Column: US army and Brit comedy, thank you

Written by Anand Ramachandran | Updated: Nov 1 2009, 02:29am hrs
It was 1969, the year Jimi Hendrix played The Star Spangled Banner at Max Yasgurs farm, the year the Beatles broke up, the year man landed on the freakin moon. It was the year Honduras and El Salvador went to war over a football game, the year the Boeing 747 first took to the skies, the year Led Zeppelin burst onto the scene and changed Rock n Roll forever.

In the midst of all this excitement, John Cleese thought it would be a good idea to invite Michael Palin to join Graham Chapman and himself to create a brand new television series for the BBC. Across the pond, US defence scientists used a cool new technology called packet-switching to establish a network connection (They called it ARPANET. Scientists. Youd think theyd have come up with something cooler) between computers located at the UCLA, the Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah.

As a result of these two seemingly unrelated events, today we watch episodes of Monty Pythons Flying Circus on YouTube, excitedly send the link to our friends over e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, and waste the rest of our working day LOLing at the antics of the greatest comedy team in history. Its a complete #WIN.

Today, forty years later, its almost impossible to wrap our minds around the impact that the Internet has had on our lives. Its like trying to describe how our lives have been affected by the invention of the wheel, or language, or processed food. Today, most of us live in a dizzying swirl of instant, always-on connections that criss-cross so many aspects of our daily lives, its hard to imagine what life was like before the Internet.

One way to try and define the impact of the Internet is to look at the situations that it has made extinct. When was the last time you spent days trying to remember the lyrics to a song on the tip of your tongue, or the author of a book, or the winner of a sporting event When was the last time you pored over old newspapers to find the advertisement you suddenly want to respond to When was the last time that getting information from a college meant writing a letter to them and hoping for the best

Yes, we dont receive warm, personal greeting cards on our birthdays anymore. But we do get hundreds of wishes from friends we havent seen for years, and thats pretty nice. Yes, the excitement of finally finding a rare music album or movie is a thing of the past. But we do get to watch or listen to anything we want to, whenever we choose, and thats pretty cool. Suddenly feel the urge to watch Monty Pythons famous dead parrot sketch No need to scour video stores, wait hopefully for TV reruns, or badger relatives in the UK. You cant tell me thats a bad thing.

We find jobs without having to leave our homes, reach hundreds of people instantly when we need help during a medical emergency, quickly verify the truth in rumours and dont have to risk buying products without learning what the world thinks of them first.

If you have any sense of wonder at all, you cant help but marvel at the amazing sci-fi-ness of it all. Science fiction writers teased us with tales of vid-phones (Skype), mass broadcasting of thought streams (Twitter), virtual avatars engaging in gladiatoral combat (multiplayer games) and all-knowing computer oracles (the World Wide Web). But they didnt warn us that it would all happen in our lifetimes. Guess they didnt know.

And those of us born in the sixties and seventies, we caught the crest of the wave. Were the ones who are old enough to remember what it was like before, and are young enough to be in the thick of what its like now. And I hazard that were the ones having the most fun, grinning like idiots as we live out what were merely fantasies when we were kids.

Even as I write this column in my home office, in my immediate vicinity there are eight devices which are connected to the Internet (two computers, three videogame consoles, two handheld gaming units and a smartphone)I can almost see a John Cleese sketch called the Needlessly Overconnected Man, in which Eric Idle smugly explains to an increasingly stressed-out Cleese how he uses one broadband connection merely to check if the other one is working properly. Cleese then downloads a pistol and shoots Idle in the head, saying, What a senseless waste of human life. Sounds far-fetched Wait another twenty years, mate.

Until then, Happy 40th Anniversary, Internet. Its nice to have you around. And you too, Pythons.

The author is a game designer and gaming journalist based in Mumbai