First published on New Year's Day 2010
#tenyearsago we thought the world as we knew it was going to end.
Bugs coming from we knew not where were going to wipe out our computer systems, such as they were then. Panic was nigh amongst many.
For millions on the planet it was just another night in the passage of time. Another night of hunger, of war; the endless struggle of life.
How things change for as the second decade of the 21st century shows us its face we now find ourselves embracing computers and the virtual world they give us access to in a way that would have been impossible to comprehend a decade ago. Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, Bebo, YouTube, MySpace, Glide and so many more crowd in the internet, with more such sites appearing almost daily.
And let’s just stop and think about Twitter for a moment - something only birds did 10 years ago. Now we see the true power of platforms like this. Twitter is accessed by over a million people* around the globe. Events like the death of Neda, the young music student whose death was captured on a mobile phone, in a country that blocks Twitter; an unforgettable image that was SMS’d out, posted on Twitter and within hours the world knew.
Walls no longer exist in the global community. As Mitch Joel says, it is not 6 degrees of separation. We are separated only by tiny pixels.
There is a trending topic on Twitter today ... #tenyearsago. A truly fascinating insight into the mood of those of us privileged enough to have internet access that allows us to share our thoughts and reflections in 140 characters or less.
In following #tenyearsago over the course of today I am reminded of the reason why I decided to get my head around Twitter in the first place. I was starting work on a project in Azerbaijan and was wracking my brains for a way to get at least a small handle on the thoughts and feelings of the country. What about Twitter, I thought. And here I am now, 8 months on, getting a pretty extraordinary insight into the ponderings, feelings and memories of the world as it wakes up to 2010 tweets not directly quoted):
...I was 4 yrs old, watching telly all day at nursery
...I was 8, now I’m a mother of a 2.5 year old boy
...I was naive and now I am not
...I discovered I was going to have a brother
...I was being abused and decided I need to change that
...some people I love were still around
...a Blackberry was still just a fruit
...my dot.com company was failing
...I made my biggest mistake - I got married
...I hadn’t met my wonderful husband
...I lived in happiness, now in India
...I was very innocent
...life was perfect - I miss kindergarten
...humans gave you money at the bank
...at 6 life was so much easier
...I was a little kid with no cares - miss those times
...I listened to music through Winamp2
...I was introduced to gang rivalry and bombings in college
...I wasn’t afraid of anything
...I was still a virgin
...I still climbed trees
...I began my fight for a greener world - still fighting
...my biggest thing was learning to ride a bike
...the world was a mystery, I still had dreams then I grew up
In amongst the reminders of how far we have come technologically in the past decade is the repeated emotion that is crystallised in this last tweet, of how much easier life was, of dreams dashed or not reached at all: Many of these sentiments are expressed by members of Generation Y.
Hindsight is always 20:20 and often viewed though rose-coloured glasses, this is true, but I am left wondering about how much the ‘instant fix’ mentality driven in part by the virtual world is responsible for this palpable lack of fulfilment. Or is it the awareness of how ‘the other half lives’ that can be gained through platforms like Twitter that causes a greater dissatisfaction with life as it is? Or is it more simply that Twitter gives an avenue for unfettered and honest expression that did not exist before?
I have written in the past that technology drives us apart as much as it brings us together. It does bring us together, of that there is no doubt but I can’t help feeling it is responsible, in part at least, for separating us from ourselves.
* 10 February 2016 update - in the 6 years since this piece was written Twitter now has 320 million monthy active users, 80% of whom access the platform via their mobile phones. There are 1 billion unique visits monthly to sites with embedded Tweets. (Statistics http://bit.ly/1mjyzhm ). Facebook's active membership has grown from 360 million at the end of 2009 to 1.5 billion at the end of 2015. (Statistics http://bit.ly/1fiOA4J )
Technology continues to weave us together in ever-increasing numbers. Twitter & Facebook's phenomenal growth in such a short time is driven simply by the appetite for this means of communication. Yet in 2016 it is no longer just the youth of the day with their faces tilted down at screens at every possible moment; it is pretty much anyone with the means to have a smartphone and a sim card.
I still maintain that digital connectivity is an extraordinarily beneficial thing however the separateness I refer to above I feel is growing as is, I sense, our separateness from the world around us.
Call me old-fashioned but I believe we need to find a balance between our place in our immediate world and our place in our digital one otherwise I fear the sense of loss and longing expressed in the #tenyearsago tweets will continue to grow, robbing so many of the joy that is present in the present if we just take a moment to look up from our screens and feel it.