Falling Behind or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Internet

I happen to have been born at a time when I was able to get on the Internet almost as soon as there was an Internet to get on.  I was in college in 1992, and so I remember the gradual shift from Gopher and FTP sites to browsers and web sites. I say this not to brag, but to note that I’ve witnessed a lot of changes in the web and that I understand it never sits still.

Within the past few months, though, I’ve felt behind the curve a couple times.

The first relates to the growing popularity of musical.ly with the pre-teen audience. My daughter, who at 8 years old is not “online” in any meaningful sense of the word, asked me if she could create a musical.ly account so she could share music videos with her gymnastics teammates (many of whom are a bit older than she is).  For the first time, I needed to research a social media site as an outsider, as a parent whose child wanted in. It was an interesting learning experience.  In the end, we created a shared account for her and my wife, the account is private, and we screen all activity.  I’m sure that experience will evolve.

I’ve discussed this experience with a few parents who just threw up their hands. “I have no idea what all that stuff is.”  I refuse to do that – and I hope that my active participation in these events will help alleviate some of the issues that will undoubtedly plague my friends when their kids are active on networks they’ve never even heard of.

As a side note, it may just be confirmation bias, but it seemed that after we did this analysis, news stories started popping up about how musical.ly was the first social network to really gain traction with the preteen crowd, so it may be that I was not as behind the curve as I thought.

The second time relates to Minecraft – or more broadly, to video content and search.

This, again, involves my daughter, and her growing interest in the game Minecraft, which she plays on her Fire tablet. She asked to watch videos of people playing Minecraft (for us old folks, this is like watching people fish on TV when it’s raining and we can’t fish), and so we sat together and watched other people play one of her favorite games.  As a result, she was exposed to some impressive Minecraft concepts way above her current capabilities as a world designer – everything from simple powered roller coasters to complex computational devices.  She asked me to build a theme park with her, and I agreed to download the client and work with her on it.

Before we did that, I wanted to learn some key Minecraft concepts.  Armed with two decades of internet savvy, I began digging through the incredible amount of noise out there to try and find out the key information I wanted.  I spent a measurable amount of time over several days sifting through noise and learning not much, which is a frustrating situation for someone used to being able to pluck answers out of Google results without even following the links!  I picked up facts, but no context.  I struggled to find relevant information.  Videos kept popping up in my search results but I didn’t have time to sit and watch videos; I wanted documents I could read!

Of course, this is where I was behind the curve.  This information is not being kept up this way, and I’m not sure why. Is it because video is easier to monetize? Is it because today’s gaming audience demands video?  I’m not sure. In any case, I finally gave in and watched some videos, and I found rich, compelling presentations of in-depth tutorials right away.  Sure, there’s a lot of noise out there too, but it took just a couple minutes to find the exact information I needed.

I grew up playing video games.  I’m no stranger to having obscure web sites open while you play a game to get the exact formula for damage modifiers, or diminished returns on investment in specific stat points, or what have you.  If you want my video game nerd credibility, let’s talk about IAS cutoffs for Amazons in Diablo II.  But the idea that I would have to sit and watch someone else playing the game to learn what I wanted was very challenging to my worldview.

I’m sure the information I wanted is out there in written form, but it’s very hard to search for, and the results I needed were right in front of my face in video form.  I just needed to give up on the idea that the most efficient way to find and consume the data was in documents.

This is how you get left behind, I realize.  It’s easy to freeze your worldview and assume that anything that comes after it is transient or silly.  Of course, the notion that you would need a graphical browser to navigate web content was once somewhat controversial as well, so ….