The one with the grey laptop.

I remember the first time I encountered the Internet. It was 1996. It was a sunny day. I was inside, in my father’s office, watching him hook up his grey laptop. It was the only device with a modem card installed. He opened the device, selected the modem connection window, pressed start and we listened to our phone line dialing. For the next half hour our family was unavailable to pick up the phone. The internet was using it.

The sounds stopped, my father double-clicked on the lighthouse icon and Netscape loaded steadily for the next 10 minutes. I forgot what we searched for or if we just stared at the browser screen, unable to grasp the singularity of that moment. All I remember is that it was a glorious day.

20 years later, the Internet has expanded beyond the boundaries of my imagination. Approximately 40% of the world population is connected and about 1.5 billion have an active Facebook account. And interestingly enough, there are still 50 million or so active MySpace users.

Sources vary but per minute about 640TB data is being transferred and 200 million emails are being sent. I can only estimate the number of likes and shares in that same minute. The sheer immensity of these numbers makes it impossible to grasp their true meaning and I have trouble relating to what these numbers mean emotionally or what they mean to society.

My brain seems naturally predisposed to think micro instead of macro. For instance, when it comes to memorization, the method of loci, used to memorize π to 67,000 digits, focuses on deconstructing a number and attributing each element to a certain object in, for instance, a building. In the end the number is no longer a number but has become part of a personal story. It is just one of many examples that strengthen my belief that faith in technology is just an expression of the human acknowledgement of its own fallibility.

Since the day my family sat around that small, heavy, grey laptop and watched the Internet load, the challenge of memorization has been overcome. Our collective memory is now in the cloud, yet scattered and often difficult to contextualize. The new challenge lies in improving our understanding, building a story that makes sense and closing the gap between data and knowledge. Google is probably working on it but until then it is up to us.

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