I can’t recall my very first encounter with a computer, but the most vivid memories of my early computing experiences feature one woman—Carmen Sandiego. I spent hours hunting that devious thief throughout all sorts of historical periods, never managing to catch her in the end. For anyone who did not moonlight as a pint-sized sleuth in their childhood, I’m referring to Carmen Sandiego’s Great Chase Through Time, a 1997 reboot of a 1989 point-and-click adventure game. (A cursory Google search shows that it’s still available for purchase on Amazon, so if anyone has a spare PC running Windows 98, you’re all set to join in the fun.)
This was probably about the same time my oldest brother got his original Playstation, the very first video game console in our house. Of course, being the youngest sister, I wasn’t allowed to use it without explicit permission and supervision by my brothers (and Crash Bandicoot is just not as fun by yourself anyways). So, after extensive whining, my parents got me Carmen Sandiego, something I was able to play on my own with little assistance.
Although at the time I didn’t think much about it, looking back at these experiences now I can see how astounding new media truly are. In The Network Society, Jan van Dijk characterizes new media as being integrated and interactive. Integrated refers to the structure of new media; at the most basic level, data is combined as text, images, and sound into one medium. Carmen Sandiego was the first video game I ever encountered, but what I viewed as a toy was really a sophisticated piece of software. The interactivity of the point-and-click style game, despite being limited in comparison to today’s understanding of the term, provided me with hours of entertainment.
Reflecting now on how enthralled I was then by such a relatively simple piece of technology makes me think about young children today who have grown up around all this new media their entire lives. In the late 1990s and early 2000s I was generally aware, despite being young, that things like AIM, iPods, and cellphones were new, exciting types of media. I wonder if kids today have that same kind of feeling. Does a 6-year-old playing on his mom’s iPad realize that the new iPhone is “the next big thing”? Are they even aware that there was a time when we weren’t constantly surrounding by new and evolving technology?
Then again, haven’t we always been surrounded by new media in some way? All things were new once, from smartphones to cassette tapes to telegrams; maybe kids today aren’t as different as I thought.