Sunday, January 22, 2012

YAHOO WHO? (DISCOVERING THE INTERNET)

The following was first published on my old Yahoo blog in 2007. Hope you enjoy it!Stay tuned for more "reruns" (or "The Best of Cindybin")!

Yahoo Who?

I recently came across a newspaper column I wrote back when I used to be a reporter, about the local library’s new tutorial service on how to work the Internet. Written in 2001, the first part of my story talked about how I didn’t know what to expect the first time I ever signed online:

“It really isn’t all that scary,” I wrote. “The first time I used the Internet, my son—who had been on the World Wide Web at a friend’s house—helped me log on at a computer at the library. A complete novice, I expected to connect to a screen of technical mumbo jumbo instructing the user to perform a complex series of keystrokes in order to access any sort of information. Even then, I thought, the computer would only work if it felt like it. I was quite surprised when a colorful, friendly-looking screen popped up featuring the snazzy ‘Yahoo’ logo. ‘What’s Yahoo?’ I asked, noticing the teen-age patron at the next terminal looking at me like I was from another planet.

“That was two years ago. Since then, we purchased home Internet service and I don’t know how I ever got along without it, using it for research, e-mail and—my weakness—buying and selling on the auction site eBay. I even participate in chat rooms and on message boards.”

I remember the first time I ever touched a computer. It was the late 80s, I was 31 and taking a word processing course at the local junior college. I had no particular reason to take this class; we did not even have a computer at the time and I didn’t work outside the home. But I just felt like expanding my horizons and keeping up with the technological age.

So here I was a housewife in a large group comprised mainly of working girls who were taking this course for their jobs. And I was so nervous! Afraid to touch the mouse, afraid of making a mistake, afraid of the computer exploding. I thought the computer had a mind of its own and that I was at its mercy. I made little progress in the classroom, and had to ask the teacher to bail me out of many flub-ups. This was before Windows and we had to learn manual commands. I had trouble learning how to delete and highlight and move the cursor and pretty much everything.

It wasn’t until I sat down in front of a computer at my husband’s work one day and began messing around with one of these things on my own that it finally clicked. The computer DOESN’T have a mind of its own, as I had thought. It does what you tell it (for the most part, anyway), and all I had to do was arrange my document on the screen exactly the way I wanted, hit “print”, and it would spit it out for me! I was in control. I was in charge of this piece of machinery. I had nothing to fear.

After that, I was a computer whiz in the classroom—as much of a whiz as one could be at that time, at least. I went in and practiced and practiced, with my four-year-old in tow, and in the end was one of two women to receive an A in the course. And boy was I proud of myself! Miss Housewife knew how to work a mouse!

A few years later, I worked briefly in an office with several older women who were nearly computer illiterate. If they were typing along and got stuck, I would hear, “Cindyyyy! Help!” and have to come running. I still find it amusing to think that out of all my co-workers, someone like me was the most knowledgeable. But at that time, I was glad my word-processing class had paid off!

Toward the end of 1999 we finally got the Internet. My kids complained that they were the only ones in school who didn’t have Web access, because Mom always shunned the notion. “There’s nothing to DO on the Internet,” I kept insisting. Really, I truly had no idea what was out there.

I was recently telling a friend, a woman my age, about all the horribleness that I have witnessed and participated in on the World Wide Web, and how mean and cruel people can be, and how I even lost control and said some words I would never say in real life. She remarked, “I thought people couldn’t swear on the Internet.” I almost fell off my chair. Can’t swear on the Internet??? Has she been living in a cave?? Then she said that she had been to some message board one time where it said “no swearing.” I had to chuckle, and remember that this woman’s Web experiences were basically limited to exchanging a few joke emails and buying I Love Lucy memorabilia on eBay. I tried to explain that yes, there are many sites where one is instructed not to use bad language, but there are millions upon millions of other forums, boards, chat rooms and the like where literally “anything goes”. I still don’t think she quite understood.

Oh how I sometimes wish I could go back to that day when I had never heard of Yahoo and when I, too, thought one would never see a naughty word on a computer screen. Ignorance can be bliss. It is, however, nice to no longer be afraid of a mouse.