A trip through the childhood archives to help explain today

I’ve been lucky to have some downtime before transitioning into my new job next week. I made a brief stop through my childhood home along the way to chip away at some 30 years of stuff that’s accumulated. Among the piles of crap to recycle or get ride of were a few gems that made me wonder if I were going through my own history or that of some other kid. Some amusing, some frightening. And a few things that helped me understand how I ended up doing some of the techy and activisty/organizing things I am today:

  • In 1995 I conducted an exhaustive search for our family’s first internet service provider following my discovery that there was more to the world / internet than AOL — like the WWW! and newsgroups! and email! From the printouts and notes I ran across, it appears that there were hundreds of terrible ISP options to choose from, all with different types of local dial-up numbers and varying levels of included hours(!) for internet usage. We landed on something called North American Internet (NAI) which can’t still be in business. I can still hear the modem logging on.
  • On April 16, 1996 (when i was prob in 10th grade) I wrote a lengthy email plea to Nicholas Negroponte — founder of MIT’s Media Lab, Wired columnist, later the founder of One Laptop per Child, and newfound personal hero after i had finished reading his Being Digital (1995) — asking for his help and advice on how to get my school to apply for funding to get a laptop in the hands of every middle or high schooler. He was gracious enough to write back very quickly with the advice that i be a little more geeky on the outside (rather than just at home on my computer) so that the school would see how many of us could benefit from more technology in our hands. 
  • Circa 1998 I went to a local planning and zoning meeting to ask some challenging and un-welcomed questions about what environmental precautions were being included in plans for a single family residence (headmaster’s house) that my high school was planning to build several feet from wetlands. These wetlands were the same wetlands that the school had used to inspire an awareness in our young brains about the natural world and its delicate ecosystems — horseshoe crabs, egrets, and all. They built the house anyway, abutting the marshland and still way to close in my opinion, and hopefully they found a way to prevent the septic from running straight into the marsh / Long Island Sound.
  • The real goldmine was with Michael’s News, a type-written and hand-written multipage “newspaper” that i published while in elementary school for a lucky audience (and circulation) of maybe 25 grownups (parents’ friends), at no cost to the “subscribers” who never knew when the next issue might arrive. It was a very serious operation with press hats, deadlines, a dot-matrix printer, and even a production dept (ie use of a copy machine). You can imagine how much important personal news I would have had to share at the age of 10. In one news roundup I found, I was able to report that “Michael has received a 18 mile cake. He says that the ovens are twice the size.” Between that and the “Annual Michael Day” that “calender makers” were declaring for the following year, it seems that I had a pretty healthy sense of self back in the day.

Primarily I’m just glad that most of the things I discovered about myself were in a box or drawer and not an internet archive that I had to search online for. I can selectively share the things above that I think are funny or interesting, many years after the fact, versus having so much of that already available for anyone to dig through online.

And I feel lucky to have grown up before the digital age we have today really took shape (cell phones on campus were only becoming a thing in my senior year). There are plenty of weird things we do at a young age that make sense at the time and are part of learning and exploring and growing up — but there’s no reason that any of us should have to be publicly self-conscious about them now. I now understand why and how parenting changed dramatically in the digital age. 

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