In 2002, I was a junior in high school. In my school, there was a mess of networked computer printers that effectively, if uselessly, allowed you to print from one room to another. It often caused confusion and, looking back, was my first experience with the serendipity I love of the internet. I just recycled the box to prove it.
I recently found that old box from a pair of work boots I bought for my first summer working for a construction company in the county I grew up in. Once I saw the box, I immediately remembered what I used it for back in high school. I had a strange habit of visiting those networked printers — in the library, computer lab, various classrooms — and grabbing whatever was sitting in the printer tray at the given time. There almost always was something leftover.
It was quirky outcome of the confusing printer network. Commonly students would send school work or academic research to the wrong room, printing several copies before giving up. I would recycle the extras, read whatever random documents were there and then take them home to pile in my shoe box, presumably for future learning. It became a time capsule of my closeted reading, just like my internet search history of today might suggest.
I flipped through the hundreds of pages I had collected and the seeming randomness of the documents offered the same kind of intellectual surprise that I get via social media (like Twitter, Facebook, reddit) or linking through Wikipedia.
Here are some examples of what I found in this shoe box:
- Biography of Joseph Priestley, the 18th-century chemist who discovered oxygen.
- Review of Taiwanese nationalism
- A fellow student’s poetry
- A copy of ‘Mars is Heaven!’ the short story from Ray Bradbury
- A diagram on how computer networking works
I’m not nostalgic for those analog days. I have great love for the digital discovery tools for learning I have today, and I’m excited for further advancements that our culture affords. But I do look back with fondness for the willingness I had to explore in another way that informed my curiosity that I still have today.
This box, which I’m now ready to recycle, will always be a memory of my teenage years, a moment in time and something I’m proud I felt compelled to do.