by Ben Shragge
“How old are you, Max?” my brother-in-law asked my then-three-year-old nephew. “Old,” he replied, and I know how he felt.
At thirty-one, I make no claim to agedness, but I do distinctly feel no longer young.
Strange new compound words like WhatsApp, dubstep, and Snapchat are now meaningful. Wi-Fi is available inside volcanoes and at the bottom of the sea. Pokémon are real and living in public parks. This is the augmented-disruptive-Internet-of-Things WikiReality we inhabit, and it is far from my early memories of a closet-like “computer room” where such witchery was only available in primitive pixels via phone lines and floppy disks.
Of course I enjoy the convenience of using my phone as a boarding pass; of finding the nearest available pho through Yelp; of maps literally telling me how to get places. Actually, more than that, I think it’s stupid and unimaginable that life ever proceeded otherwise. What kind of totalitarian society would force you to watch a TV show on a certain network in a certain sequence at a certain time on a certain device, rather than however and whenever you felt like it? What kind of crude dark ages would deny the ability to Google every known fact in human history, requiring you to sign up for a library card instead?
So I’m not some reactionary moaning that the world has turned and left me here. I’m grateful for the many conveniences of our hyper-modern reality. I cite passages from Facebook. I get daily commandments/reminders from the tablet (“Feed thy fish and water thy plant”). I give monthly alms to the Cloud. I subscribe to the tenets of Netflix. I’m a loyal citizen of our portable homeland, the iPhone, to which I pledge app-legiance.
And yet, I fondly remember the days of looking up dreadnought in an encyclopedia—because I heard the word somewhere, it sounded cool, and encyclopedias had the answers. And I equally fondly remember staying up until 2 a.m. to watch obscure British comedies like Young Ones and Bottom—because that was the only time you could ever possibly see them, so staying awake in class the next morning be damned. And I feel like I earned those useless encyclopedic facts and intermittent late-night laughs in a way that kids these days, because they can access anything at any time, can’t appreciate.
“Kids these days”: I said it. There begins a downward/backward spiral that ends in reminiscing about the good old days when Bill Clinton was the flawed but competent President, grunge spoke to the teenage soul, the economic forecast was endless growth, liberal democracy reigned unchallenged, and peace in the Middle East was just a treaty away.
I’ll restrain myself from waxing nostalgic about the nineties. It probably only seems like a gentler era because that was when my family went to Disney World. I’m sure everyone thinks whatever decade housed their innocence is the best. And as much as I’d like to daydream about Mario Kart tournaments and VHS collections and mass hysteria over pogs (or milk caps, if you will), I don’t have time for that now. I have responsibilities and bills and worries to worry about. (“Feed thy fish and water thy plant,” as the tablet commands/reminds me.) I’m old, after all.
Ben Shragge, currently living in Boston, is the Digital Content Editor of the Hamilton Jewish News.