“How did you do your undergraduate degree without the internet?”
I was having lunch with a friend last week and she’d been asked that question. We have reached the point that students couldn’t contemplate doing their degrees without access to the Internet.
Truth be told, neither could I.
When I did my Computer Science degree I had access to this wonderful little device called the Internet. It was 1992. It was all text, no graphics and it was full of nerds and geeks (think text based Star Trek parodies rather than LOLCats and you’re getting the idea).
We used Usenet. Before Boards.ie, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ we used online forums with names like rec.humor.funny and comp.ai.neural-nets. The latter helped me with programming questions and getting my head around some tricky ideas when I was rolling some neural net software for my degree. I also got research papers via email and had some great conversations with researchers in the US.
When I left college for my first job in the ESB not having access to the internet was like having my oxygen supply cut off. I went to have a chat with the head of Planning & Technology in the IT Department.
“There is this thing called the Internet” I said. Which was the beginning of a lobbying conversation to get approval for Internet access for the ESB. “Whats the business benefit?” was the key question. Access to rec.humor.funny not being the most persuasive business case in the world I went for the “tech support” angle. It was difficult to convince him that people across the world helped each other for no obvious monetary reward. “Why would they do that?” was the question. After some examples I got permission to contact IEUnet and get a trial account. My first conversation with IEUnet was “Oh, the ESB already has Internet access”. They gave me the name of the person in another part of the IT Department to contact to get access. Which I promptly did.
What is interesting is that the same question I was asked in the ESB 20 years ago are still being asked in organisations today. “Twitter, sure what would you want to be using that for?” And yes that question still gets asked.
In 20 years time it may be Twitter or Google+ or something else, but hopefully we’ll have gotten beyond the need to ask that question.