The first game I played on a computer was The Prince of Persia. The blood looked fake but everything else felt real. I tried my best not to be killed by closing doors or from falling. Left, right. Left, right, up, down. UP!
Oh gosh, I felt like I was the Prince of Persia himself!
It was so much fun! Much more fun than playing with grasshoppers behind my house. I went from one level to the next and then the next and then the next…
Until my mother found me and asked me to get off the computer.
‘This computer is not for you to play games on Lu Wee! Use it to learn how to type!’
I was 10 years old. We had only one computer in the house and it was to type letters to send out for my parent’s business back then. Mother knew how important it was to build good typing skills back then.
Unwillingly, I shut down the game and typed a short paragraph. I realised my typing skills were horrible.
‘Read this,’ my mother handed me a manual on how to type on a keyboard.
‘If one day you can type fast without looking at the keyboard, you will be able to do great things. Computer can help you achieve many big things. It is technology.’
I didn’t believe my mother. I didn’t understand technology. My fingers were sore from typing. I’ll never be able to type without looking at the keyboard, I thought, it’s so hard.
I turned the computer off and went back to playing with grasshoppers behind my house.
‘Lu Wee, what are you going to choose?’ my friend asked me. I was 15 and my teacher handed us a form to fill in to choose a subject.
I was so excited. It was the first time I could choose a subject. My friend picked additional math.
‘Why do you want to take add math?’ I asked my friend.
‘I like math and I think I can do well in it.’
Hm…, I thought, even though I like math, I already have one math subject. I think add math will be similar to math. It will be so boring if I pick another math subject. Why don’t I pick something else?
The only other option was Computer Science. I had no idea what was computer science.
I like computers, I thought, how bad can it get? At least I will learn something different.
A Peculiar 8cm x 2cm Pink Plastic
Computer Science (CS) classes started out boring. We were asked to draw use a turtle to draw shapes, then colour them.
‘Sarah, are you bored?’ I whispered to my best friend who also took CS.
She was already asleep.
Every now and then when my teacher was looking I would type ‘www.friendster.com’. I wanted to see if anyone left any new testimonials for me. At least internet free in class.
No one did. I was the nerdy, unpopular kid in class.
One day my teacher showed us a peculiar 8cm by 2cm plastic with a removable cover.
‘Ten floppy disks in one,’ he told us.
Back then we could save a few files on floppy disks. Imagine saving hundreds on a plastic I could tuck in my pencil case!
‘This is a thumb drive, named so because it’s probably only a little bigger than your thumb. One day you will see it everywhere. And it will replace floppy disks,’ Mr Mike said. ‘This,’ he pointed at a floppy disk drive, ‘this will be gone forever.’
I was astonished. It felt like magic. I could literally see the future.
I wanted to use it immediately.
‘Sir, I want to use it,’ I told him. He threw it at me. ‘You can have it.’
I was the first person in my family to use a thumb drive. I went home that day and showed it to my mother. I said ‘Ma, do you know? This will replace floppy disks very soon! My teacher said one day there will be no floppy disk drives!’
I went to the desktop computer we had and showed her how to use it, only to realise we didn’t have a USB drive.
I was in the last year of pre-university. Facebook had only just opened up their network to people outside Harvard. Facebook was kind of cool, but not as cool as Friendster. The function I liked most about Facebook was that I could send mystery eggs to people.
I sent a lot of eggs to my crushes. It annoyed them.
My friends were not all on Facebook yet. I was one of the early ones.
One day one of our friends made a confession.
‘I think I’m starting to get addicted to the internet,’ she said, ‘I find myself logging on every single day.’
We were worried for her. There was a lot of warning about internet addiction in the newspapers. We tried to comfort her. Someone even offered a solution.
‘You should try limiting yourself to just two days a week,’ she said, ‘I think it’s better that way. And also, keep it under one hour.’
I am trying to look for an internship. I can’t. I’m a nerd with no persuasion skills. So I type ‘www.google.com’ to look for ‘how to write a resume for internship’. Up popped thousands of articles, most of which were pretty useless. I was too lazy to weave out the best ones.
So I went to the library to get a good book on resume writing.
I started hearing people talk about this new thing called Twitter, but I ignored it. I had no time for this.
Most of my friends were on Facebook. People were starting to talk about Facebook addiction now, not internet addiction. Even if you were online 8 hours a day, you were rarely considered an internet addict.
Another thing that was increasingly popular was this website called YouTube.
‘If you want to see how things work, check it on YouTube,’ my brother told me.
The video quality was poor, but it was better than nothing since I didn’t have to pay for it.
Facebook has over 1 billion users. Google is the best search engine in the world. Google is also a word in the dictionary, officially.
‘Social Media’, ‘Content Marketing’, ‘Open Graph’, ‘E-Commerce’ are now popular things to talk about.
Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma is one of the richest in the world. He is being quoted all over social media like how Michael Jordan was back in the 90’s.
Your identity now is defined by your digital identity. At one conference someone asked me why I didn’t have Instagram. I thought about it and then started my Instagram account. This year I learned that there are people who are now purely Instagram celebrities. If I had not started an Instagram account I would not have known.
Through the internet I learned about Theranos, a blood diagnostic company that forced me to think about why healthcare should cost so much. I learned about the founder of Theranos who dedicated 11 years of her life to build the technology behind Theranos.
I’m 26. And I feel excited about what the internet has to offer in the next ten years.
I just watched a HD video of Jack Ma talking about Alibaba on YouTube. He’s 51 and is looking at the internet like everything only just begun.
I think he’s right. There’s much more we can do in this age of internet.
Thank You Internet
You were created by the US army to help with national security. I don’t think you or anyone else predicted back then that you would be used to share millions of cat photos a day, or that you would enable people to make millions showing up for work in pyjamas.
Thank you for lowering the costs of education and reducing the barriers between great teachers and students who want to learn. The reach of edX, Coursera and many other MOOCs would not have been possible without you. Just so you know, I learned about ancient China from two Harvard professors through videos on edX last Saturday.
Thank you for everything, especially for being the one place I could publish my writing over the last 10 years.
I look forward to another 50 years with you.