My Gmail account contained this gem of wisdom today, in that spot where random links like spam recipes and news items appear:

“I think age is a very high price to pay for maturity.”

– Tom Stoppard

Coincidence? Or did they know it was my birthday? Spooky. Though when people tell me I don’t look my age, I reply “it’s the immaturity,” so I don’t think I’m even getting the benefits of aging.

But it turns out I’m not only becoming a crotchety grandmother, I seem to be channelling my own grandmother, who was not at all crotchety.

I remember her marvelling that she was born at the most exciting time in history. She’d ask me to think of all the advances in her lifetime. Cars and planes and phones and television became commonplace. Women were declared persons. World War II and the Cold War came and went. A nurse, she saw medical advances including the introduction of the polio vaccine and the birth control pill, and the eradication of smallpox. She also lived to see personal computers and e-mail and the Internet … not that she used them much.

In my own lifetime, it’s the evolution of those web technologies that have changed the scope of my world dramatically. Dissection of the large-scale changes is best left to those with big brains and more time to dash off a blog post. But the small-scale change is itself remarkable, as I’ve had cause to remember lately.

I’m moving this weekend, and the apartment search was a far less painful experience than usual. When I stopped to think about why, it was obvious: the emergence of Craigslist.

I move a lot. I love the change; I hate the moving, from the search to the unpacking. Now, the Internet has made the search part a breeze, even if it can’t yet help with lifting heavy things (though I also found my movers with an Internet search and comparison of reputation and BBB record).

I last moved two years ago, when Craigslist was already a popular place to post classified ads, and yet I found my current apartment through a newspaper ad after striking out there. Now, Craigslist has exploded, and is undoubtedly The Place. There’s no reason to go anywhere else.

Advertisers don’t pay, so they don’t skimp on the words or use obscure acronyms. No more phone call after phone call to find an apartment that’ll allow a cat, to people too cheap to put n/p in their ad. No more judging a place based on a 20 word description. Only the idiot advertisers don’t take advantage of being able to give a full description and photos. And the vacancies are virtually all there, all in one place.

It’s easy to think the Internet has expanded my world by giving me access to information from places and people that would have been out of my reach before. But another way to look at it is that it’s made my world smaller … in a good way.

I’ve recently booked flights online to meet up with people who have become great friends in real life, after initially meeting them through discussion groups and blogs and developing friendships through email.

Almost 15 years ago — oh god, I am old — I lived in a French area of New Brunswick for a year. This was before I or anyone I knew had email. I kept in touch with friends back home by phone and mail, and then after I returned, with friends I met there the same way. Contact was sporadic, and old friends became penpals more than a daily part of my life — and that only if they were good about writing, like I was, or picking up a phone, like I wasn’t and am not.

About five years ago, I lived in Mexico for a couple of years. Everyone I know had email, and that was my lifeline. I kept in touch regularly with a wider circle of people — no need to decide if a correspondent was stamp- or toll-worthy, or if they’d think I was. And some of those casual friends became close friends with the ease of correspondence allowing us to further discover our compatibility.

Now, blogs and other social media sites help me keep connected with friends from across the continent, friends I’ve met because of the Internet, or managed to keep in touch with because of the Internet.

I can’t be one to complain about the loss of the intimacy of phone calls and letters, because they haven’t been lost. I haven’t written a real snail mail letter for years, I’ll admit, but I have written many a lengthy email I put just as much effort into. I’ve never been good at the phone, but I still spend a lot of time on it. Skype even makes that cheap and easy, if not always 100 percent reliable. All of these new tools have added, not subtracted, to my options and my feeling of connectedness to friends and family.

Maybe I can’t come up with a list of advances like my grandmother’s, but just the one — the advances in Internet technologies — is enough to make me marvel at living in one of the most exciting times in history.

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