Open Source Reporting::Living Your Life Online

    by Mark Glaser
    March 27, 2006

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    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life before the Internet, and life before computers. How was life different? Was it worse? Was it better? How?

    Of course, there is a generation of people and children whose entire lives have been lived on computers and online — they know no other way to live. Conversely, there are huge populations in the developing world who have never known a life of high technology, and have never explored the World Wide Web.

    So I am launching another Open Source Reporting project I hope you will all participate in. The idea is to list some aspect of your life that you now live online, then explain how you used to do that before the web existed, and then explain how it has changed your life — for better or worse.


    While my interest is most keen in the subject of media, I am open to exploring any area of your life that is different than it was in the past. I’m going to kick off the list with various ways that my life has changed, and I hope you’ll use the comments below to add your own thoughts. If there is enough interest and feedback from you, I’ll return to this subject and summarize what you all have said.

    Living Life Online

    Now: I organize regular activities with friends by email or Evite.
    Before: I called them up on the phone.
    Change: More time spent on computer and less on the phone. More writing and less talking.


    Now: For a breaking news update, I go to Google News.
    Before: For a breaking news update, I would check CNN or a local TV channel at the news hour.
    Change: I have many more sources for news all around the world. I am on a comptuer for more time, and spend less time watching TV.

    Now: I buy gifts for people online.
    Before: I went to a store, and bought the gift. If they lived in another city, I then boxed the gift and mailed it to them from the post office.
    Change: Much easier process that takes less time. I probably buy more gifts than I would have in the past.

    Now: I use Yahoo Calendar to organize my schedule from multiple locations and multiple computers.
    Before: I wrote items on a paper calendar that sat on my desk.
    Change: I can have items emailed to me so I remember them better. I am dependent on having an online connection to see my daily calendar.

    Now: I get all new music online through various music services, or by borrowing music from friends. I have had a Tower Records gift card for the past 15 months, and haven’t spent it yet.
    Before: I would go to a music store to shop for records or CDs.
    Change: I listen to a wider variety of music than in the past, and I go out shopping much less for music. I spend about the same amount on music as in the past, but get more music.

    Now: I use the Netflix online service to rent various DVDs each month, and also visit the local video store from time to time.
    Before: I would only rent videos from the local store.
    Change: I go out less to rent videos, and spend more time researching movies on Netflix before choosing what to see.

    Now: As a freelancer, I deal with various editors mainly through email messages.
    Before: I would have to call editors with each question I had.
    Change: More time on computer answering email and composing email. Less time on the phone.

    Now: If I meet someone new, I find out who they are by Googling them and searching for their name online.
    Before: If I met someone new, I would talk to common friends to find out more about them.
    Change: I know more about people before getting to know them personally, or my perceptions are slanted by what I find out about them online.

    Now: When I write something as a journalist, I get instant feedback from readers via email or from searching Technorati to see what bloggers say about what I wrote.
    Before: When I would write something for a magazine or newspaper, I would only hear about it if someone wrote a letter to the editor, who then passed it along to me.
    Change: I have an instant feedback loop and can find out what people think in a more comprehensive way. I can spend more time with feedback than with original writing!

    How has your life changed online? Share in the comments!

    • I like the idea allthough the list will probably get pretty long. Here’s my contribution:

      Now: for very narrow special interest subjects I subscribe to news feeds – some originating from blogs, others from searches such as pubsub.

      Before: I did subscribe to magazines, journals or fanzines and hang around ‘cool’ places.

      Change: there is a positive ‘long tail’ effect – its much easier to get acquainted with new subjects/ideas online than it was one or two decades ago. On the other hand I miss some of the ‘cool places’ I frequented when I was younger…

    • charles meshel

      I am past the eighty mark in life.I have been on the computer for the past 3 years and it has changed my life considerably.I listen to music far more than I had before,I view the news,local as well as national and international.I have contact with people throughout the country by e mail and by broadband,which I never did before.It is something that from my viewpoint is stimulating, and I sense that it has helped to keep my mind more alert.I am able to research so many things including medical information that would take days to do otherwise,if at all.I heartily recommend use of the computer for all ages.

    • John Champagne

      Now: Through Amazon, JSTOR, or Google books, I can read sections of academic articles of books to discover which are relevant to my studies.

      Before: I had to read volumes of extraneous materical before I could find the analysis I needed, relying on library catalogues and brief descriptions to decide where I would spend my time searching.

    • This is definitely a story worth pursuing, if for no other reason than to give readers who may only know the online experience a bit of perspective. A lot of what you describe are things I have experienced. By the way, I am old enough to remember a time before the Internet, so I can certainly relate. My contribution: I don’t read print newspapers much anymore. That’s what online editions and using feeds is for. There is a lot more information available, but that is a good thing. At least, I think so. I look forward to hearing on this from other readers and see what you write about it. Best, and keep on blogging.

    • Now: I write a blog
      Before: I wrote diaries
      Change: More of my life is lived publicly; I spend less time navel-gazing and more time sharing.

      Now: I check weathernetwork.ca if I need weather info
      Before: I would listen to the radio, turn on the local news, or, rarely, go to the weather channel
      Change: Much less time spent looking for the info I want

      Now: I communicate with far-away friends and family via MSN, email, Skype and blogging
      Before: I would occasionally talk to them on the phone, or even more rarely, write a letter.
      Change: I’m in much closer contact, and spend much less money.

      Now: I use Flickr to store all my photos, which I take with a digital camera. I use Picasa to email photos to family, and publish them to my blog to share them with friends.
      Before: I’d use a film camera to take photos, which I would forget to develop. If I did develop them, they went into a shoebox.
      Change: I take many more photographs, and more of my circle sees them. I also get more feedback on photos. It costs me less money in the long run, but more in the short term (SD cards cost more than film, but I don’t need to buy new ones all the time, nor develop them; I only pay to print must-keep photos).

    • Born in 1964, I think of myself as being among the very first generation to grow up with computers as an everyday part of life. I’ve been professionally involved with them since 1981. Yet, still they continue to impact my life in ways I never expected.

      Now: I work for businesses located all over the country.

      Before: I had to find work within driving distance of my home or relocate. That usually meant living in or near a big city.

      Change: I live where I want to live (surrounded by mountains and national forest) without losing out on employment opportunities. I work daily with people I’ve never met and yet consider them to be my friends and colleagues. I do a highly technical job out of my home where I’m free to be a major part of my children’s lives. I can’t imagine living the nine to life of the previous generation of fathers.

    • Madalyn

      Now: I use a dating Web site.
      Before: I had to rely on friends or meeting random people or strangers.
      Change: I can find people easily who have similar interests; I don’t have to go up to strangers; I can get a good sense of what someone’s like before I ever commit to a date. Much more efficient!

      Now: I use flickr and a digital camera and have what I would call a photo diary. I track my progress on hobbies like figure drawing and knitting.
      Before: I took pictures only on special occasions and would share them with people when they came over. I could only get feedback on my drawing from my instructor or students in class or friends when they came over.
      Change: I can show my mom (who lives three hours away) a picture of something minutes after I take it. I can send photos of projects I’m working on (knitting, drawing) to groups on Flickr and get feedback on my work from others with similar interests and expertise.

      Now: I listen to all my music on my ipod and buy albums from iTunes.
      Before: I would cart around my CDs and could only listen to what I had with me.
      Change: I just carry one small device; I have my entire library with me wherever I go; I can very easily get the latest music from itunes cheaper and faster. Also due to recommendation services (“if you like this, you might like this”) I have a huge selection of music that I love. I don’t listen to the radio anymore, except NPR.

    • Joe

      I never watch the TV anymore. In fact, if I watch anything its a videocast on my iPod or a DVD but I haven’t really watched a movie for ages. I never ever listen to the radio – why do that when I can listen to whatever I would like to in my pocket? I am also the same as the OP – I buy all my games online and my music on iTunes and don’t want to get a CD anymore. I can see the point some people have about having the material CD but it doesn’t bother me all that much. I bought the new Scissor Sisters Tah-Dah album in CD format but that was only as a gift for someone who hasn’t grasped the technology of mp3 yet (or can’t afford it). I couldn’t go back to how it was before. As it happens I’m getting a 24″ imac very soon, and when the films on iTunes come to the UK I shall be having all my films in file format rather than material. It just takes up less space in my room. I will also be introduced to a greater variety of films and different genres, as I am very much an impulse buyer on iTunes! Well thats my say, but its definately a huge change with this online life I’ve had so far :P

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