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The Geek Report

February 2001

It's a new year, and you know what that means: time for the annual Geek Assessment. Your favorite Geek can't pass up this opportunity to glance back--and look ahead.

The Internet as we think of it is six years old now. To my mind it became a medium with the release of Netscape in December of 1994. Most people hadn't heard of the Internet back then. There were no ubiquitous URLs on TV or in ads. Now today the Internet commonplace and utterly intertwined with our culture.

How could we have come so far in six years? From a handful of web pages to hundreds of millions. From having almost no concept of an online world to the now familiar notion that nearly anything you want is available via this worldwide network.

I spent New Year's Day going through my bookmarks, or favorites, in my web browser. (Now that's Geek for you--ring in the new year by going through your bookmarks.) I was surprised that many of the older sites no longer existed or had merged or transmogrified.

So Geek will now speak two fundamental truths: 1) we now have in our minds a new concept of a universal entity of almost unlimited, freely available resources, and 2) that entity is constantly changing, evolving, and growing.

And where it's going, nobody knows, unless perhaps it itself does. (Hello, Hal. This is, after all, the year 2001. Visionary John Perry Barlow says that the net is using us to create itself.)

But I do think we can hazard a guess in regard to this trend. It seems to be a move toward everything everywhere. With the ubiquity and universality of the web, with wireless communication, with the inexorable move toward putting everything online, we will soon seemingly have everything everywhere. That's Geek fundamental truth number three.

Which brings my to my real point. I wanna tell you about this new gizmo in my pocket. It's a Pocket PC, and it is Geek bliss. Of course, like a Palm Pilot, it keeps my schedule and contacts and all that mundane stuff. But it does so much more. I have my favorite MP3 songs on it. I can send e-mail and surf the Internet. I can record voice memos. It has Pocket PC versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. I can use it to read eBooks. I can even download full-length movies and watch them on the little screen. I can play chess, solitaire, shoot down missiles, play Pac Man. I can add a GPS card so that I can literally always know where in the world I am.

The Geek's toy is a good example of Truth #3: everything everywhere. Of course, some of it's silly--like who wants to watch a movie on a tiny screen? But other aspects of it have changed the way I see things.

Let's take eBooks. There are thousands of eBooks that one can download freely on the Internet, and hundreds of current titles that one can purchase. No I don't prefer reading a book on this small screen compared to reading a printed page. But there are so many occasions when it's not convenient to have that printed page with me.

My Pocket PC is always in my pocket. Think of how often you're stuck waiting someplace and how convenient it would be to always have a small library with you. Currently I'm using these snippets of time to read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (And appreciating the rich irony that as a teenager he began his working life in the family print shop and began his rise to fame by writing, printing, and distributing his own pseudonymous work. Today he'd no doubt have his own web site.)

Anyway, that's the Geek's own personal example of everything everywhere. It's as if there are infinite resources in this small device and that I can always have them with me. If I had a wireless modem, then I could literally always be connected to this worldwide network of communication and information and resources.

All of this has happened to me in six years, from no concept of a worldwide network to the palpable experience of having everything in my pocket wherever I am. Just the quotidian familiarity of the notion is as astounding as the reality of the technology.

We Geeks have won the day.

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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