Everyone knows what happened when Rip Van Winkle wandered off with his dog to get wasted and avoid his wife. He fell asleep and woke up 20 years later. A lot of things changed while he was asleep. His dog was gone. His beard was long. His son was grown. The American Revolution had come and gone and his (ahem) gun was rusty from disuse.
Circumstances had changed, certainly. But the quotidian realities of his pre-Industrial Revolution world hadn’t evolved much in 20 years. Horses still pulled the carriages. Oxen still pulled the plow. Tuberculosis was still scary as hell, but maybe not as scary as the vampires believed by early Americans to have caused it.
But what if that happened today? We haven’t gone completely Back To The Future II in the last few decades (still waiting for that hoverboard), but we're not that far from it. Michael Santos, a former-prisoner-turned-author and life coach, knows a little something about what it's like. He spent the last 25 years in prison, isolated from the technological developments that have so completely reshaped our lives. And now he's confused.
Any prisoner would experience technology shock after being behind bars that long. But Santos is a particularly eloquent one. In a recent post on Quora, he puts things in perspective for those of us who have had the privilege of being introduced more gradually to the technological advancements of the Information Age (though studies show even we’re having a tough time).
The world Santos left in 1987, he writes, was dominated by pagers, brick phones (for the wealthy) and dot matrix printers. The internet was still science fiction for most people then:
I read extensively during my term of incarceration, but reading about technology felt a bit like reading about typing. Regardless of how much I read, I wouldn’t grasp the power of technology until I started using it. Forget the power, I don’t even understand the language of technology. For example, I never understood what people meant when they spoke of a “browser.” In fact, I just asked my wife to define a browser, and when she described it as a program that would allow me to access the Internet, I gave her a blank stare.
“But I thought the browser was the little text box on top of the screen, where I type in what I’m looking to find on Google.”
“No honey,” she said. “That’s the URL bar.”
Santos' technological challenges underscore what a different world writers face today if they want to be successful. All that tweeting! All the Tumbling! After a 25-year media hole, it must feel like suddenly trying to become rodeo champion: a bunch of new skills, a lot of face plants, and a whole lotta horseshit.
“I haven’t yet been free for five full months,” Santos writes…
so maybe others can understand my ignorance on the subject of technology. I can accept that volumes of basic information are beyond my ability to comprehend right now, but with everything I have to learn, I don’t know whether I’ll ever grasp all that I need to know. I don’t have any idea what a “server” is, and I don’t know much about how to make my content available to the people who need it. […]
I sense a real handicap because I envision technology as being a central component of the business that I want to build. I consider myself as having a responsibility, or duty, to help others understand prisons, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through confinement in ways that will help people emerge with values, skills, and resources that translate into success. Technology could really help me succeed, but since I don’t understand how to use it effectively, I’m kind of in a lost world.
Santos, with his new-fangled interwebs machine. Image via California Forward.
So far, Santos prefers Apple products (in prison, he read that they “offered a much quicker learning curve”) and likes Quora because, he says, it’s simple. (“People ask questions and I respond.”)
Still, don't feel too sorry for him. This isn’t the first thing to be written about Santos. If a recent San Francisco Chronicle article and Santos’ numerous blogs are any indication, he seems at least to be figuring out the fine art of self-promotion.
Welcome to the whorish world of getting published, buddy. You’re doing just fine.