There Is No “Before” and “After”

In “What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the internet,” author Michael Harris posits this:

“If we’re the last people in history to know life before the internet, we are also the only ones who will ever speak, as it were, both languages. We are the only fluent translators of Before and After.

To his credit, the author doesn’t rail against an Internet Demon or anything like that. He’s more anxious about his own plugged-in behavior.

But that premise, quoted above, is false.

It’s also why I get impatient with the “Well, I wasn’t born when that came out, so how could I possibly know about it?” wail.


–I wasn’t born when cylinder records came out, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t figure out how to make them work, how to immerse myself in their operation, and how to enjoy their rather awesome sound quality (and make recordings thereof).

–I wasn’t born when Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake made “This Gun For Hire,” but that didn’t mean I wasn’t able to exercise choice and watch it when it came on TV.

–I also missed pockets of music that were made before I was hatched, but hey, we’ve had YouTube for awhile now, if we don’t have the good fortune to have parents and grandparents with record collections, or the wherewithal to go exploring in record shops on our own (just don’t pay the exorbitant prices for the new “old” vinyl out in bookstores and the like).

I get that there’s a difference between being actually brought up in an era and learning about it rerun-style, but so what?

Time is not a straightforward, linear entity. It’s a mushy-gushy, cyclical, spiral-ly gunk, and the more we try to control it and assign it values, the more we seem to understand it less–and the more we run out of it.

And the more we try to claim that we of <insert-generation-here> are the ONLY ones to do or understand X, Y, or Z, the more ridiculous it sounds, especially since opportunities to learn about everyone’s X, Y, and Zs have always been around!

The means just change, that’s all. It’s always been up to us to look beyond ourselves.

We all want to feel special. Deluding yourself that your generation is a self-sustaining island is not the best way to go about it.

Do you feel, like the author does, that generations born after 1985 are unable to grasp what came before them? 


2 thoughts on “There Is No “Before” and “After”

  1. I love this. Your entire paragraph about time especially. And I agree that generations, interests, and abilities can intersect. It annoys me when someone born in 1948 or so claims they don’t understand a new program or tool because they’re a baby boomer or whatever. Born after that but before 1985, I didn’t grow up with that program or tool either, but if it’s useful or cool, I’ll probably want to learn it, and chances are that my interest will make the learning painless. That’s where Michael Harris’s thoughts get interesting to me: We do know the before and after. My god it was different before. But I absolutely agree that we’re not translators per se, because as you say more or less, someone born in 1996 very well may learn to record on tape or want to open a drive-in movie theater. They might prefer a Trapper Keeper to an iPad or hell use an abacus as well as Excel. And if they’re not already, some will be writing books and making movies about Life Before. They’ll use their imaginations and do research to explore what it was like. Just as I’ll never know exactly what it was like to grow up in the 50s, they won’t know exactly what it was like before the Internet, but the interested ones can certainly imagine the gist. (Lots of thoughts–sorry for the length!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely fabulous, and not just because we share the same view. 🙂

      I’ve been reading how it’s when we stop wanting to learn that we really start getting old on the inside. I intend not to stop!


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