Monday, February 2, 2015

Explaining the Internet to My Eight-Year-Old Self

Hey there, eight-year-old self.

I just wanted to tell you about this thing in your future called the Internet. Sounds futuristic, right? Well, it is. Even people who live in the future are still pretty amazed by it sometimes. And that's because it's amazing!

Here's what it is. You know how you watch TV, right? That people make the TV programs, and then your parents pay a company to send all the choices to your TV set via cable? Well, the Internet is a little bit like that--people are making lots of stuff, and you can use a computer to go look at it.

What's different about the Internet is that it isn't just companies that get to make the stuff you can read and watch and listen to. Anyone can do it. You can do it! And in the future, you do!

Right now, for you, the only people who get to make stuff that everyone can see are people whose organization has the money to make it and the connections to process it for a big audience. But in the future, people can make a home video with a video camera, put it on their computer, connect it to the Internet, and make it available for people to watch. You can do that with music--sing your favorite songs, or make up your own--or with essays and stories, or with silly rambles about what you did that day in an Internet-connected journal.

Another difference, though, is that people don't pay you to make these things, so you're just doing it for your own enjoyment, but there are still ways you can make special arrangements to get paid for things you put on the Internet. There's still TV. There are still movies. There are still books. But all of them have Internet-based ways for you to see them too, and sometimes amateur-made creations can get advertising support so they can get paid. If you don't care about getting paid--and most people don't, because they just like to make things for people to enjoy--then you don't have to worry about this.

And finally--the Internet is social! In the future, you can connect with your friends online. Like, if the Internet existed for you right now, you could tell your friends at school about your own channel or your own story website, and if they wanted to see what you make, they could subscribe to you like a magazine. They just turn on their computer, type in a code, and see what you did. And your audience can grow because maybe they will tell their friends, so their friends will subscribe to you, and more and more. People can also comment on some of the things you make, so you actually get to have conversations with people who enjoy your work! (Unfortunately they can say mean things too. Sometimes just because you don't have a way to know who they are. But there are always mean people everywhere, so the Internet is no different.)

There are ways to just chat with your friends too--people you know, people you meet, people who just want to know more about the things you're making. So the Internet can be a communication tool, too. You can use it to look up information that other people wrote--not just about things you'd find in an encyclopedia, but people talking about what it's like to live in another country, or what it's like to go into fourth grade, or what books they think you would like if you like these other books. And you can find people in other states, even in other countries, talking about the things you're interested in. If you like a certain cartoon, you can find other people all over the world who like that cartoon and talk about your favorite characters, share pictures you drew of them, and get excited about new episodes. The Internet is so useful, but it's fun too!

Here are the ways you end up getting involved in the Internet in the future. Your first exposure to it is sometime in 1995, and all you really do is go to a "chat room" about your favorite cartoons and talk to other people who like that cartoon. (Yes, when you're in high school you still love cartoons!) You make a few friends that way and send Internet letters to them, which are called e-mails. For a while your parents cut off the computer subscription because you have to pay for it by the minute like a long-distance phone call and you were spending too much time on it, so that's pretty sad for you, but you keep track of the people's information so you can talk to them again if you get access to the Internet again. Then, when you go to college in 1996, you get your own computer.

You write books on your computer and you sometimes chat on a place your friend showed you which is called a Telnet talker. You make some very good friends there and some of them ask to read your book and give you advice on how to make it better. You also talk to people about cartoons some more--getting back in touch with some of your old friends--and you help host a chat room for children. And you start making something called websites. Yours is mostly about your favorite things and your writing. You even learn to use the computer to record your singing with harmonies, and you put it on your page for other people to hear. Lots of people think you're a good singer.

Over the years you add more and more things to your website, making up short stories and drawing pictures and posting pictures you took on vacations or photos of your friends. You collect your favorite recipes and share them with people on the Internet. You make a list of funny pranks and teach people how to do them. You make huge lists of your favorite movies, books, TV shows, comics, foods, and hobbies, and write explanations of why you like them and why you think other people should check them out. Two of your three best friends are people you met on the Internet. They like that you're funny and creative, and that you do so many things on the Internet for them to see.

Some of the things you write and publish on the Internet get noticed by very big people. After a while, newspapers and magazines ask to interview you, and when they do, even more people want to talk to you. Sometimes people even want you to be on TV or in movies. Sometimes you say yes, and other times you don't want to. And when the Internet becomes stable enough to handle homemade videos, you start recording some of your opinions (and sometimes music performances!) and put them on your own channel. Lots of people subscribe to it. From the time I'm typing to you, you have almost 4500 subscribers on your channel. They like to leave comments every time you make a video!

You also like to make blogs. In the future you run four of them. A blog is a shortened term for "weblog," which means that it's sort of like a journal or a newspaper. You can write about anything you want on a blog, so you have different blogs for different things. Most of them have some personal content, but you have one for your career as an author, one for your personal life, one for rambling about everyday observations in your author life and giving writing advice, and one for talking about activism issues. Your activism blog is the most popular one, with almost 1800 subscribers.

And sometimes you draw comics and put them on the Internet. You have one that's about being a writer, with cartoons about your life, and you have another one that's a fantasy story that's not about you. People read those too and share them with friends. There is a social network these days called Facebook, and you have many friends there which you can sort into categories (friends, acquaintances, family) so that things you share there can be posted only to certain people if you want. It sounds ridiculous, but you have almost 300 friends on there! And then there's a funny social thing called Twitter, where you can say very short things and people who follow you there will listen (and sometimes send that thing to other people who follow them). Over 800 people follow you there, though you're still not very good at saying things in short sentences.

In the future, not only does almost everyone you know have a computer to access these things on, but many of them have smartphones. A smartphone is basically a tiny computer. It has no wires so you can carry it around in your pocket or your bag, but it's a phone and you can make phone calls on it, but then you can also look at the Internet on it. It will send you personal messages from others, let you know if someone commented on something you made, and let you read other people's blogs or watch other people's videos. It's so much fun to be able to talk to people, and watch them talking to and about you, and see them sharing other interesting things about themselves or things that interest them, on a device that you can take with you.

But what else would you want to know about this Internet thing? Ah yes. You probably want to know how it figures in with the writing career you want to have one day.

Well, since the Internet revolutionizes the way people communicate, it of course affects books too. There is now a way you can just write a book, send the digital book to a website, and click a button to publish it, and people can access it and read it anywhere on their Internet-capable devices. (And if they want to, they can pay money to print a copy and have it sent to them in a book form, too, with a cover and everything.) But that's called self-publishing, and absolutely anyone can do it (though the people who do it well are few and far between). You personally still want to have a publisher buy your book and use the mainstream channels for putting it in libraries and bookstores, though in the future there's the eBook version in case people don't want to buy a paper version.

You don't know this at your age, but people who become professional authors often work with publishing professionals called literary agents if they want the bigger companies to consider their books. In the future, you manage to use the Internet to send your book for consideration to many literary agents, and you actually do get signed that way. You know how in movies the big shot is always saying stuff like "call my agent" when they want someone to handle something for them? That's sort of what agents do for authors--they sell your book and do the difficult contract work so you don't get ripped off, and they can advise you about certain things in your career. In the future, you have one of these folks working with you. Actually, you have two! Because you write two different kinds of books and they're represented by different people!

The Internet allowed you to do the research and send the messages that got your agents to offer to work with you, and then one of those agents has already sold one of your books to a publisher. There are Internet stores where people can go to look at a picture of your book, put it in a "shopping cart" that's just a digital picture, and then pay money with a credit card and get the book sent to their house. People you don't know and have never met can buy a copy of your book without even going to a bookstore! Your agent is using the Internet to find publishers for your other one too, and hopefully one day in MY future, she will sell that one.

The Internet is a really cool, super amazing thing that makes you really happy in the future. You should get on it as soon as possible and start using it to make things. One day, the things you do on the Internet will be in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and TIME Magazine, as well as many, many others. Lots of people you will meet will use the Internet to look at your work and become your friends, and even your mom and dad use it sometimes to talk to you or watch you sing when you don't live with them anymore. And your sister who lives in California can use a video program to talk to you and let you see her baby!

And in the year 2015, yes, you still like cartoons. And you can use the Internet to watch them.