The State of Being Virtually Online

How can museum visit bring home the true scope of the digital revolution?

January 3, 2000

How can museum visit bring home the true scope of the digital revolution?

Flashback to the Christmas shopping madness. But the scene is not frantic. It is serene — and actually quite beautiful. The objects on display in the gift shop of New York’s Museum of Modern Art are elegant, colorful and unique. It is a great place to find something for those for whom it is usually hard to find a gift, such as nieces and nephews in far-away places like Paris, Berlin, Moscow or Bangkok.

Having selected my items and queued up to make my purchase, I heard one of the cashiers call out, "I'm ready to help the next person waiting on line." As most of us are accustomed to hearing the phrase “waiting in line,” I wondered if the cashier hadn’t suddenly mistaken the gift shop for its virtual-reality equivalent. Then, as he finished with the next real-life, non-virtual customer, he again called out, "I'm ready for the next person standing on line."

Usually, language has to play catch up to technology. People were already buying books from Internet sites before the term e-commerce came along. But, when I later learned that certain Northeastern dialects substitute on for in in certain phrases, I found irrefutable proof that some New Yorkers had been getting on line long before the techies in Silicon Valley.