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Monday, February 13, 2006

Little House and Google

Brinke Guthrie worked in commercial radio for most of his career, including a stint at CNET as website editor. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a BFA in Radio-TV-Film. Brinke and his wife live in the Bay Area, together with a growing collection of 60’s Gerry Anderson DVDs, diecast spaceships, stuffed animals, and anything Pixar creates.

My wife and I watch mostly retro-TV. Since the current reality-crazed state of television is so abysmal, we like to watch 70’s shows such as “The Waltons,” “Andy Griffith,” “Bonanza,” and “Little House on the Prairie.”

Often times, when I come across some new gadget or the “latest killer app” on-line, I think, “Well, how would the Ingalls family have dealt with this? Wouldn’t it make their life a lot easier?”

The Ingalls family set up their Little House in the 1860s-1870s I believe. And what would they have said to some of the internet wonders we now see.

Think about it. If I want to find out about anything, from Dick Cheney’s medical history to the Matt Mason astronaut figure I had as a kid...I go to Google. BAM. If Laura and Mary wanted to know about something, Ms. Beadle up at the schoolhouse was their only resource.

Do I want to type a live conversation with the fellow in Hong Kong that sells me stuff from eBay? Tap tap tap. Through IM, this guy is seeing the words I type in real time.

The Ingalls would have to hitch up the horse and buggy and ride into Walnut Grove, mail a letter and wait for a month to get a reply. When was the last time you wrote an actual letter to someone asking how they were?

Or how about live video? A web-cam does the trick. Want to see the photos of our picnic? Let me email them to you. Want to hear a few songs off the new CD I just bought? I’ll make MP3s and email them right off.

These are all modern miracles that they would never have dreamed. But with all of these modern miracles, there is a steep price to be paid.

People can become more detached and disassociated with one another. Personally, I don’t ever need to pick up the phone. Send me the email, and I’m fine.

But we become insulated from the rest of society. The surging advancement of technology tends to dehumanize culture at the very same time it enhances it.

Google is a terrific example. Two grad students at Stanford cobble some PCs together, and the end result is a business that literally has changed the way the world operates. What a stunning achievement – one that ranks up with Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and the like. Now, you don’t have to get in the car and go to the library. Tap, tap, tap- the library comes to you. Would I have liked to have had Google when I did all those reports in high school? I think so.

There are other landmark companies of the Net Age, to be sure. Companies like eBay, Amazon, and Yahoo! have all made enormous cultural and technological advances that have shifted the way we talk, eat, sleep, and interact. Social, political, and geographical boundaries have blurred to create a true global community, at least from a techno-standpoint. China, though, still has issues, as Larry and Sergey have noted.

I am definitely a Net fan. I can’t wait to finally fiddle with the new Yahoo! Mail beta...if they ever release it to me. I love to tinker with the latest beta from Google. And last but not least, I met my wonderful wife on-line! I literally would not be sitting here typing this had it not been for Dell and ICQ. And Tim Berners-Lee.

But with all the inherent coolness of being able to IM someone in Hong Kong or receive MP3 files from the UK, which I in turn forwarded onto someone in Hawaii (DSL is great, isn’t it?)...I still think the simple life back on the prairie might be the way to go. Talk about peace and quiet. Pa plays the fiddle, Ma does some sewing, while Laura and Mary do their homework by candlelight with a tablet and pencil, and Carrie does...well, whatever it was she did.

But, I know that Laura Ingalls, being a teacher, would go for a Mac.


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