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Guest column | Jerry Cowling

Is having all our knowledge online a bad thing?

I am the first to admit I am computer illiterate. I can point and click. I can use it like a typewriter and save simple documents, but that's just about it.

I got my first computer more than 20 years ago. I could only see half of the page at a time, which made it very inconvenient when composing a story, letter or a play. My short-term memory has always been a bit chancy, so at the beginning I back-spaced a lot to see how I had started the sentence.

Then there was the printer. It worked on some heat process which I never understood. I had to punch three keys — I don't remember which ones — to send a command to print. I could never get my fingers to hit them in the right cadence, like playing the piano, which I could never do either.

My next computer was easier to use, and the printer was cooperative. I had to buy several different programs that were very expensive to make it worthwhile, and each one had its own peculiar way of working.

Then came the Internet. I was first aware of the Internet through these commercials of a little girl in a woolen coat and a beret of a matching color. She was standing on a rock in the middle of a stream and then instantly was on another rock and then another. She was talking about being here, there and everywhere all at the same time. It didn't make much sense. But that is what the Internet is, after all, being here, there and everywhere all at the same time.

The first time I connected to the Internet, I thought I had done something dreadfully wrong and the computer was about to explode — that awful screeching noise of dial up. I could imagine someone instantly popping the power button off before the contraption burst. There were certain evenings, Mondays and Tuesdays, when I couldn't get a connection. Everyone, it seemed, didn't have anything better to do on those nights than go online. Downloading sites took forever.

Now I'm spoiled. Instant connection and downloading, and it's fast. I used to have to go to libraries, order books from catalogues and go on field trips to learn background for my stories. Now, I have access to every university library, every museum and every national historic site in the world.

Of course, I had to learn some sites weren't what they were cracked up to be. For instance, Flash Mountain is not the same as Splash Mountain at Disney World.

My only fear now about computers and the Internet is that all our knowledge is online. On the one hand, it's very convenient, at least for those who have computers. We must realize we do live in a world where some people still can't afford computers. That's a perception gap that must be closed.

The real problem, however, is that all our knowledge is on computers, computers that are run by electricity. If, for whatever cataclysmic reason, the world loses its electrical power, there goes our knowledge. It's in a computer that's now an inert box. We are in a new Dark Ages.

One day, when we are gone and our cities are covered in vines, someone will find these little boxes and maybe figure out how to start them again. They will find the discs with a set amount of gigabytes of information on them. Perhaps they will decide that we were predicting the end of the world because the boxes held only a certain number of gigabytes.

It will be 2012 all over again.

Jerry Cowling is a freelance writer and storyteller living in Brooksville.

Is having all our knowledge online a bad thing? 06/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 5:46pm]

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