There is a sense of “time standing still” that I get from being here in the UK–things seem to change slowly if at all. I find a quite surprising manifestation of this stationary culture in the wonderful world of IT. I work in a field in which computers are heavily used, and I am of the generation for whom this is natural.
We got our first home computer, a Commodore 64, when I was six. My Dad was something of a technophile and so we had a fascinating progression of computers all through my childhood. I was the bratty kid who turned in word-processed and dot-matrix-printed reports when everyone else wrote things by hand. When I went away to college, I had my own laptop and printer in my dorm room, which was almost unheard of in those days–everyone else used the centralized facilities on campus (Sun workstations) if they used computers at all. My laptop was even equipped with a modem and I could telnet in to my college email at 1200 baud. I used Mosaic when the WWW emerged.
(It seems appropriate that yesterday was father’s day since this little historical note is an ode to my father’s vision in providing me with an early start in the form of childhood computers! I should note we also had a VHS VCR back when the remote control had a wire connection, thus making forever sensible in my mind the continued use of the term “wireless remote”.)
I like technology, I like computers, I enjoy following the trends even if I can’t actually keep up myself. I blog both here and elsewhere, run my own website, write the html directly, and know how to do more than make calls on my cell phone. If there’s any one really pressing deficiency in my arsenal of tools, it’s that I have lived in an age of applications such that I have never really become a brilliant programmer. I took Fortran 77 in college (ouch, that dates me!) but aside from the html proficiency, I have mostly lived in a software and web world of point-and-click. But I know how to point-and-click with the best of them.
I have therefore been quite startled to find that in my job and my life here in England, it is as though we are trapped in a computing time warp circa 1995. Mosaic would do for surfing, no need to upgrade to the latest version of Camino. Websites are rudimentary at best, and little effort is put into them. People use software and programs that I thought had gone the way of the dinosaurs a decade ago. There is essentially no Web 2.0.
I find this all surprising, but nothing more surprising than the lack of web-savvy: I would see a website as the public face of any company or organization on this funny little planet, and would put my resources there first and foremost regardless of geographical locations. I can’t quite grasp the specific nature of the US-UK cultural divide that causes this web-presence to be marginalized here. I postulate that the English don’t want to be seen as too superficial, too glitzy or glossy, all-style-no-substance (a.k.a. American) in their virtual existence? Hard to tell. It’s not making my life any easier in this internet age.
Blogger’s note: I am heading to the US for the rest of the week and don’t know how reliable my internet access will be. However, I anticipate obtaining lots of fodder for this discussion, as my host for the trip is another American who lived in the UK for several years–I’m sure there will be stories there!