So, there’s this video going around — a YouTube video, of course, because I don’t think I’ve set eyes on an actual VHS tape since the early years of the Bush administration — of Katie Couric, in 1994, trying to understand this newfangled thing called “the Internet.”
Katie starts off the clip by debating the meaning of the @ symbol: her co-host insists it means “at,” even though that sounds so weird, and Katie thinks it must mean either “around,” or maybe “about.” It takes them a little while, but finally they clear up that deeply confusing issue, and then they’re left to wonder whether the Internet is a massive network of tubes owned by all these universities, or maybe a way to send a letter through a phone line!
You can hear in Katie’s voice that up until that exact day in 1994, she’s thought about the Internet, or maybe computers in general, the way I think about those flashcards that my pre-med suitemates are currently using to study for the chemistry section of their MCATs: something that is definitely a real thing and important in some abstract way, but which I have never bothered to learn about because I know with 100 percent certainty that it will never directly affect my life. And it’s like now, suddenly, she has realized that for some reason in the coming years EVERYONE will be talking about MCAT chemistry flashcards, which will be the technology of the future and will control her life.
And she’s asking what she thinks is a very simple question — she’s asking, very politely, if some lady named Allison can please explain to her (and all the viewers out there in TV-land) what the Internet is. But the thing is (and here Katie’s face falls in a very heart-tugging way), Allison is not in the studio yet, and therefore no one can explain the Internet! Katie, and all those loyal Today Show viewers, are left hanging.
From there, the YouTube clip segues into a discussion of some earthquake that apparently happened in California in 1994 (who knew?), and that is when I stopped paying attention, mostly because I was thinking smugly that the 2011 version of me, Cokey, is so much more savvy and knowledgeable than the 1994 version of Katie Couric. I, as someone who was only 4 in 1994 and is therefore part of GenY (which is, according to Wikipedia, ”generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies”), know the Internet like the back of my hand(-held digital communication device). Basically, Katie Couric is an idiot, LMAO.
Except that then I thought about it for a second, and it turns out that I actually have absolutely no idea what the Internet is. I know what the Internet can do, or can give me, or can distract me from, but it may as well be a series of small invisible gnome men running around performing magic spells inside my computer for all the actual technical knowledge I have about it. In order to do something about this ignorance, I looked up “the Internet” on the Internet (SO META), and got this:
“The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) to serve billions of users worldwide.”
What I get from that definition (thank you, Wikipedia), is “something something network something blah worldwide,” which pretty much sounds like it could be a tagline for “The Social Network.” Perhaps the Internet and Facebook are one and the same — I would not be surprised if Mark Zuckerberg had used his evil empire to force all those magical gnomes into indentured servitude by now.
I think that maybe I could understand the Internet if I tried, just like I could understand MCAT flashcards if I threw away my social life (“social life”) and cried a lot. My friend, who apparently understands the Internet in terrifyingly excruciating detail, even tried to explain it to me, and I followed enough to get that I should probably start referring to the magical gnomes as “servers,” even if that seems insensitive to me. Overall, however, I am not actually that different from the 1994 version of Katie Couric — a thought that is both humbling and, based on her haircut that year, terrifying.
I do understand how to pronounce the @ symbol, though. So suck on that, Katie.