Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Your Intertubes

NHTSA sent me this resource, which allows you to enter your Vehicle Identification Number and find out if there are any open recalls on your vehicle. (Not to worry, the inquiry goes to the manufacturer, not Admiral Rogers, and you don't have to give any other info. Your state registry of motor vehicles already knows you own the car.) This is a very handy way to possibly save your life, but it also got me to thinking.

I believe I mentioned here a few weeks ago a bizarre incident my freshman year in college, when a guy who was a Harvard graduate pretended to have spent his post-high school years in the army and managed to get admitted to, and briefly attend, Swarthmore College as a freshman. Still don't know why he did it, but this story would play out entirely differently today. In fact, I believe it would have been pretty much impossible. If his name was Bob Smith, he might have had an outside chance but even then I don't think so. And even if he made it as far as freshman orientation, he would have lasted two days, tops. So there are good things and bad things about our loss of privacy, actually. If you were thinking about dating Bob, or investing in his brilliant business idea, you might want to know that he was a fraud.

But then I got to thinking about other technological differences in how this story would have transpired, as well as how our entire lives were organized. We obviously didn't have our own telephones. There was one telephone at the end of the dormitory hallway. Your mother could call, whereupon somebody would possibly answer it and write down a message, which you might eventually see. But you couldn't call her back on the same phone, you had to go to the pay phone in the lobby. If you wanted to track down your girlfriend, you'd just have to tell people you were looking for her and somebody might bump into her. But by that time you would be somewhere else.

If you wanted to track down a fact, you've have to go to the library and consult reference books, which were at least 18 months out of date. If somebody was reading the magazine you wanted, you'd just have to wait. If they had stolen it (not unlikely), you were SOL. The first time I wanted to do a Medline search, which became possible around 1986, I had to mail $50 to the National Library of Medicine along with a list of keywords. They then mailed me a printout of abstracts. I then had to go to the library and if they happened to subscribe to that journal, I could read the paper, assuming I had a library card.

I could go on but you get the idea. The way we live has changed so drastically during my lifetime that it is largely unrecognizable. Yet I hardly noticed as it was happening and it all just seems normal now. Well, it isn't.

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