With an unmapped continent at my fingertips, I first discovered the familiar: I downloaded the opening credits of my favorite television show, PBS’s Wishbone. (I was 7 years old.)
I didn’t know it then, but that pixelated and drag ridden video revealed one of the Internet’s greatest gifts—immortality. Here, in the backlit glow, we can live forever.
With each round of Webby awards, the constraints of the Internet are challenged and acknowledged. We are in awe of our human endeavors. We circumnavigate the world from our rectangular screens. Just this morning, I saw photographs of Antarctica, I read my favorite New York Times article from 2010 about Eddie Feibusch and his zipper business, I watched Nicole Kidman’s monologue from the 1999 film, Eyes Wide Shut.
But amid all of this progress, the website for the movie Space Jam has never been updated or decommissioned. Michael Jordan is still teaming up with the Looney Toons to take prevent an alien invasion. I can still download a limited edition Space Jam cursor. We are trapped in a timeless time. The past continues alongside the present and future. Nothing is a limited edition. Nothing ends.
In my newest obsession, Gimlet’s podcast, Reply All, Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt dig deep into a story about the Internet. Their episodes run the gambit of subject matter, which more than anything else is a testament to the diversity and evolution of the net. With each episode, something that is so familiar, something I use everyday and am using right now (and so are you), is made mysterious. It is like that first time again, waiting for the dial-up tone to open like a door.
Isn’t this the same mystery I experience when the sunlight falls on my floor in an unusual pattern, when an iridescent beetle crosses my path, when the clouds clear and the moon hangs heavy and low and orange? It’s a joy of discovery. Of feeling, for a moment, like the only person alive. Of pushing to the next best thing and knowing your footsteps will trail behind you.
Our cyber fingerprints are on everything, but it is the sense of wonder and discovery that is the gift. It is fleeting. It is mysterious.