homes. But, while we may not remember it, we didn’t have touchscreen devices glued to our back pockets, and the answer to every family argument wasn’t resolved with the sassy comeback, “Google it!”
In fact, my family was rare among my peers in that we didn’t have the internet, or any electronic entertainment devices (bar a five-channel television and VCR), in our house until I was eleven years old. No WiFi, but no dial-up internet (remember that?) either. No Playstation, but no Gameboy either. I grew up in a mostly internet-free environment at home, and looking back at that experience now – as I sit here typing on a Macbook, six tabs open and my iPhone pinging impatiently from beside me – makes me realise that there were positives to that lifestyle as well as drawbacks. In the past decade, my life has been entirely transformed by technology. And I’m not the only one.
What Are The Experts Saying?
A 2016 Ofcom report found that more than half (53%) of 3-4 year olds are now online, as are 79% of 5-7s year olds and 94% of 8-11 year olds. Ninety-nine per cent of 12-15s are also online, unchanged since last, however, unlike the younger age categories, this figure saw no increase from 2015.
The huge influx of toddler internet-surfing has definitely been brought about the tablet. I mean, I get it, those things are so handy for entertaining wee ones! Ofcom reported that children aged 3+ are more likely than in 2016 to have their own tablet, and those aged 3- 11 are also more likely than in 2016 to use their tablets to go online. And for busy, tired, multi-tasking parents, it may just be the only solution. We get that.
As I sit here, having just ordered my iced tea on an app and typing away on my Macbook which automatically connected to the coffee-shop internet, I look back on a simpler time…
And So It Began …
At the start of 2018 I had a ‘big birthday’, and asked my family and friends to help me buy my Macbook for university, rather than any individual gifts. The joy of starting the new year with a new ‘toy’ made me think back to the very first time I got that feeling, a decade ago. My chosen gift started my reflection on how a decade has entirely transformed my life – in perhaps more than just the usual ways.
It was Christmas 2007, and I was gifted a Nintendo DS. It was the very first model, being sold on at discounted rates as they prepared to release the more modern DS Lite. It was bright pink, and I only had two games to start off with. But, I was over the moon.
That well-loved device was my link to a world outside my home. My first glimpse, really, into virtual connections.
My Internet-Free Childhood
I used computers a little at school, but mostly just to create artwork like no other on the infamous Paint software. My minimal interaction with the world wide web had come at my after school club, where the childminders allowed us 15 minutes of allocated computer time and I’d soak up every precious minute on Club Penguin (Now there’s a throwback – I was completely unaware at the time of just how careful I needed to be with regard to my privacy settings on sites like these).
It sounds cliche, but I truly credit the lack of electronic distractions growing up with my love for reading, creative writing, and being outdoors. Yes, I was delighted when I received a new game for my DS and, later, other gadgets. But I was — and still am — equally delighted by a brand new book. A paper one, that is. I mean, who doesn’t love that distinctive paperback scent?! 📚
Ok, so now I’m being dramatic, right? Well, I’d argue, not really.
It all began with moving away from friends, and creating an email address to keep in touch. I distinctly remember making the trip to the library to set up the account, and returning after school each day to reply to my emails, eagerly anticipating replies as I had once done as the mail dropped through the letterbox.
Now, though, I literally can’t remember the last time I spent an entire day without using the internet. Without waking up and scrolling through my social media feeds. Without answering emails while walking to class. Without quickly googling the ingredients of a certain product to check I’m not allergic. Without taking a screenshot of useful information, or making a memo in my calendar. Without … you get the idea! I can imagine I’m not the only one feeling that way, right?
Take a moment and think back to writing essays and assignments in the pre-internet days. I’m sure many of you can recall trolling through books and squeezing notes into the margins of your texts. Maybe you turned in papers full of crossed out mistakes, or frayed edges. Last minute changes must have been near-impossible. I can’t even begin to imagine the workload. And that goes for any communication, any piece of research or form-filling requirement. Where would we find the time now?
Well, maybe we would actually make that time back if we didn’t have endless scrolling and swiping to keep up with. But it’s fair to say, a lot of thing would be so much less convenient than they are now, or wouldn’t exist at all!
So I guess my, if slightly strange, experience has led me to really truly believe in the importance of balance. It’s understandable that we are making use of the technology available to us for work and study purpose. And it is exciting to see this technology expand and develop in many areas of our lives. But it’s also ok to take a break, and spend some time stripped of the advancements, back to the basics.. In a tech-dominated world, it’s easy to become dependent. It’s also easy to recognise all the ease tech provides us with. It really just comes down to finding that balance.
Want to weigh in on how the internet has transformed the lives of you and your loved ones? To share thoughts and opinions on striking that balance, head over to our Famtech Community and join the conversation.