Contributed by Konstantinos Komaitis
“Firsts” are important – our first steps, our first kiss, our first job. For me, so was the first time I got online.
It was 1998 and I was in Germany, where I would be spending 6 months as part of an exchange university program. The excitement and anticipation of studying abroad was overwhelming. That was until I got to realize that using the Internet was part of the deal. I vividly recall some text on the registration package that read: “All communication between the university and students will be done electronically. Please make sure you check your email account regularly. We wish you a happy semester.” That was it; no option! If you were a student wishing to study at this university, you had to get connected.
Up until then, a computer was an alien concept to me; needless to say, the Internet. I had heard rumors about it but I was clueless. A computer was a clunky machine and the Internet was an abstract concept.
Within the first five minutes, I was converted. I was hooked. By the time I managed to rest my enthusiasm, reality hit: Using the Internet was fun and much easier than I had imagined. And, then a couple of realizations hit as well.
The first thing I realized was that it was easy to relate to what the Internet could do. We all love information and communication. “Man is a social animal”, my teachers preached. Suddenly, what Aristotle so acutely said centuries ago, made perfect sense. I was sending emails to friends, I was instant messaging with others and all while I was listening to music and was in my pjs. As a young expat in a new country, I did not feel all that alone.
The second thing I realized was even more significant: the Internet had an inescapable ability to inspire. The Internet allows us to hear stories and learn new things. We are constantly exposed to information and data. In the Internet, information never stops. Some argue that this information overload is not healthy and can be detrimental to one’s ability to make individual choices and decision. Let me tell you that if it wasn’t for all the information, I believe I would not be the person I am today. And, I am not exaggerating.
I owe a lot to the Internet, but in particular I owe much of my curiosity. I was always curious – you know, one of these annoying children that constantly asks ‘why this’ and ‘why that’. And, in this never-ending process of asking questions, most of the time I was receiving non-satisfactory answers. Above all, however, the one thing that annoyed me the most was the fact that I was depending on others for answers. Often I would go to the library and search for them. But, even the library was not big enough to quench my curiosity and answer all my questions. Questions gave birth to more questions, which generated more questions, which demanded more answers.
The Internet managed to give me the satisfaction and individuality I was looking for. With the Internet, it felt I was a master of my own life – I was informed, which meant I was able to make rational choices. I felt in control. And, it wasn’t a faux sense of control. It was control that emanated from the belief of being informed. And, this has not stopped even today. The Internet continues to be the place that I turn to when I want to travel, read, get entertained, work, communicate and learn. And, the excitement is still there. It still feels like the very first time.
So, it is indeed true that the Internet as a global experience is simply impossible. I, for one, had no idea that it was possible for it to have such a profound impact on my life. I am a big fun of the Internet – but I am a bigger fan about its humility to inspire and allow the imagination to never settle.
Konstantinos Komaitis, PhD, Internet policy aficionado, accidental scholar and, secretly geek. Still impressed with the Internet.
Image by Adrián Márquez Ballesteros, available from https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-GuG-rA6H9Kg/T6r90Sm9FUI/AAAAAAAAAQ8/uXIjS-oAz3g/s800/Inspira%252C%2520portada_1024.jpg, licensed under Creative Commons BY NC ND http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/