My first recollection of the computer dates back to 1998. I was only six years old at the time and was unsure of how it worked. I did not dare question the computer’s inner workings and instead treated it as a more interactive version of the television. At the time, my family computer was located in the playroom and I split my time on it evenly with my two siblings. I remember sitting on a bright red chair at a desk littered with floppy disks waiting for the iconic Windows 98 screen to appear:
Once logged in, I had the option of playing Minesweeper or Amazon Trail via CD-ROM. Once a week, I also played a game to learn how to type quickly and efficiently without looking down at the keyboard. Over time, I began to amass a larger collection of compact discs. My favorite game quickly became Jumpstart Math: Frankie’s Backyard Adventure, which featured a talking dog who had been shrunk by a Queen Bee as punishment for digging holes. The game consisted of a series of mathematical activities that eventually resulted in the restoration of Frankie’s original size. At school, I spent an equal amount of time on the Reading Rainbow—a multiple choice quiz game that allowed you to accumulate points after reading books. My elementary school kept track of how many points each student accumulated after each month and handed out awards accordingly.
A few years later, I can recall using a NetZero dial-up connection in order to access AOL’s Instant Messenger—a text-based program that allowed users to communicate with one another. My friends and I also used Yahoo’s GeoCities platform, via Internet Explorer 3, to create personal webpages. We would post basic information, such as our birthdays and favorite sports, and share photos of cartoons. Almost everyone I knew at school used both of these services. As I became more familiar with the Internet I began using more advanced programs, like Napster and KaZaA. The peer-to-peer programs allowed users to share music free of cost at a time when music was almost exclusively heard on the radio or CD player. Surprisingly, I cannot remember the search engine I used at the time.
By middle school, my family had upgraded both the computer and Internet connection. I could now enjoy more interactive online games, equipped with chat services. Throughout my early teenage years, for instance, I spent most of my time playing Yahoo online chess against friends and people around the world. Occasionally, I also played offline games like Snood, but by this point, most of my digital life was on the Internet. MySpace provided the final impetus toward an online-driven culture at my school. I remember arriving home less than thirty minutes after class and seeing the majority of my friends online on MySpace. People I had never had a conversation with at school were suddenly my friends online. In an instant, every social interaction or event had the potential to be transmitted and memorialized. Even at this nascent stage in social media, I could already sense the loss of privacy that came with a more public presence online.
Today, accessing the Internet on my phone is a daily occurrence. I check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Feedly, and Gmail almost hourly. I still use my computer, but mainly for academic purposes, such as writing a paper. Although I speak Spanish at home, the only language I use online is English. I believe this contributes to a US-centric bias on the Internet. Despite my almost constant use of the Internet, I am very careful about what kind of information I transmit. I am aware that what I post or say through Facebook or Gmail is not my own property, but that of the company whose service I am utilizing. That is both a troubling and limiting byproduct of the Internet these days, however, I am willing to accept the tradeoff in order to enjoy its benefits. Online companies have greatly facilitated my life. Apart from communicating with people, I am able to access my bank account, pay friends, and watch my favorite shows through Bank of America, Venmo, and Netflix. As a whole, I believe I manage my online information fairly well and am able to greatly simplify my life through the Internet.
“Let’s Play Jumpstart 1st Grade Math: Frankie’s Backyard Adventure Part 1.” YouTube, 12 Aug. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.
“Napster Screenshot.” 2005. JPG file.
Swigger, Nathaniel. “For Young People, the More Involved in Social Media You Are, the Less Privacy Matters.” London School of Economics, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2013/09/24/social-media-privacy-freedom-of-speech
“Windows 98 Load Screen.” 2014. JPG file.