What’s Your Internet Story?
I lost my virginity to the internet when I was 14. I remember hooking up to dial-up internet and waiting the agonizing three minutes for the modem to connect. The raspy noise of dialing and re-dialing created enough tension in the room that it seemed like we were watching the finale of a telenovela instead of a computer screen. Once it did, a majestic voice erupted from my speakers announcing “You’ve Got Mail.” Wow only seconds in to my internet experience and people were already communicating.
I had opened up a portal in my small one bedroom apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles to an infinite landscape of information and knowledge. But before I could get to that infinite knowledge I had to wait another minute and a half for my browser to fully load. Where to go…www…dot…anything I wanted. My first choice…Yahoo. Up until that point Yahoo was just something I knew existed on the internet, plus they had the funny ad with the yodeling dude…YYAAAHOOOOOO.
My family stood around watching me, I had monumentally been the first member of my family to make it to the internet. That fact just hit me now. I can’t really know how they felt, but I imagine it’s very similar to my feelings when I watch rugby. There are moments when you know it’s important, and you know you should cheer but you don’t know what about? It was clear that for my mom the internet was just a concept and that the real significance to my life and to everyone’s lives around us was not really apparent.
My father, an on-again off-again presence in my life had committed to pay for the AOL monthly dial-up charges. That commitment lasted only 6-months, so after tasting the “infinite landscape of knowledge” I was back to reading from my set of the 1994 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. From time to time my mom could afford to pay for AOL, but I didn’t regain consistent use of the internet until I got to college. Since then the internet has been an important piece of my life socially and professionally. If you’re reading this, then you know.
My story is unique but it’s not an uncommon experience. The consequences of not having the internet today are far worse, impacting people’s work life, health, education and in the numerous tangential ways that that seem to be influenced by an increasingly digitized society. It’s those stories of barriers and challenges that should shape the future of the internet.
In response to that, last week we launched the Minnesota Digital Justice Coalition. A group of social justice organizations committed to shaping an internet accountable to digitally marginalized communities. Made up of organizations in the Twin Cities as well as in Greater Minnesota, this coalition of groups collectively have the knowledge and experience to speak to the real challenges our respective communities face. In the short time it’s been assembled, the MN Digital Justice Coalition has already provided valuable input to issues like net neutrality and mobile broadband access.
At that gathering last week, people in the room were asked to draw a picture of what their relationship to the internet is. Much like my story, it was a combination of good and bad, but the real lesson in the activity was that we each have a relationship whether we want to or not. The same is true for people in our communities that don’t have access on their cell phone or at home. The relationship is always there, and our work is to make sure it’s a good one.
What’s your internet story? Check out what kids in Moorhead MN are saying.