Super Jayhawk (super_jayhawk) wrote,
Super Jayhawk

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Old man rant -- Why nobody can remember anything any more

Many aeons ago, a third of a century ago in fact, when I was young, I knew my home phone number. This was in a time where there was one phone in the entire house, and maybe one in the master bedroom. (and you could have any color phone you wanted, so long as it was black or white). I can still remember it now, 888-2369, even though we moved out of that particular house 30 years ago.

This morning I was going to call a family member from my office phone, and realized that I had no idea what their number was any more-- I had to go to the HawkMobile and get my cell phone, where the number was stored. It was even worse when I switched phones last year, since there was no nice way to transfer the numbers. When I ask people for their own number, often times they don't even know what it is. Everybody moves around so much that the number I had for them last year isn't any good anyway, and if I actually take the trouble to remember it, it's out of date. And it was even worse before cellular phones carriers finally added number portability when you changed carriers.

When I first got on the Internet twenty years ago next month (April 1989) while still a student at KU, there was no world wide web yet, and a lot of sites didn't have DNS. There were no search engines, even the Archie FTP search engine hadn't been invented yet, much the less Webcrawler or Google. All you had was telnet and the arcane FTP, where you had to remember all the settings like hash, prompt, and bin. There was a highly sought-after document called the Anon-FTP List that was a list of systems you could log into anonymously. It even had hard IP addresses since a lot of places didn't do DNS (relying on a big hosts file on the machine). Bookstores didn't even have any books on the Internet yet. You memorized FTP site names by heart : I can still remember a good chunk of the anon-ftp list even twenty years later. (and I still even remember the numbers of the BBS's I used to call 25 years ago-- especially when you have to dial them by hand, you memorize the phone number really fast)

I was recently over at a friend's house, and they asked me to help them with their eBay page. So on my laptop, I went to the top address bar on Firefox and typed, "" into the address bar. They stopped and asked me, "What in the world are you doing?" I said, I was typing in the address to go to the website they had wanted. They said, "Oh, I never do that, I type the keyword into the Google search bar on the right to go anywhere."

I immediately wanted to facepalm. We went from online young'uns thinking AOL was the entire Internet and using AOL keywords to them thinking Google is the entire Internet and using Google keywords to go anywhere. I said, "Well, what if Google wasn't working that day?". They looked at me like I was forecasting the apocalypse.

And their face really fell when I opened a terminal command line window on the Mac. "What is THAT?"

I still type addresses to go to websites, because in the early days of Netscape and Mosaic, you couldn't have that many bookmarks or it would slow down big-time, since you only had 8-16 MB of RAM. Old habits die hard, I guess.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about a store he recommended for something I was looking to buy. I asked him, "Ok, how do you get there?" He had no idea. "I just punch it into the GPS and it takes me there, I don't remember any details". Well, do you have the address? "Of course not! Why would I need that?"

Now, I have a GPS in my car too, but the map data is out of date, and it's not all that practical to drive using the iPhone. I still keep these ancient Thomas Guide maps from the late '90s/early 00's in the car just in case the GPS crashes, like every time I drive to Smash Mountain. But I've caught myself not remembering how to get somewhere because I followed the GPS turn-by-turn and later ended up the passenger in someone else's car where they didn't have the waypoint and I had to struggle to remember how to get there.

Someone came by my place when I wasn't home a few years ago and left me a note on my door. The spelling was appalling, I was kind of shocked (and no, it wasn't my dyslexic friend). Then I realized everybody uses spell checkers now, and when suddenly without one, nobody remembers how to spell. Growing up, we had to take spelling tests! Spell checkers hadn't been invented yet!

Why, back in my day, if you wanted information about how a computer worked, you had these sacred texts, and you guarded them with your life, like they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. Classics like the old DOS manuals, the MASM instruction set guide, ancient arcana like Apple II Monitors Peeled. VMS Manuals were all the same color. And you sure weren't buying them at Waldenbooks, you had to get them from a computer store. They were priceless books of magic, many of which you can't get any more.

I have co-workers and colleagues that think I'm nuts for all the dead tree computer manuals I still collect to this day, but link rot is a huge problem with references on the web. The page that you've been using for your old reference material a few years ago may be utterly gone. It gets even worse with old articles that I've bookmarked that end giving me a 404 later on, leaving me with only a vague recollection of what it was about.

And don't get me started on passwords-- it drives me nuts that I have to use the "forgot password" link on websites now, and end up using the browser's cached password as a crutch to get in (which can be really annoying when I'm on a different system). Back in the BBS days, you called maybe 3-4 different systems on a regular basis, and remembering your login and password was pretty easy. Now I have to memorize a ridiculous amount of passwords and PINs that you're not supposed to write down and keep memorized. Perhaps this is why people can't remember domain names or driving directions any more, we've used all the memory space for passwords!

To be fair, the world is a much more complex place now than it was back when I was young. If you wanted to take out something from starting up every time you booted your computer back then, you took it out of your AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS. Now you have to regedit HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run in the Windows registry to do the same thing. I suspect most people have no idea on how to do that, much the less being scared of even running regedit. Everybody has several phone numbers now, and for better or worse, the barrier to entry to get online has been lowered dramatically (like it or not).

But all someone like Dr. Evil has to do to really screw all of us up is mess up a few root DNS servers, the GPS constellation and take out a few search engines, and nobody will be able to go anywhere, do anything, or call anyone. I wonder what archaeologists in the future will make of our time in history, if there's much left to look at.
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