KIRBY: The future we didn’t see coming our way

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.


– Søren Kierkegaard


Twenty-two years ago this week, I leaped into the future by signing up for the internet.

I could tell you that I was a forward-thinking newsroom leader who foresaw what was coming and was driven to get there first. But that would not be true.

I actually had a home computer for three years before taking this big step, so it wasn’t like I was in a hurry.

I bought that computer – a clunky little Compaq – in the early 1990s for a history writing project that paid pretty well but needed to be handled at home.

Mostly it was a glorified typewriter and I taught myself how to use it through trial and error, the latter often making the former formidable. The “solitaire” feature was my favorite part.

Those early years passed slowly, but the internet began to beckon.

That’s why in 1995 I went next door to the Z-Net office in the old Georgia Railroad bank building and signed up. I think my wife approved the expense as my “Christmas present.” (She got a Ford Explorer.)

I even installed my own modem, and soon I was Web surfing, or more accurately “Web wading” in the shallow end of the Information Age pool. There wasn’t that much out there.

Internet service was slow and there were no pictures, for me at least. It was all text, brought to me by a search engine called Gopher – named for the mascot of the University of Minnesota, which developed it.

I read a lot of stories from the Raleigh newspapers because they were ahead of everyone back then. I even printed out some and took them into work the next day in case someone else wanted to read them. I did not share via e-mail because nobody I knew had e-mail. But that changed quickly. In fact, as we all know, everything changed quickly.

It wasn’t long before I had to buy a new computer for home. E-mail exploded and the rest is history.

I don’t think those changes have come in a gradual climb up the peak to the present, but more often in leaps to the latest plateau, where things stay level for a while until another hurdle is needed. Home computers yield to laptops, which are overtaken with smart phones, which we use until the next stage reveals itself.

Until then, I spend much of my work time and my free time on the internet. Even when I go to the dentist’s office, as I did last week, I find myself sitting in the waiting room reading stuff on my cell phone.

I visit my parents and always find my father, almost 90, devoted to his iPad, from which he will occasionally look up to announce, “I e-mailed you a story …”

My cell phone suddenly beeps in my pocket. The future just arrived.

Soon it will be the past.


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