10 Years of WWILF’ing, Information Smog, and Distractions

First Computer ReceiptAlmost as if it was longing to be found and remembered on its tenth anniversary, I came across this receipt today for the first computer I ever purchased – 10 years ago today*. 

As I ponder this anniversary of sorts, it might be useful to reflect on what has changed in the 10 years since I first brought such an object (and many subsequent ones) into my house.

Firstly, computers have proliferated in my house like Tribbles, I have a basement full of relics (including this first one) and 3 of them within 10 feet of where I now sit (not even counting things like MP3 Players, GPS’s, etc.).

The wife’s irritation at their presence and the time I spend in front of them has oscillated back and forth between mild and serious annoyance.

I gained the freedom to do some work from home as well as the expectation from employers that I do work from home.  Home and work life have morphed into a single entity – but at least I now leave work on time and always make it home for supper.  Even if right after supper I am back to checking email.  

I have only read a handful of books and never again subscribed to a newspaper.  I haven’t been to a library or opened an encyclopedia in years.

I have spent probably no more than a single hour of continuous concentration on any one single thing.  A constant stream of emails, IMs, and many other digital distractions have all contributed to this attention deficit. 

More positively, as my treasured family photos have migrated to sites like Flickr, I no longer live in fear that a house fire would permanently destroy these precious items. 

Reflecting on all of this, it is useful to remember a time not so long ago when computers and the Internet were not an integral part of our daily lives.  And also perhaps worry just a bit, that the negative trends listed (the constant communications, interruptions, intrusions) will only multiply at an ever-increasing rate until we become little more than computer processors ourselves. 

Overall, looking at the past ten years, one can see that this new media age, like the TV-age that preceded it, holds the promise of even greater convenience and access to information, while taking away things like solitude and concentration.  How you feel about that I guess depends on which of those things you value more.  But enough concentration for one hour (and one decade) – time to get back to WWILF’ing** and another 10 years of digital distraction.


* It is also interesting to recall the fact that by 1998 I had worked as a computer programmer for over 2 years before I could even get enough money together to afford one.  The first year of work, I didn’t even have a computer on my desk.

** WWILF = What Was I Looking For?


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