As a young elementary school student in Istanbul, back in the 1970s, I lived in a non-virtual, non-Web and non-social-media world. I don’t remember seeing a computer until Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001. I thought computers talked like HAL 9000 (“I’m sorry, Tarkan. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”) until I saw the then-hip Commodore 64K at the home of a rich friend. Commodore was much smaller than HAL—and more friendly—but my parents could not afford to buy one.
By today’s standards, of course, I was one-dimensional and maybe a bit boring. But I loved reading. I loved reading history. I loved sharing stories and comparing my life story to those I was reading about. And as I read stories of others, I always tried to imagine how those early years of my life would feel to me, many years later. Similarly, I would try to imagine how someone would watch me living my life either years, decades or centuries later.
Did the Egyptians and Hittites think how their battle in Kadesh would be viewed 3,283 year later? Did the Macedonians think their long and tireless journey to Punjab 2,335 years ago would define the first step in cultural osmosis between the East and West? Did the self-serving English barons think that their Magna Carta against King John, 794 years ago, would define our laws of today through habeas corpus? Did explorers from Vespucci to Magellan ever think that their inspiration to go further would continue to affect generations for centuries to come?
As a new, opportunity-seeking immigrant in the United States during the early 1990s, I realized that the new century would be very different. The lifestyles of an entire generation were changing as computers began penetrating every aspect of our lives. Information-technology players were spinning products and marketing messages online and offline at light speed. New hype cycles and related hip idioms were spreading everywhere, as was new wealth. Initial public offerings, dotcoms and too-early retirements were everyday conversation. We were all going to make tons of money and party like rock stars.
Then, the new century started with the Y2K frenzy and the final collapse of the dotcom bubble, and it quickly veered into tragedy with the 9/11 attacks. Yet despite the confusion and anger following that horrible day and the military and economic misfortunes that have occurred in the eight years since, the future suddenly seems a bit brighter...