Wednesday, December 14, 2005


I just finished The Great Bridge by David McCullough, and I think that anyone who has a spare month on their hands should definitely pick it up. It's absolutely phenomenal nonfiction about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Towards the end of the book, the author was comparing the opening ceremony of the Brooklyn Bridge to that of the Erie Canal. Hundreds of thousands of people came, Presidents were invited, people stayed up late to see the fireworks and cannons shot from the bridge, then stood in line for hours to walk across, and mothers and fathers told their children to pay close attention because they would remember this day for the rest of their lives. In my lifetime, I have never seen anything that enthralled the masses in such a way.

I was talking to my roommate last night about the Industrial Revolution, the Space Race, and other things that captivated the public in prior generations. (Though one woman in the book who lived to see both the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and man's first steps on the moon stated that nothing compared to the Bridge opening.) I told her that I felt like our generation really didn't have anything like that. She said that we were in the technological revolution. Her first example was ipods, then we said at the same time "The internet."

But there was no ribbon-cutting ceremony for the internet. It seems like something that just snuck up on us, was talked about and then arrived. My roommate pointed out that it's much bigger than the Brooklyn Bridge, it's effected more people, and is a part of our daily lives in a different way. My gut instinct was to argue with her that the Brooklyn Bridge is far more important, because, after all, I have just devoted the past several weeks to reading about it, becoming more nostalgic with each passing page about the human spirit, art, and architecture.

But she's right. After all, one of my favorite ways to spend 10 or 20 minutes in the evening is to blog, which my uncle in California, my high school best friend in Arkansas, and any variety of random strangers can read anytime they want. I use the internet to pay all my bills, research other teacher's ideas for teaching math and literacy, complete graduate assignments, find any apartment I've lived in in the past three years, and (no small thing, this one) apply for jobs. Without the internet, I doubt very much that I would be teaching, living in New York City, or talking with half the people I am still in contact with.

So this is the thing I have seen change in my lifetime. I've told my students this year and last year about "life before the internet," and about my first memories of using e-mail or "surfing the web." Yet it seems unfair in a way to be robbed of my fireworks and ceremony just because there wasn't a centralized, visible mass being created in one location, but a network of advances made over many years and described in a language that most people couldn't understand. Maybe I'd feel better if David McCullough wrote a book about the history of the internet, where I could feel somehow a part of some technologically-based zeitgeist. For now, I'll settle for counting down the days till it's warm enough to walk across our beautiful bridge again.


Me said...

My great-grandmother crossed the bridge on the second day it was open (the first day was too windy). The story has been passed from generation to generation. I do not think that future generations will talk about my time in front of the computer. It's funny that the daily impact we feel by the internet is greater that what my great-grandmother must have felt from the bridge. Perhaps our constant exposure breeds too much familiarity for things to be celebrated in the same way they once were? Maybe our revolution is without ceremony. I love ceremony.

Mom said...

Things that happened in your lifetime:
1.The Berlin wall came down. Huge crowds (okay you were a little kid. We had just left Germany a few years earlier)
2.President Clinton acceptance speech. You could have gone to this. There was something like 200,000 people in downtown Little Rock.(okay blame me. but you know how i hate crowds)