When painful things happen in your life, you tend to turn to your friends. Sometimes it’s a close friend, sometimes it’s someone you’ve met once, or perhaps you’ve never met them at all and know them entirely online. Last week (without boring you with the details) was one of my more poignantly awful mental health weeks I’ve experienced — a crippling loneliness mixed with an embarrassment and sadness that I hadn’t faced in quite some time. I’m not looking for your sympathy — and, indeed, if you were expecting a remote work newsletter today you’re going to be disappointed — but something has really struck me about how lucky I am to be born today.
And, more specifically, how lost I would be if I had been born earlier. Dead, even. I have no idea how I would have functioned if I was not able to build substrates of technology that I have today, and it is remarkable how different (and bad) things would have been had things not shaped out as they have in the tech industry.
In the crisis I had — I won’t be going into detail, because who cares? — I was able to text several friends, hundreds (or thousands) of miles away and make actual human contact. iMessage has become a lifeline for communication for me — my coordinational disability dyspraxia means that the consistency of message history across devices meant that as I walked around, it was far harder for me to avoid (or justify avoiding) conversations with people that wanted to help me when I wasn’t really into being helped.
Another example goes back to when I was in my late teens. I write at about nine words per minute — which is about four words less than the rest of the world — and doing so is profoundly frustrating and painful. It’s hard to describe in words, but imagine if whenever you had to write it felt like you were trying to work out a knot in a muscle, and the actual process of writing words felt alien. Had I been born in the 70s, I’d probably have flunked high school — the only reason my English or Philosophy homework was good was because I was allowed to go home and type it at 103 words per minute (moderated) — and when they eventually let me take exams with a computer (an aged 90s beast with a giant, beautiful, filthy mechanical keyboard), I had students accuse me of cheating because I could type so fast.
The world I live in today is one that allows me to create a giant digital bulwark against my ADHD, dyspraxia, and whatever else I’ve got. Persistent cloud storage and status means that I have a network of ways to remind me to do something, though perhaps the wording should be “make it impossible to avoid something.” It isn’t just notifications — it’s the ability for me to do one thing on one computer and pick up my phone and do the same thing there. This is useful for other people, but essential for me — I lose things between computers, and even eight years ago have lost business and time because of document versions being all over the place.
I realize that most people don’t face these problems, or they face a few of them, but not all of them. Perhaps I’m just being maudlin.