What did we do before the Internet?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

Trying to get around in a new state, new city can be pretty tricky, and I have no idea how people did it before the existence of the Internet.

When I first moved to Virginia Beach, I was homebound until I got high-speed cable Internet hooked up in my apartment. Sure, I knew where the grocery store was, since I could see it from my bedroom window;, but beyond that, without the help of Google and my trusty (for the most part) MapQuest, I’d have been like a blind man running through a maze.

Sure, I know there are these things called maps, but they don’t give the same kind of detailed information one can find online, and it certainly can’t be found with as much expediency.

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Working as a reporter, I’ve got to run all over Suffolk and half of Isle of Wight, plus the occasional trips to Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Driving around so much has helped me learn the area better, but when I get lost, I’m screwed.

It’s funny, too, to see the generation gaps in an office. At the last newspaper I worked for, there were two of us reporters in our early 20s, while the editor was mid-to-late 30s. He joked about how kids today have it so easy, especially in college.

He had to complete research papers using a card catalogue and the, what’s it called – Dewey Decimal System?

He still hadn’t gotten completely comfortable with the World Wide Web for everyday work questions. For instance, if I needed an address or phone number to something, I might ask if he knew it off the top of his head. If not, he’d go for the phone book. Meanwhile, I typed my query in Google and had my information before he could even turn to the right page.

It still happens with some of us here, which is not to say it’s a bad thing to do it the old-fashioned way. It just makes me laugh sometimes at the different mindsets we all have, even though we’re just, in some cases, a decade apart.

It makes me wonder, too, how much more kids 10 years my junior utilize and depend on the Internet.

But apparently it is not just a generation thing. I read an article on www.cnn.com that said a recent survey found that nearly half of all U.S. Internet users went online to get help with major life decisions.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project is a non-profit group that conducted the survey. It found that “an estimated 60 million Americans said the Internet helped them make big decisions or face a major moment in their life during the previous two years.”

People used it for career training, choosing a school for a family member, helping another person with a major illness, buying a new car, looking for a new place to live, etc.

That makes my Google and MapQuest dependency seem a little less pathetic.

And again, it makes me wonder, how did we live without the Internet? And if, somehow, it was all gone tomorrow, could we function without it?