internet, 1990s, predictions

Some in the late '90s and early '00s thought the internet was an overhyped idea doomed to fizzle.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the world before we became completely dependent on the internet could never have predicted what life would be like now. Some of the things the internet has enabled us to do—wireless video chats with friends halfway around the globe, ordering food to be delivered to our door at the click of a few buttons, virtual support groups for every possible interest or ailment—were the stuff of imaginary, far-futuristic worlds, surely not realistic to expect in our lifetimes. (I mean, I figured we'd have flying cars before we'd have computers we could fit in our pockets, yet here we are.)

The 1990s were this weird in-between phase where the tech geeks were all about the .com world and tech-reluctant normies were all, "Gretchen, stop trying to make the internet happen. It's not going to happen." Once the internet started becoming popular, some people did try to predict how it would all turn out.

Some predictions were wrong. Ridiculously, hilariously wrong. And on the flip side, David Bowie, in his apparently infinite wisdom, was so spot on it's almost scary.


Let's look at a prediction that turned out to be embarrassingly off-base. Former Head of Strategy at Amazon Studios Matthew Ball shared a clip from the Daily Mail newspaper in the year 2000 with the headline "Internet 'may be just a passing fad as millions give up on it.'"

"Researchers found that millions were turning their back on the world wide web, frustrated by its limitations and unwilling to pay high access charges," it reads.

"They say that e-mail, far from replacing other forms of communication, is adding to an overload of information."

(Go ahead and pause for maniacal laughter here.)

"Many teenagers are using the internet less now than previously, they conclude, and the future of online shopping is limited."

Ah, the adorable, pre-Amazon naivete.

Even a counter to that piece written by one Jane Wakefield a few days later had some hilarious lines in it. While urging not to throw out the the baby internet with the bathwater, Wakefield wrote, "It should come as no surprise to us that people are failing to see the point of the Internet. If you don't need access to a huge online encyclopaedia, if you don't fancy trying to buy a cheapish CD online, if you don't enjoy watching jerky videos of hardcore porn, then you might be right to question why you need a Net connection. Unlike TV (how many times have you heard the phrase "former TV watcher") the Internet is still dispensable.

Except of course for email."

BWAAHAAHHAAA. That's right. The only indispensable part of the web in 2000 was e-mail, which in some ways feels like the most archaic part of the internet now. Too funny.

David Bowie, on the other hand, predicted the impact the internet would have on society in 1999 and totally nailed it.

He was so right in that we had barely seen the tip of the iceberg in 1999. He was also right in that the impact to society—both good and bad—was unimaginable. Exhilarating and terrifying. We're living that now.

"The context and state of content is going to be so different to anything that we can really envisage at the moment," he said. "Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in sympatico it's going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about."

Whoa. That's some seriously prescient prognosticating there, Bowie. (He really did see what was coming. He even started his own internet service provider in 1998 while other musicians scoffed at the world wide web.)

Going back just a bit further, Matthew Ball also shared an op-ed from a 1995 Newsweek in which Clifford Stoll writes that he is "most uneasy about this trendy and oversold community" of the internet. Ball said it "reads exactly like Metaverse criticisms."

Indeed, Stoll basically describes our current living situation with "telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms…electronic town meetings and virtual communities" and more as if it were some kind of absurdity.

And maybe it is. After all, he accurately described the other part of our current living situation, which is that "Every voice can be heard cheaply and instantly. The result? Every voice is heard. The cacophony more closely resembles citizens band radio, complete with handles, harassment, and anonymous threats. When everyone shouts, few listen."

Wowsers. Yep. Good times.

So what did we learn here?

Don't underestimate the future of technology. And always listen to David Bowie. The end.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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