I love the smell of

in the morning
Everything here is my personal opinion. I do not speak for my employer.
March 1995
May 1995

1995-04-01 »

Amusing Cruising

      Information Superhighway
      Will only be the beginning.
      Data Jack
      Is only a temporary solution.

The above completely meaningless song lyrics (which don't even rhyme) are an excellent illustration of the world's overall understanding of what educated people actually call "the Internet." In fact, I will not use the worthless jargon "Information Superhighway" any further, as it is prone to absurd puns and only contributes to additional confusion.

Many people see the Internet as an easy way to stay at home while ordering movies and groceries and paying bills. These people either have no imagination, or they rent too many movies because they have no imagination. To use the Internet only as an expensive VCR would be an incredible waste of technology. The Net, as it currently exists at least, is not an instrument of vegetation like a T.V., but an information tool like nothing else in the world.

To most people, "information" sounds exceedingly dull. It reminds them of public libraries, science magazines, and low-budget Driver's Education films. The answer to this problem really lies in the use of the word, "information." To completely understand its definition requires a degree in Computer Science. Put bluntly, however, one needs to understand that a computer calls everything information.

If everything is information, then just how much information is there? It can be summarized in this way: "The fastest Internet connections in use at the moment are used for transatlantic communications and can send data at a rate of 200 megabytes per second. This is roughly equivalent to taking a computer disk with a capacity of one megabyte, and throwing it across the Atlantic Ocean 200 times every second." That's a lot of information! Over such a connection, for example, one could transmit the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in only a few seconds. Thankfully, few people consider this a worthwhile endeavour; instead (or should I say "in addition?"), they post an immense variety of far more entertaining information, such as this actual message from alt.cows.moo.moo.moo:

      Since it is the only moose related group I have knowledge of, I feel that this is a place where all moose-related facts can be posted. Of course, the focus of the group is primarily on actually smoking the beasties, but talk about say, moose in politics or the role of the moose in colonizing the moon, will not be discouraged. I myself enjoy posting original moose poetry because no one else cares. Here is a sample...

While the author of this message obviously does not understand the distinction between moose and cows, he serves as a superb example of what happens when normal people, people who would usually sit at home drearily paying bills and buying groceries, are exposed to what is formally referred to as "net.culture."1 On the other hand, there are also several hundred thousand intelligent discussions going on at any given moment, but they are seldom found in the "alt.cows" hierarchy from which this is taken. Not that I read alt.cows on a regular basis. Ahem.

The variety of information on the Net is remarkable, but the key to the whole system is user participation. Unlike the idle television viewer, Internet users are encouraged to take part. They are no longer force-fed information, but instead pick and choose exactly what they want. If it happens to involve farm animals, that's their choice. If there is something they aren't interested in, they can ignore it once and it will be gone forever.2 This is the secret to the success of the network, and any "expert" who ignores the importance of such interaction with other people is ignoring almost everything about the Net.

Certainly selling the network becomes easier if it is explained to people in terms they can more easily understand. In many cases (politicians come to mind), the description is actually simplified so that the speaker can understand it himself. But there is a point where simplification becomes oversimplification. When clueless people really think they understand something, this point has been reached. Too many people really believe they know what they're talking about when all they want to do is pay bills with their T.V. set; silly catch phrases do not help the situation.

The Internet is not just a calculator or a particularly huge library, nor is it something you can sit down by and watch for hours at a time. It's a home entertainment system, library, bookstore, cafeteria,3 and zoo all at once, and to simply say it's a road is to say nothing at all.


1 In fact, even if it were not formally referred to as "net.culture" I would be completely free to refer to it as such, as new dot-delimited catch phrases are created on the Net every day by people even less qualified than myself. 2 Mostly. Confusion between cows and moose is still quite common. 3 You probably don't want to know about the computerized pop machine at MIT.

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