I was 28 and then I was 41. I leap-frogged across my thirties. I’ve got a feeling the same thing might happen again. I’ll blink a few times, pack lots of school lunches, scream at the kids – and then I’ll be 62. It’s not that I don’t remember my thirties – of course I do – but they seem to have passed in a blur, whereas my twenties was like a piece of chewing gum you stretch our your mouth with your fingers. It went on for ages and was messy as hell. I couldn’t flick it off my fingers.
The internet was just getting off the ground in my early twenties. I remember there was one computer in the Psychology Honours common room and we would all avoid it. There were also computers in the ‘lab’, but those were for horrendous stats programs, which, being psychologists in training, we regarded with derision (read: fear).
Frank, one of the strangest lecturers ever, presided over the stats lab. He’d rock up to work in flippers and a mask – no, surely that can’t be true! – but, nevertheless, very startling foot and head gear. He would lock himself into his windowless dark office that smelled of garlic and incense. We would take turns knocking tentatively on his door to ask him something stupid about the antiquated stats programs on the computer. His responses were garlicky and incomprehensible.
I have a theory that the blur that happened in my thirties had something to do with the internet – or maybe it was having a baby. No, I think it was the internet. The internet is a time sponge that creates no fixed memories. It’s like shopping in a mall. There’s a pleasant artificiality to it all that is soothing. Swathes of time pass in both settings: you drink a cup of coffee and watch a woman walk past in a burqa; online, you flip from a video on Ebola to a new TV series that features couples discussing their sex lives. You chat on Facebook, tweet something inconsequential. Time flattens. Nothing sticks in your brain.
Now I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Does one want a whole lot of vivid (and potentially disturbing) memories? Are Frank’s webbed feet a better hook for my life than mindlessly discussing something on Facebook that I’ll never remember? I do think that if one wants a well-stocked head of memories, of things to think about in dotage (assuming one still remembers anything by then), then it’s probably a good plan to spend less time cruising virtual worlds. Alternatively, one can just spend one’s old age reading in the latest Google Glass contraption. At least that’s my plan.