I could barely spell the word, much less comprehend its meaning. Yet when Mrs. Rubin made the announcement about the new club she was starting at the junior high school, it triggered something in my mind.Two weeks later, during the last month of my eighth grade year, I figured it out. I was rummaging through the basement, and I ran across the little blue box that my dad had brought home from work a year earlier. Could this be a modem?I asked Mrs. Rubin about it the next day at school, and when she verified my expectations, I became the first member of Teleport 2000, the only organization in the city dedicated to introducing students to the information highway.
This was when 2400-baud was considered state-of-the-art, and telecommunications was still distant from everyday life. But as I incessantly logged onto Cleveland Freenet that summer, sending e-mail and posting usenet news messages until myfingers bled, I began to notice the little things. Electronic mail addresses started popping up on business cards. Those otherwise-incomprehensible computer magazines that my dad brought home from work ran monthly stories on communications-program this, and Internet-system that. Cleveland Freenet’s Freeport software began appearing on systems all over the world, in places as far away as Finland and Germany – with free telnet access!
I didn’t live life as a normal twelve-year-old kid that summer. I sat in front of the monitor twenty-four hours a day, eating my meals from a plate set next to the keyboard, stopping only to sleep. When I went back to school in the fall, I was elected the first president of Teleport 2000, partially because I was the only student
in-the school with a freenet account, but mostly because my enthusiasm for this new, exciting world was contagious.Today, as the business world is becoming more aware of the advantages of telecommunications, and the younger generation is becoming more aware of the opportunities, it is successfully being integrated into all aspects of our society. Companies are organizing Local Area Networks and tapping into information resources through internal networking and file sharing, and children of all ages are entertained by the GUI-based commercial systems and amazed by the worldwide system of gopher and search services. As a result, a million more people join the ‘net every month, according to a 1994 article by Vic Sussman in U.S. News & World Report.
They say that the worldwide community used to double its knowledge every century. Right now, that rate has been reduced to seven years, and is constantly decreasing. I’ve learned more since I started traveling the information highway than I could have possibly imagined. Through File Transfer Protocol sites, I can download anything from virus-detection utilities to song lyrics and guitar tabs. I receive press releases, proclamations and international news from the White House via a mailing list. I even e-mailed President Clinton recently and received a response the next day. And it was just a few months ago that I hung up my 2400-baud modem for a replacement six times as fast.
The essence of this international system of systems was neatly summed up by David
- Jackson and Suneel Ratan in a recent Time article: “The magic of the Net is
that it thrusts people together in a strange new world, one in which they get to rub virtual shoulders with characters they might otherwise never meet.”To me, this electronic “Cyberspace” was like kindergarten all over again. It was not only an introduction to a whole new world of exciting opportunities, but it helped me take a step further into maturity. Communicating with others on this
alternate plane of reality was so different, yet so similar, to the world I had alreadyexperienced. The Internet is a place where the only way you can view people is by how they choose to display themselves. Because you can’t see other users, you can’t make any prejudgments based upon race, sex, or physical handicap. As stated by John R. Levine and Carol Baroudi in The Internet for Dummies, ‘Who you are on the Internet depends solely on how you present yourself through your keyboard.”
The reason for this is simple. The people who created this form of communication weren’t interested in that. They didn’t care about political or ethnic boundaries; they only cared about the abstract. As a result, the parallel world they conceived contained a true form of equality. “One computer is no better than any other, and no person is better than any other,” wrote Levine and Baroudi, and the only way this right can be taken away from you is if you choose to remove it yourself. My realization of this concept taught me a lot about the faults of the real world, and why so many people feel the need to defect to Cyberspace so frequently.
I believe in the future – not the extreme 1984; 2001: A Space Odyssey future, but the inevitable progression from today into tomorrow. The people of tomorrow will not be puzzled by the word “Internet” or the mechanics behind networking -these will be basic survival skills in society. The future will see an electronically-linked global community, in which everyone is a citizen. The constant thickening of the worldwide web of networks excites me, because it proves that the world is not as big as one may think. You really can reach out to anyone you want in a matter of milliseconds.
The other day, I was helping a ten-year-old girl find an e-mail “key-pal” from Australia. I think I see a lot of me, the curious eighth-grader, in her. Perhaps I see a lotof the future, too.
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