A Normal Person From 20 Years Ago Looks Like A Monk Today

Remembering life before the digital age

indi.ca

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The Sony Ericcson P800, now fit for a museum

When I took out a smartphone at a baseball game in 2002, I was the only one in the whole stadium. I looked weird as hell to my friends, chatting to someone in the UK over GPRS. Now everyone has a smartphone. Any stadium can instantly turn into a festival of flashes. We forget how weird this is. It’s weird.

2002 is 20 years ago, which is roughly a generation. Even my generation, which technically remembers this time, doesn’t really remember. We have offloaded so much of our imagination to these devices that we literally can’t imagine a world without them. But there was. Today someone living that lifestyle would look insane, but that’s really a case of the world going mad more than anything else.

30 years ago, my parents had pagers and I was still a child. I could reach them, indirectly, at any time, though the phone in my father’s office was still rotary dial. This was also a generational change. Today the very idea that one could be uncontactable is anathema, but people went to movies and travelled and seemed to survive. I don’t remember any difficulty because we didn’t know what easy was at that time. But now things have become so convenient that it creates its own complications. When you can be reached anywhere, you can never really be anywhere at all. Other locations are pulling on you all the time.

You can, of course, drop out of this lifestyle anytime you want. The way time (or evolution) progresses is not necessarily by destroying the old but layering new things over it. Crocodiles and sharks exist largely in their vestigial niches, and landlines and dumbphones do too. You can still use all these things that were normal just a few generations ago, you just look like a loony. The lifestyle of a normal person from 20 years ago seems positively monk-like today. The lifestyle of someone from 30 years ago seems like a forest-monk. That’s how far our sense of normal has been pushed.

I can still feel it weird because I grew up right on the cusp of that change. I bought a Sony Ericcson P800 in 2002, a proto smartphone with a pop-out stylus and Internet settings that required an hour on the phone to setup. It was slow as shit, the camera was terrible, and it was…

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indi.ca

Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.