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Pondering the Perspectives of The People. . .


Internet 101

For L.Graphix
November 20, 1995

Every day newspapers carry at least one story about it. The TV stations run stories about it. The schools are connecting their computers to it and teaching your children about it. What is it?

You may already be using it to do business or using it for fun at home, it's on the tip of almost everyone's tongue these days. Spit it out, you know what I'm talking about, it's the Internet.

The Internet is a global place, but can not be pointed to on a globe, yet, I visit there every day and I never have to leave my office. By the same token, the Internet is as local as my own personal computer and I can visit almost anywhere in the world. Some times I only go as far as my local library.

Remember when the telephone first came out? I doubt it, no one is that old. The first telephone line in Oregon ran from Portland to Oregon City and was completed in December 1878. However, the wide-spread use of telephones didn't occur for another 50 years. The telephone became a business essential long before it became common place in the home.

In a way, that's how the Internet is progressing. Even though at a faster pace because of our technologically progressive society. The use of modems to connect businesses together have been in wide-spread use at least 10 years. I know. I worked at a world-wide company here in Portland which required at least weekly contact with my counterparts in New York, Germany and Alaska. I was sending email (electronic mail) to these people and receiving replies within 24 hours. The speed at which we communicated always astonished me and that was 1986.

At the time I couldn't imagine being able to afford the networking capability that I was experiencing at work, particularly because the price of personal computers had not come down to the "affordable" mark. Today, I not only have my own computer, I correspond frequently with friends in London and Denmark by that magical email. It's fun to trade thoughts and greetings across the miles so quickly with hardly any effort and absolutely no long distance or mail charges.

Many people I know own computers, but not all of them are connected to the Internet. Several of them cite rumors that are as old as the modem technology itself. They worry that some hacker is going to get into their computer and steal their stuff. Well, if you were the Department of Defense, I guess you might worry about that, but personally I don't see why a hacker would be so interested in the daily goings-on of an average citizen. If it's information that they want about you, they'll hack into the TRW credit files, or better yet, your bank. So that argument doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

When I got my first modem (2400bps) three years ago, I decided that if I had to sign on to one of the big services, I just wouldn't do it. No way was I going to be constantly concerned about how much time online ("the meter's running") I'd spent this month. So, I subscribed to a local Bulletin Board Service (BBS) and waited until there were several local Internet Providers who would give their users unlimited time online for a flat fee, the graphical software, and as a bonus, my own web page. Hmm, more jargon.

Called "the Web" for short, the World Wide Web (WWW) is part of the Internet. When viewed by a graphical viewer (called "browser") such as Netscape, the Web can be quite fun. It could even be a family affair. Run through Windows or on a MAC, Netscape allows you to "Find a location" by typing in an address. This will be someone's web page. News articles about the Web almost always gives an address, usually something like: http://www.aracnet.com/~histgaz/ (my web page address) which tells your provider's computer where you want to "visit." To help you in your search to find "places" (web sites) are search engines, like the Web Crawler and directories like the well-known Yahoo directory that will help you look up subjects in a similar fashion as the card catalog at the library.

Netscape makes it easy to find your way back to where you've been if you think you want to visit again. You select "Bookmark" and choose "Add." That address is stored for you and you can visit again and again. Although I've not intended to write a "how-to" on using the Internet, I think if you just knew how easy it is to use it, then maybe you would be eager to get started.

The Internet is here and what you use it for will be as varied as what you choose to watch on television (another technological advance that took a while for everyone to participate). Some times you want to watch a movie, other times you want comedy and still other times a good documentary on a subject you're interested in will grab your attention. It's the same with the Internet. The subject matter is of your own choosing.

Ah, subject matter makes me think of the Internet news groups, some times called "Usenet." News groups are like discussion forums which allow users to read other people's opinions on the forum's stated subject. You can select as few or as many forums as you like. My provider offers more than 6,000 news groups. Once you "subscribe" to a group your computer keeps a record of that group so that when you sign on again you can check out that group for new messages and you don't have to go through the long listing.

People who "read only" are thought of as "lurkers" and true participation requires one to "post" their own thoughts. But, really, it's okay to be a lurker, because no one knows you are doing that. Valuable information can be gleaned from these news groups by reading the messages in the software newsgroups or you can post your own question asking for help from the technical people who moderate these news groups. You can trade or sell your collectibles by posting in the appropriate subject group. The possibilities exceed the imagination.

The subject of free speech is often tossed around because of this particular part of the Internet. The subject matter that some people choose to discuss can possibly be offensive to other people, but my feeling is that this is America and we are guaranteed our right to read and talk about anything we want, so if I'm likely to be offended, then I just don't look at those groups. This would be my recommendation to others. Just like the TV, if you don't like what's on, you can select another channel.

Another part of the Internet that I use is called FTP (File Transfer Protocol) which allows me to send files to my provider, and thereby post and update my web pages. I have visited places like Oakland University and downloaded files from them as they have a FTP site for remote users.

A couple of other items available through your provider is Telenet and Chat Rooms. Some places can be accessed by Telenet, but I've not had the need to go through that yet as many of those places are quickly converting to having a WWW site. I know people who do the Chat Rooms, and that's where one finds the online games. In the future it is possible that computers will replace old-fashioned parlor games.

The Internet offers many opportunities to express your opinions to like minded people. It allows one to learn about the rest of the world. The computer is here to stay and Internet is on the way. If you resist now, then you probably would have resisted the telephone and television. It's history in the making and you can be a part of it, or sit on the sidelines. Unlike football, it's more fun as a participant.

Bridget E Smith
Portland, Oregon


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