I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about how much the web has changed my life. And the lives of others.
It’s integrated me — an esoteric iconoclast with a long history of injuries and interpersonal issues — into the mainstream in ways that I never before dreamed possible.
This is nothing short of a miracle. When I was growing up, I had such intense problems with other people and completing basic tasks, that I was often ejected from the midst of “regular people” (like after my head injury at age 8, when I was removed from my gifted students class because I was both unable to keep my attention on the subjects we were studying, and I was also becoming an increasingly disruptive influence on the class). The problems didn’t diminish as I grew older, either. If anything, they intensified, with considerable social consequence.
As I grew up (I won’t say “matured” ;) I found myself so often at odds with everything around me, that I became increasingly marginalized, to the point where I could not hold a regular job and I could not perform the duties of the jobs I did have with any reliable regularity. But when I got into the world of computers, I found I was actually able to keep my attention on my work and perform valuable duties that earned me good money. The world wide web, in particular, made me more of a wage-earner than I ever thought I’d be. It’s made it possible for me to purchase a reliable car, to buy a house, to keep my pets healthy with proper veterinary care, to support valuable cultural initiatives that otherwise would not be able to exist, to have clothes that grant me entrance to the land of civilized people.
For someone who was for a long time socially marginal (as in, extremely and vehemently “alternative” to the point of being borderline feral), the influx of not only adequate money to pay grown-up bills, but also of work opportunities that not only challenged me but rewarded me with social acceptance and recognition, has had nothing short of a dramatic transformative effect. I would not be the person I am in the world, today, if it were not for the world wide web. You would not be reading this (obviously) if it weren’t for the web — and I would probably never have been able to write it.
On the personal side, the web made it possible for me to learn and study and research a wide variety of subjects, where before I was limited by the time I had to get to the library, not to mention which libraries I could get into. It’s also put me in touch with cutting-edge research that would normally only be available to professionals and people privy to the inner sanctum. Basically, it’s put me on somewhat similar footing (at least in terms of access) to information that used to only be far out of reach.
Email, too, has made it possible for me to communicate with other people in ways that eluded me for years. I remember the day it dawned on me that I could actually communicate with my parents now, because they had email (at last, after I’d been nagging them to get it for a few years). I not only had a window of time in which to pause and reflect on how to respond to them, but I also had their words in print, so when my mother came back and said “I never said that!” (as she is wont to do), I could counter with “Yes, you did!” and produce written proof. I avoided any contact with my parents for a number of years, because of communication problems. But having email solved some of the most significant issues that stood between me talking with them as regular human beings. This is also quite amazing, considering the level of estrangement between my folks and me, 20 years ago.
Forums and blogs have enabled me to have conversations with others that are paced as I like them — with plenty of time to step away and consider my response before I type and send it (which is important, because I’m known to unintentionally flame people, or just get all worked up over things and let fly at the drop of a hat). And while I did screw up a lot of my initial encounters, I could just drop out of the thread, beat a hasty retreat, and think about how I was going to re-enter the conversation — or if it was better that I just left well enough alone.
Going online lets me participate with other people without worrying about what I look like, what I sound like, if I speak too fast or too slow, if I fidget and twitch, if I forget what I was going to say, if I get confused by someone’s demeanor, if I get intimidated by my surroundings or crash and burn in sensory overload. It lets me speak my mind as a real person, not the person someone else imagines I am. It lets me measure my words and make sure I’m saying exactly what I meant to say, not get turned around on the spot and then either teased or mocked or dismissed as a result.
The online world lets me be fully human without the tbi-induced dangers of in-person interaction.
Yes, the web has changed my life. And for the better, in oh so many ways.
As they say over at A List Apart:
“Possibly the most important invention of the past century, the web is undeniably one of the most robust engines of knowledge transfer, political and social change, artistic endeavor, and economic growth the world has seen.
Remove the web, and billions in trade disappear. Websites enable people who can’t walk to run to the store. They bring knowledge and freedom of thought to places where such things are scarce; make every person with a connection a citizen of the world; and allow every citizen to be heard.”
Computers, in general, have made a huge difference in my life. I must admit that before I started working with computers, I was pretty limited. I was restricted to being a typist or secretary. I was limited to doing work that did not suit me, that was highly social in nature (because the non-social jobs went to people with college degrees, and I was unable — for a number of reasons — to ever complete my college degree). Computers made it possible for me to learn as I learned best — hands-on and at my own pace, which is different from others’ paces. I tend to go much faster or much slower than others. In many ways, I am unteachable in the traditional sense. A standard classroom environment just doesn’t work with me. My pacing is just not like other people’s, and I suffered for it for many years in the pre-computer job market.
But from the first time I sat down in front of a computer to learn something new — WordStar for DOS at my temp agency in 1987 — I’ve taken to it — that format, that forum — like a fish that’s been out of water for far too long. At last, I had a way to not only work, but also LEARN, and increase my skills — and employability and my earnability — far beyond anything that I had ever imagined.
After a lifetime of being told that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t like other people, because I didn’t learn like other people, because I didn’t process information like other people… at last, here was a way for me to not only show that I wasn’t worse because of my differences, but I was actually a whole lot BETTER than anyone had ever dreamed I was. At last I wasn’t going to waste anymore.
At last, I had the right environment to work in. At last, I had the right kind of support in doing my work — a silent box humming away in front of me, not telling me I was an idiot, I was lazy, I was stupid, I was a loser. It just told me “Yes” or “No” or “Try again” — without making me feel stupid in the process. At last, I had the right venues and avenues to use my skills and talents and inclinations.
With the massive assistive technology that the computed world is — with the desktops, laptops, email, world wide web, forums, websites, blogs, instant messaging, and more — it’s more than possible for me to excel at what I do best — logically process information and come up with solutions to tricky problems that stump other people. It’s more than possible. It’s now probable. And I can earn a living at it and build a life on that foundation.
And while part of me thinks I wouldn’t mind it at all, if I never put my hands on another keyboard, and part of me would like to find work that offers me more exercise and flexibility and less immobile staring at a screen all day, I know deep in my heart that my life — and the lives of all the people I interact with each day, the people I love, the people I support, the people I work with — just wouldn’t be the same without computers and the online world.
I need the assistance.
I need the connection.
I need to be as fully human as I can be, and use all my skills and talents to their fullest.
If that means I do it through keystrokes and wires, then so be it.