It should be no surprise to you reading this by now that I am a computer nerd.
Many of my friends are not.
The thing with being a computer nerd these days – the line has been blurred. Acronyms that nobody understood 10 years ago like ‘LMAO’ or even ‘LOL’ have become part not only of everyone’s vocabulary, but I hear people actually vocalising them in conversations. Being a computer nerd now doesn’t mean you know how to install a program or generally know your way around the internet – it means you have a more intimidate knowledge of the Linux command line than you do of a woman’s bra clip. What my average friends know today about computers is what made me a computer nerd in the past. It’s so much more work to be a computer nerd now than it’s ever been before.
The one thing that stands out above all of the things I have seen in my life as a computer nerd is the evolution and popularization of using the World Wide Web as a social platform. See, instant messaging as most people know it now is actually a relatively new development for those of us that have been on the internet for a while. Today’s always-connected always-communicating internet that we’re so used to is something that many people just take for granted – but it certainly hasn’t been that way for very long. What if I told you that MXIT has only been around since 2007? Or Whatsapp since November 2009? Probably, you’re pretty surprised.
The first time I really experienced the internet being used in a properly social way was in 2003. This is around the time of the Nokia 3310, when SMS ruled the teenager’s social planning strategy. Sure, for years before that I’d spent countless hours hanging out in IRC chatrooms (#5fm anyone?) talking to strangers but I’m what I’m referring to is really using the convenience of the web for real social use. In other words, not just by those of us with a soldering iron at arm’s length but by the general population.
We’re now a full 4 years before Facebook really took off, and when it did it was a shell of what Facebook is today.
In the first few years of the turn of the millennium, fixed lines in South Africa were rare – only the really fortunate had access to one – a 512k ADSL line was launched in 2002 and it was incredibly expensive. The rest of us using 56K dial up modems to access the treasures of the internet were stuck using the calling plan Telkom called ‘Infiniticall’ which gave us the ability to connect to the internet during off peak times for R7.00. In other words, we had access to the internet after 7pm in the evenings until 7am the next morning during the week and for the full weekend – and that was only if you subscribed to the R7 call plan – which wasn’t that common. What you ended up with then, was a generation of insomniac teenagers who just wanted to spend some time on the internet – at speeds that equate to the download of an mp3 song every 15 minutes. The simplest way to put this into perspective is that pornography came only in the form of low resolution pictures.
In other words, the internet was a medium for text and school research, not for pleasure – unless of course you were a computer nerd.
Even cellphones, the tool used by teenagers the world over to organise everything from a trip to the mall to full scale riots could only make calls and do SMS and that was that. Buying R29 airtime would get you about 50 SMS messages (after 8pm!) – we didn’t have the luxuries of Mxit, Whatsapp and BBM yet. And we wouldn’t for another 5 years.
In 2003 I spent a large part of the year in England where I discovered how useful an ‘always-on’ Internet connection could be. I stayed briefly with a friend who is a computer nerd and I saw something remarkable. Even his non-computer nerd friends would use MSN Messenger (RIP) to plan nights out or meet-ups – something I could only dream off. I could see the ‘telephone tree’ system falling away right before my eyes.
These days it’s not even something you spare a second thought about. You don’t consider where we’ve come from when you send ‘self-portraits’ of yourself to your significant other or spend 10 minutes enjoying some high resolution personal time. You don’t consider the times when simply going to the movies with friends meant 15 phone calls to your friends – provided, of course, that everyone was at home since we couldn’t carry our phones around with us (being that they were physically attached to the wall).
I guess what I’m saying is – next time you plan a night out using Skype, Whatsapp or BBM, think of the simpler times and spare a small thank you to us computer nerds – the pioneers who killed the telephone tree.
*This article originally appeared on KerryContrary.com as a guest blog.
He also hosts the nAvTV podcast and this here website is his domain.